Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao has declared victory in the city’s mayoral race, making history as the first Hmong American woman to lead a major U.S. city.
Thao, 37, claimed victory over fellow city council member Loren Taylor after leading with 50.30 percent of the votes under Oakland’s ranked-choice voting system, making her the city’s youngest mayor elected in 75 years.
“It’s been a long journey, and I’m incredibly honored by the trust the voters have placed in me,” Thao said. “This was a very close election. I want to congratulate Loren Taylor on the strong campaign he ran. Councilmember Taylor and his family have been making a difference for this city for generations and we owe him a real debt of gratitude.”
“I’m very excited to get to work as Mayor in January, but I’m also very humbled to be here,” she added. “Fifteen years ago, I was living in my car with my baby. I’ve been through a lot to get to this moment, and have had so many people lift me up in order to get here.”
Thao is the seventh of 10 children born to Hmong refugees who fled Laos in the 1970s during a genocide of Hmong people. Thao experienced an impoverished childhood in Stockton, California, and went through an abusive relationship in her early 20s, leading her to live in a car with her infant son.
“I represent those families who are on the margins,” Thao said at a mayoral forum, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “For me, I will continue to do me, which is helping others, helping families and assisting and supporting families that are like mine, like how I grew up, those who are on the margins.”
The 37-year-old attended Merritt Community College before transferring and graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in legal studies. In 2014, she started working for Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan as an intern, rising through the ranks to become chief of staff before running for a council seat in 2018.
According to Thao, her experience with homelessness, poverty and domestic violence will help her lead Oakland in tackling the city’s issues of surging crime, homelessness and the housing crisis.
She previously supported statewide legislation to build housing in commercial corridors as a city council member. During the mayoral race, she pledged to make a public safety plan on “Day One” that creates more jobs, invests in violence prevention programs, fills vacancies in the police department and gets guns off the streets.
“We’re going to have an aggressive housing policy that protects renters, fights displacement, and treats our unhoused with the dignity they deserve,” Thao said. “And I’m a renter myself. So our tenants should know that I’m going to be a Mayor who has their back.”
“I’m excited to get to work building the safer, more affordable, more just Oakland we know is possible in the months and years ahead,” she added.
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