OAKLAND -- After campaigning during one of the most violent years in recent memory, Oakland's newly elected officials took office Monday pledging to focus on public safety.
"My top two priorities, of course, are crime prevention and neighborhood safety," said Councilman Dan Kalb, who was robbed last year. "Anybody who doesn't say that shouldn't be in this room."
The three-hour event inside a packed council chambers marked the biggest turnover on the eight-member council since 1996. In addition to Kalb, who replaced Jane Brunner, Lynette Gibson McElhaney replaced Nancy Nadel and Noel Gallo replaced Ignacio De La Fuente. None of the incumbents, who served a combined 52 years in office, ran for their old seats.
City Attorney Barbara Parker also was sworn in, becoming Oakland's first African-American woman to hold a citywide office.
The new blood has raised expectations that council members will abandon grudges and find common ground on public safety initiatives.
The council's first votes were unanimous. Pat Kernighan was elected council president, replacing Larry Reid, who was elected vice mayor.
Last year, Oakland saw its police force whittled down to its lowest level in more than a decade, while major crimes jumped more than 20 percent. The city's 131 homicides were the most since 2006.
The council will soon consider hiring 21 civilian employees for the police department, contracting for Alameda County sheriff's
But it remains to be seen whether council members will approve tougher crime-fighting measures such as youth curfews or permit police wider latitude to "stop and frisk" potential suspects.
Gallo, who served on the school board for 20 years, said he would support both initiatives. "Anything and everything you do in this city has to do with public safety," he said.
Police Chief Howard Jordan is working on a curfew measure, which, in a possible bid to sway more left-leaning council members, would include social service options for minors who are picked up by police.
Kalb and Gibson McElhaney both opposed curfews while campaigning. Kalb on Monday reiterated his call for more investigators to help police solve crimes.
Gibson McElhaney, who has the least political experience of the new council members, said she wanted to disrupt the status quo. "We should no longer think that it's OK to talk about 100 or plus murders as if that's ... normal," she said. "That's not normal."
Reid had hoped to stay on as council president, but yielded to Kernighan as it became apparent she had more support. His tenure coincided with the rise of Occupy Oakland, whose supporters disrupted several meetings.
Kernighan said she would do her best to facilitate "lively but respectful" debates. "I sincerely hope it will be a little easier this year, but as we all know there are many challenges facing us."
The school board also swore in its new members Monday. James Harris replaced Alice Spearman and Rosie Torres replaced Gallo. David Kakishiba replaced Jody London as the board president.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.