OAKLAND -- Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan declared her candidacy for mayor Wednesday, confirming months of speculation that she would join an already crowded field this November trying to unseat Mayor Jean Quan.
Kaplan's plunge into the race marks a reversal from her 2012 statement that she would not challenge Quan this year.
Kaplan said she started reconsidering her stance in April when City Administrator Fred Blackwell announced he was leaving after only a few weeks on the job and Quan erroneously said on a sports radio program that the crown prince of Dubai was partnering with developers seeking to build a new sports and entertainment facility in Oakland.
"It caused me to think that it might really be necessary to bring a new level of leadership to the city," Kaplan said. "People were making the crack to me that Oakland is ungovernable. I don't actually believe that Oakland is ungovernable. But it does in some ways appear to be ungoverned."
Quan declined to directly address Kaplan's entry into the race. In a statement that touted decreasing crime and new development projects, she said, "I'm eager to run on my record against anyone."
Kaplan finished third in the 2010 mayoral race behind Quan and former State Sen. Don Perata. A November poll by the pro-business Jobs and Housing Coalition showed Kaplan leading this year's field with 26 percent -- six points ahead of Quan and roughly 10 points ahead of San Francisco State professor Joe Tuman and Councilwoman Libby Schaaf.
That poll found that Kaplan, who is running her fourth citywide campaign in the past six years, was considerably more popular than Quan and better known than Schaaf and Tuman.
Nevertheless, several local politicos are hesitant to anoint Kaplan as the front-runner. They note that Oakland's ranked-choice election system, in which voters chose their top three candidates and a computer tallies the winner, has produced surprising results. Additionally, Kaplan is entering a motley 15-member field that includes serious candidates such as City Auditor Courtney Ruby, attorney Dan Siegel and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker.
"I think it's impossible to handicap the race. And I think it's very difficult to poll it," said Larry Tramutola, a political strategist who has worked on many Oakland campaigns.
Greg McConnell, executive director of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, said Kaplan would be formidable but that it was still a wide-open race.
"There remains a question about whether voters will think any elected official should be elected mayor given that their collective leadership got the city where it is today," he said.
Kaplan said she was frustrated with the city's direction under Quan. She faulted the administration for failing to fill top key posts, making it harder to fight crime and spur development.
"I would make sure the positions are filled," she said. "And I would make sure that it is clear to everyone that it is a priority to meet the needs of the public in Oakland."
Michael Colbruno, Quan's campaign co-chairman, wrote that the city had filled all but one of its vacant department head jobs in recent months.
Kaplan, 43, started her political career as an elected AC Transit board member. She won the council seat representing all of Oakland in 2008 and easily defended the seat two years ago against former Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente.
In the 2010 mayoral race, she and Quan, who both occupy the center-left of city politics, were effectively allies against Perata, the presumed favorite.
Two years later, Kaplan said in an interview that she wouldn't challenge Quan in 2014, saying, "I'm still the youngest person in the building. I'm not in a hurry."
But with a majority of voters in recent polls saying they wanted a new mayor, Kaplan risked facing a tougher mayoral incumbent in 2018 if she didn't enter this year's race.
"It's a no-brainer for her," Tramutola said. "She doesn't have to give up her council seat. She has nothing to lose."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.