The woman who's credited with being the mastermind behind last fall's Moms 4 Housing protest in West Oakland, Carroll Fife, has unseated incumbent City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, marking a shift toward a more progressive electorate in parts of Oakland.
"This one council seat is just the beginning," Fife said in a statement to the Chronicle. "Our campaign is transitioning into a permanent political organization dedicated to passing transformative legislation and building a progressive majority on the Oakland City Council. Join us as we build a better Oakland for all."
McElhaney, who had served on Oakland's City Council since 2012 representing the city's District 3, had the endorsement of Mayor Libby Schaaf, and had been a strong anti-gun-violence advocate — both before and after losing her son to gun violence in March 2019. Her 21-year-old son Victor was shot and killed during a robbery outside a store in Los Angeles near the USC campus, where he was attending school.
The city's District 3 represents the Port of Oakland, West Oakland, Downtown, Uptown, Jack London, Pill Hill, and Lake Merritt — a large swath of the city that includes much of the densest housing districts and a large amount of office and commercial space. As SFist reported in July, Fife only recently moved into the district from District 2 in order to run for McElhaney — and she ended up walking away with 49% of the vote compared to the incumbent's 30%, with several other challengers dividing up the remaining votes.
McElhaney conceded to Fife on Monday, issuing a statement saying, "It is my honor and my privilege to represent my community as the District Three representative and I really labored in love to do that work with high integrity and with a sense of urgency around the things that do us harm... We have left nothing on the table. My team and I put in the elbow grease. We pray that Carroll will be more effective."
In her role as the regional director of tenant-rights group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Fife orchestrated an act of civil disobedience last fall that was made for television — and attracted attention enough in the media that Governor Gavin Newsom had to respond and pledge his support for more affordable housing.
During the protest, homeless Oakland mother Dominique Walker and her two children moved into a home that had sat vacant for months in West Oakland, after it was bought as an apparent flip by a SoCal-based real estate investment firm. She was joined in the effort by other mothers, Leena Graves, Jesse Turner, Angela Shannon, Sameerah Karim, and Denise Bambauer, who helped fix up the house and participate in media coverage that ultimately drew national attention. The group was evicted in a pre-dawn raid on January 14, at which point Walker had already vacated with her children — and two other activists, Misty Cross and Tolani King, were arrested.
As Fife said during the protest to Democracy Now!, "That’s what’s criminal about this housing crisis. There are actually places where people can live."
Fife continues to advocate for "housing as a human right," and in keeping with the Moms 4 Housing effort, she says she will continue to fight for tenants' rights, and for the conversion of dilapidated or abandoned property into affordable housing.
Fife told Mother Jones last month that she wants to "enact policy that changes budgets so we can reroute funds to put them into places where they should be."
And, she says, she wants to build housing, above all.