Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao addresses FBI raid and more

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao gave her first interview with a news organization on Tuesday following the FBI raid on her house at the end of June. 

In a one-on-one interview with KTVU, Thao appeared confident and calm, answering some questions about the agents scouring her Maiden Lane home, but refusing to answer others.

She also talked about the recall effort against her, the budget, the sale of the Oakland Coliseum and the city's new police chief, Floyd Mitchell.

Here is her interview with anchor Andre Senior. 

The questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity and rearranged according to topic.


Q: We're going to get to the budget shortfall because there's a lot to talk about that. And the council is voting on that today. But first, I want to get to some issues that people want to hear about. Residents of the city want to hear your thoughts that goes back to the FBI raid. You denied any wrongdoing in your speech last week? After the FBI raided your home. Have you met with the FBI since the raid? 

A: I wish I could say more, I really do, but again, it's an ongoing investigation, so I cannot say further.  

Q: There was some talk of your partner, Andre Jones. Is he involved in any kind of work with your administration at all?  

A: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, he is my partner. He is his own person. And so, with that being said, again, this is an ongoing investigation. 

Q: But your former chief of staff, Renia Webb, came out publicly and said the FBI questioned her about him. Had you heard that before?

A: She was my chief of staff on the city council. And so, with that being said, it's an ongoing investigation. And, we can't give out further information.  

Q: Do you have any association with the Duong family whose houses  were also raided on the same day that your house was  raided? Two, what is your association with them just in general, apart from anything that might be going on? 

A: So what I can say about that is that you can see that associations or whatever that you would consider association, is that everybody was actually, you know, we take pictures with everybody. And so, you can see that other electeds have taken pictures with them as well. But that's all that I can say.

Q:  You have a new lawyer now for the case that that recently happened with you. What was the issue with Tony Brass that happened? I mean, he said he was surprised at the press conference. 

A: Of course, he would be surprised. He wasn't my attorney… I'm just very gracious that, you know, at the foresight, you know, when everything was happening, you know, as a mom, I, of course, you know, I've not gone through a FBI raid before. So as a mom, I wanted to make sure that my son was safe, that I was safe. I wanted to ensure that, you know, I found legal representation. I needed some time. So I do appreciate Tony being able to help support by putting out a public statement. But at no point in time was there a contract between him and I for him to represent me. And so, at the end of the day, you know, I was taking my time to look for representation. [Attorney ] Jeff Tsai is the only attorney that I have signed with.  

Q: Was anyone home when the raid happened? I think you weren't there. But was anyone at your house, like, was your child there? I mean, it's got to be scary. I could only imagine what it's like because they don't tell you anything. They just come. 

A: Andre, I can't tell you. What I can tell you is that, you know, I think that at the end of the day, if my child was home, or my child was not home. But that's what I'm going to tell you. That's all I'm going to tell you. Because, at the end of the day, if I could say more about what happened during the raid or what have you, then I'll be here again to talk to you about it. But, outside of that, I can't speak on it.  


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Q: You said during that press conference as well that there are some billionaires that don't live in [Oakland,] from San Francisco and in Piedmont that you said have something against your administration and want you out of office. What can you tell us about that? Because that was the first time I heard any sort of thing like that. What do you have to show that that is the case and that you have these billionaires coming after you so to speak? 

A: You know, at the end of the day, we know that there is a lawsuit right now against the people who are trying to recall me because they are refusing to work with law enforcement to really show who is actually donating money for the recall itself. And so we all should be concerned. We should all be concerned when the Public Ethics Commission has a subpoena for this information, which is what they need to do is show who's donating and how much they're donating. But [the recall organizers] are refusing to cooperate. And so that's very concerning. We do know that there are millionaires and billionaires from Piedmont in San Francisco who may be donating to this pact. And so, that's probably part of the reason why they don't want to actually be transparent about who's donating.  

Q: You said there might be some correlation between the recall effort and and the raid on your home. Do you believe that to be the case? That there is someone or something behind the scenes that they're working actively, against your administration? 

A: You know, I actually didn't say that. You know, I think that those are two very different things. Or they could be the same thing. We don't know yet. It's an ongoing investigation.  

Q: Today, a resolution placing the recall against you on the November ballot. What is your message to the council and to Oaklanders about this? 

A: We've done great work coming into office. Let's recall that right when I got into office 18 months ago, that this recall started. So it is a waste of money, a waste of resources. Right now, we're dealing with a huge deficit in the city of Oakland, where we're looking under couch cushions to see how we can actually deliver services. This is not the democratic way of doing things. And not just that, but it's going to cost city residents millions of dollars, millions of dollars that the city does not have.  

Q: Should the council set up a date for the recall and move forward with it? If we're still in the process of verifying the signatures and who's donating, [as well] as the ethics part of looking into the recall effort, should we be moving ahead with that? 

A: Of course, that's going to be the decision of the city council. That's number one. But you make great points. We don't know who's donating to this pact illegally. And we don't know who's behind running the recall efforts in regards to the finance part of it. However, it's going to be on the city council to make that decision. And then number two, again, you know, we all know that this is going to cost the residents in the city of Oakland millions of dollars, millions of dollars that we do not have for the services that we need to deliver. 

Q: What is your plan to combat this recall effort? You know, this is something else on your plate that you have to deal with. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be expensive. What is your plan of attack on this? 

A:  What we've been doing is making sure that we're effective in a results-driven way. You know, what we've seen is that, for many, many decades, politicians have come and gone. And in areas that need investment, like Deep East Oakland, with the Coliseum, like West Oakland, you know where we know that there's a ton of air pollution and inequities that we've already built out. [Also, let's look at] Raimondi Park. You know, we have that for the Oakland Ballers. These are all the successes that we have been able to have, and they're huge successes that my administration have been able to deliver for the city of Oakland. And this is how we generate new money so that we can actually fulfill our duty of serving the city of Oakland and its residents.  


Q: Let's talk about the budget. Your city council could vote on that budget today. We're talking about a shortfall of $177 million. Correct? $63 million in cuts are proposed right now. Is that correct as well? 

A: Well, that's not my proposal….I've already had my mayor's proposed budget out, and it's been out for a few weeks now. The key item is public safety. First and foremost, that's our Department of Violence Prevention. That's our police department, our fire department. And then not just that, but a clean city. We're just talking about the basics here, right? A clean city is what we all deserve. And so, and then the third part of that is making sure we have economic development. How do we bring in more resources so that we continue to actually build on this? So with that being said, the mayor's proposed budget is fiscally responsible, and it also allows for us to deliver those services. 

However, the council's other budget doesn't do that. It actually doesn't even have a plan for public safety. It cuts our force, our police force. It cuts the Department of Violence Prevention. It shuts down fire stations with no plan. And so, you know, running a city like the city of Oakland, you have to ensure that you can deliver services. I mean, coming into office, we saw that crime was on the rise before I even got to the office. And then we were able to bring back the Ceasefire program. And what we're seeing is that under my administration, we have a 17% drop in crime rates across the city within the last three years, and 30% drop in crime rates within just the last year.  

Q: I think a good chunk of [the budget cuts] is to public safety, the police department. Right? 

A: What I'm proposing is that we have no cuts to OPD, the sworn personnel right now. There will be attrition. We would not fill in those positions until we get to the 678 number, right? And that's the number of officers that I'm asking for under the council's other proposed budget –  610. There is no way that we can say that we are actually focused on public safety if we allow for the council proposal to move forward.  

Q: The police officers association, they're having a press conference right now this morning denouncing the cuts. What do you have to say? 

A: You know, budget cuts are happening. We are seeing it's happening across all cities across California. The state itself is going through a lot of deficits and budget cuts. With that being said, all departments across the city have had to cut down on what they're spending on. 

And so, with that being said, what I would say to people is that the mayor's proposed budget is the public safety budget. It is the budget that really puts forward the public safety plan. It brings the number of officers to 678 but remember, we also have an opportunity to renew Measure Z and that is going to be important. Because the renewal of Measure Z creates a minimum threshold of 700 police officers, and so moving from 678 to 700 is a lot easier than what the council may be proposing, which is 610. And I warn everyone that that is going to be very dangerous. 


Q: We have a budget shortfall this year, but we're projected to have one next year as well. Do you have any idea how we're going to fix all of that? And how does the Coliseum factor, Coliseum sale or possible sale factor?  

A: Well, we all know that for decades everyone has always talked about the Coliseum and developing it, but nothing's been done. And so I know that if we move forward with [African American Sports and Entertainment], which I am in intimate conversations and negotiations with them, if we are very close to a deal, I should say that this $63 million could come in from that sale, which will help us in this dire situation. 

And that's what this one-time money can be used for. That is a legal way that we can actually help close that gap. However, to your point, we do have a deficit for next year as well, and that's why we are going to start the budget process. We usually start it in January. Well, I'm telling the whole all of the city staff that we're starting in September to really have the hard conversations about how do we close this gap so that we're fiscally responsible and at the same time able to deliver services and public safety? 

Q: [I've seen that] the Coliseum sale would be valued at over $100 million. What can you say about that? 

A: You know, it's $105 million, right? And, at the end of the day, when the county sold [the Coliseum] to the Oakland A's … that was actually $85 million, right? That's what it was priced at. And so the $105 million for that site is key for the city of Oakland in regards to resources being brought in. But it's also key for the location itself, because, again, we've been waiting for it to be developed for decades.  

Q: Is there any way to use that $105 million and put it into the budget? What is that plan? 

A: I think the we need to think about really, you know, the short term and our long term financial health. And so, with that being said, you know, I am moving forward with bringing in some professionals to look at how do we actually get financially sound in regards to the long term. And this has not actually happened under previous leadership. 

Q: You're talking about bringing in an outside source here?

A: I think that we all need to be hands on deck. I think that, you know, with all our labor unions, the POA, the SEIU Local 21, fire, everybody needs to be at the table and outside. I need to come in as well, too, so we can put all of our brains together to see how we can best move forward. I mean, we are one team. We are one team. So in order to solve this crisis, we have to work together.  


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Q: Let's go to the issue of public safety again. We had five or six  homicides recently in the city. When you see those numbers spike like that, after the numbers that were just released show that crime in Oakland is falling, what goes through your mind? What were you thinking when you heard that number?  

A: Time after time, every year during the summer months when our children are out of school and it's warmer, we will see an increase, a spike in crimes. I have put together a team to do what we can to ensure that that doesn't happen, especially around our gangs and groups and our networks, our criminal networks. And so we're tackling that. I do believe that OPD is doing a great job under Chief [Floyd] Mitchell to ensure that we're being proactive.  


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Q: Speaking of Chief Mitchell, it has been more than a month. He's been on the job now. What are your thoughts on his performance so far?  

A: He's incredibly he sees an incredible person. Not just that, but he's a great mentor for the department. He's a great partner. He's learning the city of Oakland quickly and understanding some of the different changes that need to take place. And that's why you're seeing that, you know, that's a part of the budget process as well.  

Q: It's a complicated city. I've heard from people who were worried whether or not he was going to be able to understand the intricacies of Oakland.  

A: He's a professional. He's a professional. He understands and he learns quickly. And so I'm really excited. And also, I've heard nothing but great things about the chief internally from the department and externally from the community.