* Was elected mayor of Oakland, California in November 2014
Elizabeth Beckman “Libby” Schaaf was born in Oakland, California on November 12, 1965. After earning a B.A. in political science from Rollins College in 1987 and a J.D. from Loyola Law School in 1993, she took a job as an attorney with the Oakland-based law firm of Reed Smith LLP from 1992-95. After that, Schaaf served as director (1995-98) of the Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute; co-founder (1996) of the nonprofit group Oakland Cares, which professes a dedication to “providing food,… information on services available, [and] emergency shelter [for locals] in need”; legislative aide to Oakland City Council president Ignacio De La Fuente (1999-2004); special assistant to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown (2004-06); Director of Public Affairs for the Port of Oakland (2006-08); Senior Policy Adviser for Community & Economic Development for the Oakland City Council (2009-10); and member of the Oakland City Council (2011-14).
Campaigning on a platform that called for “correcting unacceptable disparities for underserved communities” and raising the city’s minimum wage to $12.25 per hour, Schaaf, a Democrat, was elected mayor of Oakland in November 2014. She continues to hold that post.
In August 2017, Schaaf joined other Oakland activists in a protest sparked by reports that President Donald Trump might seek to terminate the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, by which former President Barack Obama had given hubdreds of thousands of illegal aliens temporary legal status and protection from potential deportation. Vowing to shield young immigrants from “the devastating impacts of family separation and deportation,” Schaaf stated: “The simple fact that Trump is threatening to end the DACA program is reprehensible and breaks a promise made to nearly 800,000 young people who are currently working toward the American dream in the ultimate nation of immigrants.”
In February 2018, Schaaf made headlines when she tried to sabotage a series of scheduled raids in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the San Francisco Bay Area were hoping to arrest, over a four-day period, more than 1,000 illegal immigrants with prior criminal convictions. The day before the first of those raids were slated to take place, Mayor Schaaf posted a tweet intended to warn the targeted individuals that they might be in jeopardy. She also issued a lengthy statement that said:
“Earlier today, I learned from multiple credible sources that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is preparing to conduct an operation in the Bay Area, including Oakland, starting as soon as within the next 24 hours. As Mayor of Oakland, I am sharing this information publicly not to panic our residents but to protect them. My priority is for the well-being and safety of all residents — particularly our most vulnerable.…
“In Oakland, [the] public schools have strict protocols in place to protect our students and families. Oakland police officers are prohibited from participating in ICE activities. Additionally, California state law prohibits business owners from assisting ICE agents in immigration enforcement and bars federal agents from accessing employee-only areas. I have reached out to local leaders and partners in our immigrant communities to share this information…. We understand ICE has used activity rumors in the past as a tactic to create fear; our intent is for our community to go about their daily lives without fear, but resiliency and awareness…. Oakland is a city of law-abiding immigrants and families who deserve to live free from the constant threat of arrest and deportation. I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as Mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent.”
As a result of Schaaf’s actions, ICE succeeded in arresting scarcely 150 local illegals, while more than 860 others who were also on the target list – all with criminal records – evaded detection and remained “at large,” according to the agency. “I did what I believe was right for my community as well as to protect public safety,” said Schaaf. “People should be able to live without fear or panic and know their rights and responsibilities as well as their recourses.”
In a March 7, 2018 speech in Sacramento, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions excoriated Schaaf for what she had done, saying: “[H]ere’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote a radical open borders agenda.” In response, Schaaf delivered the following retort to Sessions at a press conference in Oakland:
“How dare you vilify members of our community by trying to frighten the American public into thinking that all undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals … How dare you distract the American people from a failed immigration system that tears apart families and forces the workers that our economy depends on … to live in fear and work under oppressed conditions? How dare you distort the reality about declining violent crime in a diverse sanctuary city like Oakland, California, to advance your racist agenda?… Oakland’s agenda is a thriving community. [President] Trump’s agenda is bigotry and vindictiveness.”
In June 2020, Schaaf said that five ropes that had been found hanging from trees in an Oakland city park were nooses and racially-charged symbols of racist terror. The mayor added that city officials, who promptly had the ropes removed, must “start with the assumption that these are hate crimes.” But shortly afterward, black Oakland resident Victor Sengbe told KGO-TV that the ropes were part of a rigging that he and his friends had put in place months earlier as part of a larger swing system; he also shared video of the swing in use. “Out of the dozen[s] and hundreds and thousands of people that walked by, no one has thought that it looked anywhere close to a noose,” said Sengbe. “Folks have used it for exercise. It was really a fun addition to the park that we tried to create. It’s unfortunate that a genuine gesture of just wanting to have a good time got misinterpreted into something so heinous.” But according to Mayor Schaaf: “Intentions don’t matter when it comes to terrorizing the public. It is incumbent on all of us to know the actual history of racial violence, of terrorism, that a noose represents and that we as a city must remove these terrorizing symbols from the public view.” Nicholas Williams, Oakland’s director of parks recreation, agreed: “The symbolism of the rope hanging in the tree is malicious regardless of intent. It’s evil, and it symbolizes hatred.”
For additional information on Libby Schaaf, click here.
Further Reading: “Libby Schaaf” (LinkedIn.com); “Who Is Libby Schaaf, the Oakland Mayor Who Warned of Immigration Raids?” (NY Times, 3-1-2018); “ICE Arrests Over 150 in Bay Area” (Mark Tapson, FrontPage Magazine, 3-2-2018).