Jean QuanJean Quan’s passion is to give children an equal opportunity from the start. This passion has led her into a life of public service, she served on Oakland’s school board for 12 years, and has been a councilwoman in Oakland since 2001.
As a school board member, Jean helped raise more than $500 million in bond issues. As a result, she says, ”I know that 50,000 kids in our city are much safer, and that gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”
Among her successes as a councilwoman, she is most pleased by two accomplishments: While campaigning, she went door-to-door and was able to get more than 1,000 people to register to vote. ”Many of these people were Chinese, and as a result, I see the Chinese community more involved in the democratic process,” she says. ”We recently had a Town Hall meeting and more than 100 of those in attendance were Chinese.”
She is also proud to have been a part of saving the city’s library system from severe downsizing. She recalls, ”As a child, my family was very poor. My one recreation was walking to the library and checking out a book to take home. If it weren’t for public libraries, there wouldn’t have been any English literature in my house. I am very grateful to the public library system.” Because of her own experience, Jean worked to ensure all the branches stayed open and operating six days a week. ”We’re now working on a capital campaign to expand the library system,” she adds.
Today, Jean’s emphasis on improving the lives of children in her community is shared with other pressing needs of a city of 450,000. Emergency preparedness is a big part of her focus. Jean points out, ”In terms of a city, we have had many disasters, with earthquakes, and the nation’s most costly wildfire in 1991.” She helped pass the Oakland Wildfire Prevention District in 2004, which raises $1.7 million annually toward vegetation clearance, property inspections, and school and neighborhood emergency training.
”Also, we’re on the Haywood Fault, which is predicted to have a major earthquake in the next 30 years,” she says. ”Oakland is one of the most densely populated areas along the fault. Our emergency planning has created a lot of the profiles that FEMA now uses. For example, six years ago, we made sure all emergency response officials, highway patrol, the sheriff’s office, police, were all on the same frequency. But we continue to look into how to integrate new technology.”
While she admits that a career in politics can be thankless, she is driven by her belief that she can make a difference. ”I do it because, internally, it’s rewarding.” She explains, ”I stay in politics because it gives me an incredible opportunity to stand in thousands of people’s shoes and see their perspectives. It gives me responsibilities outside myself and my own small world, and broadens my perspective.” [9-05]