When Libby Schaaf was elected mayor of Oakland, California, she wasted no time calling out the established powers in her community. During her 2015 inauguration speech she addressed the tech industry by saying, "Hey, Google, you wouldn't need all those buses if you'd open an office over here!" Last month, she made national news after alerting the city about forthcoming raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As a result she faced threats and harassment on social media, and criticism from President Trump. In an interview with Inc., Schaaf spoke about her views on immigration policy and her city's inclusion-minded approach to fostering entrepreneurship.
Inc.:You've made a lot of headlines recently. Tell me how that has affected you.
Libby Schaaf: Certainly my experience of suddenly being kind of thrown into the immigration debate over the last week or so has been one that's made me very mindful of how immigrants, including some undocumented immigrants, have become so woven into our communities. Having a diversity of perspectives and life experiences is a vital part of both our democracy, and of a creative, evolving society. These are values that I know my community celebrates. I think that this is a moment for us to have what hopefully is a civil and productive conversation about how our immigration policies are supporting the economy and America's growth.
How do we kindle that discussion?
Well, I think I just did! I didn't anticipate that what I did would be seen as speaking out on a policy matter, or that it would get so amplified. I was speaking about what my community values. But I think it's a healthy discussion.
Some of the economic development work being done in Oakland is very much tied to diversity and equality, correct?
Oakland is a city that is very committed to racial equity and a lot of the work that we're doing is trying to very intentionally address inclusion as we build an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship.
How exactly do you that?
We're very fortunate to be the home of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The Oakland Startup Network provides mentorship and access to capital for tech startups that are founded by people of color. Our goal is helping to launch 100 new businesses founded by people of color under the age of 30. I think we're at 75 in three years.
It's great that you've been able to track that.
We also have a partnership with Kiva.org, the crowdsourced-lending platform. We are their most successful American city with more than 530 entrepreneurs successfully funded. Eighty percent of those businesses are owned by people of color. Seventy percent are women.
Have you had any success in luring tech companies from San Francisco?
The most famous kind of failed. Uber announced that it was going to be expanding its headquarters into an Oakland building. Then when the company hit so many, um, challenges last year, they decided to consolidate. They sold the building.
How do you bounce back from that?
Honestly, I think it will end up being good for Oakland. We have yet to find out who the new tenants will be. But more than 200 companies have moved to Oakland in the last two years.
So Oakland's small business growth is not just a marijuana dispensary boom any longer? I'm kidding--sort of.
You know, Oakland's economy is I think most healthy when it's diverse. California Blue Shield is moving its headquarters from San Francisco to Oakland. Oracle just opened its first office in Oakland. We're seeing a lot of solar companies growing, too. Pandora started in Oakland and then grew in its own city. For food and beverage, we have Blue Bottle Coffee, Numi Tea, and Impossible Foods.
Recently being in the national spotlight, you've dealt with a severe backlash online.
Right. Those closest to me have banned me from social media right now, because it's almost used as psychological warfare. They have threatened me, and put pictures of my daughter online, and threatened harm. This is used to destabilize decision makers. I have a big job to do as the mayor of Oakland; I can't let this moment of drama distract me.
That's crossing a line.
It's not hate speech--and in some ways [as an elected official] I've signed up for a higher level of scrutiny. I live in a city that is full of protests and passionate advocacy. As an American I celebrate that we live in a country in which we are free to criticize our elected officials and our leaders. But constructive, versus hateful or destabilizing--that's an important conversation for us to be having right now. I'm not saying I know the answer.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.