Mary King, first black female Alameda County supervisor; power broker, dies

Mary King looking over a design for the new 
Bay Bridge span. PHOTO/MTC

ALAMEDA COUNTY | OBIT | Trailblazing three-term Alameda County Supervisor Mary King died Sunday following a long illness. She was 69.

In 1988, King became the first black woman ever elected to the traditionally all-male, all-white Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

She served the District Four seat until 1999 before stints as interim AC Transit general manager starting in 2009 followed by an appointment to briefly serve on the BART Board of Directors in 2012.

“She worked tirelessly for the District and our Board of Directors to carry the agency through tough economic times,” said a statement Tuesday from AC Transit. “Ms. King was a true trailblazer and used her considerable expertise in government to develop and advocate for efficient transportation systems and services to help people move around the Bay Area.”

King also served under Bill Lockyer, then an Assemblymember, as his chief of staff while also working with Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson. But it was her decisive victory for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors that cemented her legacy as a fighter for public transportation and open space.

At the time of her 1988 upset over then San Leandro Councilmember Don McGue, just 10 percent of District Four voters were black. To win the seat, King knew should would have to appeal to all groups, she told the Los Angeles Times in 1990.

“I was Oprah, the kind of warm, competent person you’d want to have a cup of coffee with,” King said in profile. “I ran as an ordinary person, not wealthy, not poor, but comfortable. I didn’t run from the race issue. We put my picture on the campaign brochure. I was this competent black woman who was approachable and warm.”

Her intensive experience in local and state government and the ability to project her competence won over mostly white voters in the district who, she said, valued her as “an urbane black woman running against a polyester white man.”

King is survived by her mother Victoria King and two daughters Kimberly and Vikki King, and two grandchildren.

Video on Mary King’s involvement with the design of the new Bay Bridge span via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

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