Rep. Barbara Lee’s political future left unsaid at Oakland BART ribbon cutting

Renovations at the 19th Street BART station in Oakland are complete, and while the Uptown unveiling made for a nice photo opportunity for transit leaders and local politicians, the representative most likely to face questions about her future wasn’t eager to provide answers just yet.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, BART officially unveiled the improved station, now boasting brighter lighting, remodeled restrooms, new railings and pieces by local artists. Nearly a dozen officials were at the event, including newly elected Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, State Sen. Nancy Skinner and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland.

“I’m always so proud to talk about my district and how we all work together,” Lee said.

But talk about her political future? Not so much.

Lee, 76, one of the most senior members in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, is widely considered to be a contender to replace U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein when her term ends in 2024. Election speculation has heated up recently after Rep. Katie Porter, a popular Democrat from Orange County, announced her bid for Feinstein’s seat earlier this month.

Feinstein, who is almost 90 and has been the focus of reports claiming cognitive decline, hasn’t given any public indication of whether she will run again.

On Saturday, Lee ducked out of the event early while officials were still giving speeches — and without fielding questions about a potential Senate run.

Thao, in one of her early public events as mayor, arrived at the 19th Street BART Station shortly after answering questions at City Hall about her decision to place Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong on leave. The move came following the release of a report alleging Armstrong had allowed officers to escape discipline for “serious misconduct.”

At that press event, Thao said her decision was “not punitive” and would allow the city to “review the findings of the reports.” A few blocks away at the BART station, she was noticeably more relaxed, praising transportation officials for getting the project over the finish line.

“And to say that it was done in what, seven, eight years? I think that’s fast,” she said semi-jokingly, noting the bureaucracy that comes with securing state and federal funding for public projects.

BART riders wait for their train at the recently remodeled 19th Street BART Station in Oakland, Calif, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
BART riders wait for their train at the recently remodeled 19th Street BART Station in Oakland, Calif, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

BART officials said the renovations had a total cost of $65 million.

The work on the station allowed the transit agency to expand station capacity, improve access, save energy and reduce fare evasion, according to a BART news release. The work included public art installations, energy-efficient LED lighting, a new elevator and the addition of bike channels.

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