12 East Bay Races to Watch This Fall

FALL ELECTION PREVIEW | The November General Election will not go down as one of the most exciting political seasons in history. The statewide ballot is devoid of a contested race. And it’s pretty much the same on the federal level. However, if all politics is indeed local, the top dozen races for East Bay voters might be able to attract your attention as the campaigns head down the final two months to November. Here are the 12 East Bay races to watch:

Forget the total number of Oakland mayoral
candidates. Seven are legit.

1 Oakland Mayor The region’s clear headliner will literally be a 15 round prize fight. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is facing 14 challengers in this ranked choice voting race that amounts to keeping the city on its current course–which some label a renaissance–or a slight shift in course. However, nevermind there being 15 candidates in this race, the real stat is there is 7 legitimate and capable campaigns hoping to cobble together enough first, second and third place votes to replicate Quan’s surprising win four years ago. This race has quality and it also has a fair share of characters, too.

2 Assembly District 16 This was the primary race that defied logic by the amount of special interest money that was poured into the campaigns of Democrats Steve Glazer and Tim Sbranti. Sbranti advanced to the general, but Glazer did not. Instead, the Republican Catharine Baker registered a seven-point win over Sbranti in this very moderate and winnable district for the conservative. Expect labor to pull out all the stops for Sbranti because he’ll need it. Baker is a tough opponent and Sbranti often appeared out of his element during forums in the spring. Expect this race to also rehash the BART strike of late 2013.

3 BART Board of Directors District 4 Ditto here. Incumbent Robert Raburn angered many in labor for being complicit with management during the long-fought BART strike last year. Labor will likely seek to set Raburn straight in November. Termed out Alameda Councilmember Lena Tam has strong union ties and could unseat Raburn in this very labor-friendly district that includes Oakland and the Island.

4 Congressional District 17 A year ago, this race was positioned as not only the most important race in the East Bay, but one of the biggest in the entire country. Surprisingly, Ro Khanna’s dismal primary performance was the biggest dud since Facebook’s IPO. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be a plausible route for Khanna to upset the popular Rep. Mike Honda in November. Nevertheless, the media is still hoping for a storyline to marry with Silicon Valley’s futuristic persona and that involves the youthful Khanna over the veteran representative Honda.

Candidates for Oakland District 2 at a
forum last week.

5 Oakland City Council District 2 There is no other race in the area that features the top-to-bottom quality of this one to replace the retiring Councilmember Pat Kernighan in Oakland. In addition, through one reporting period, four of the five candidates are nearly neck-and-neck in fundraising. Abel Guillen is the East Bay newest progressive standard bearer and former local news anchor Dana King has name-recognition.

6 San Leandro Mayor This city is clearly on the rise, but its first-term mayor jumped ship this spring. Curiously, the power vacuum failed to attract any candidates of note. In a three-person ranked choice voting race, two candidates are moribund members of the City Council and the other was released from Santa Rita Jail just days before the deadline for candidates to file in August.

7 Assembly District 15 Like most intra-party jungle primary races, both candidates are virtual facsimiles. Therefore, many of the differences gleaned from the candidates involves personality. Elizabeth Echols is the Berkeley establishment’s candidate to replace the termed out Nancy Skinner, but she’s light on sizzle. Tony Thurmond, meanwhile, is a firecracker of a politician with more than enough charisma for himself and his opponent.

8 Alameda City Council Brace yourself for another edition of Old Alameda versus those handsome firefighters. Two seats on the five-person City Council are open this fall with Councilmember Stewart Chen as the only incumbent. Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s right hand man, Jim Oddie, is the vaunted Alameda Firefighters’ union’s guy for the second spot as it hopes to derail former Councilmember Frank Matarrese’s return to City Hall.

9 Fremont City Council This campaign for two seats on the Fremont City Council features the largest field of candidates outside of the Oakland mayor’s race. Nine candidates, including appointed Councilmember Raj Salwan, are seeking two seats on the five-person council in one of the most diverse and rapidly-changing areas in the Bay Area.

Helen Foster, Karen Monroe, center, at 
a forum last February.

10 Alameda County Superintendent Alameda County’s top educator is leaving after a generation at the helm. Following Sheila Jordan’s retirement she still hopes to manipulate the machinations at the Office of Education. Jordan’s associate superintendent, Karen Monroe, easily won the June primary, but failed to avoid a November runoff, while San Lorenzo’s Helen Foster scored a surprising second place finish.

11 Oakland City Council District 4 The massive remaking of the Oakland City Council over the past two years will continue with another new member. With Libby Schaaf running for Oakland mayor, Jill Broadhurst and Anne Campbell Washington hope to lead some of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. A third candidate, Paul Lim, is a long-shot with whole lot of moxie.

12 State Senate District 10 Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski is a near lock to win, but that’s not why you should watch this race. Republican Peter Kuo just may be the key to changing the party’s long-term fortunes in the state. Although he may have inadvertently done it, Kuo has tapped into a sleeping giant of Asian American angst. Not only has Kuo’s advocacy of SCA-5 stoked the growing demographic into potentially realizing they are conservatives, but most importantly, he has cajoled them into pulling out their checkbooks with some regularity.