Games(wo)manship in the State Senate Special Election Race

Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, seated in purple, listens as her opponent for the open State Senate 7th District seat, Joan Buchanan, asks the Tri Valley Democratic Club in Dublin for their endorsement.
PHOTOS/Steven Tavares

STATE SENTATE | DISTRICT 7 | After Assemblymember Susan Bonilla made her roughly 17-minute pitch for the Tri Valley Democratic Club’s endorsement Monday night, she walked toward the end of the first row of seating and angled the white folding chair toward the next speaker.

Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan woo Tri
Valley Democrats before the Mar. 17 primary.

Joan Buchanan, a former Assembly member who termed out of office last month, was another Democrat vying for the club’s imprimatur for the coming special election in the State Senate 7th District to replace Mark DeSaulnier, who is now in Congress.

Buchanan, like Bonilla peppered her speech with vows to strengthen education in the state. But, on several occasions, it was clear that Buchanan felt Bonilla’s gaze emanating from her right. While addressing the center of the audience, Buchanan eyes, nonetheless, darted to the right on at least three times.

Was this a case of subtle political gamesmanship?

Bonilla said no. After the endorsement meeting in which Buchanan easily won the club’s backing, Bonilla said she had no intention of rattling Buchanan and merely wanted a better look at her opponent while she spoke.

“Joan doesn’t get unnerved,” said Michelle Henry, a member of Buchanan’s campaign team. “It’s just politics.”

Buchanan and Bonilla, at times, Monday night, echoed scenes of camaraderie typically seen among a bunch of Democratic legislators pushing a new bill at a press conference. Both have pledged to run a clean race with Buchanan going as far as describing her campaign slogan as “positively for us.”

Buchanan’s endorsement Monday night, however, was not surprising. She is a member of the Tri Valley Democratic Club and its president Ellis Goldberg had already publicly touted his support for her candidacy. Buchanan received the backing of 29 voting members, Bonilla won two and four voters called for no endorsement.

Voters in the 7th District, which spreads from Contra Costa to Alameda Counties, may not have the appetite so soon for another negative campaign like the one that elected Republican 16th District Assemblymember Catharine Baker over Tim Sbranti and before that, in the primary, that included Steve Glazer.

Meanwhile, time is of the essence in this very short campaign. In addition to Buchanan and Bonilla, attorney Mark Meuser, a Republican, is in the race. The deadline for candidates to file is this Friday, Jan. 23, with much speculation centering on whether Glazer will attempt a run.

Furthermore, vote-by-mail ballots will be sent beginning Feb. 16 and due Mar. 10, with the primary set for Mar. 17. The general election is slated for May 19.

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