ELECTION 2016 | This year is a presidential election and all eyes will be on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. However, when it comes to down ballot races in the East Bay, this is not the most electrifying local election, by any means. For instance, local campaign for Congress, the state Senate and the Assembly, each contain just one contested race. In some cities, people didn’t even bother to challenge the incumbent. In San Leandro, one open seat failed to even attract more than one candidate. That’s means Pete Ballew in San Leandro will do a “Haggerty,” named after Alameda County Supervisor Haggerty, and come to power without even campaigning a single day. Incidentally, Haggerty did a “Haggerty” in June when he ran unopposed for re-election. In his case, Haggerty has done a “Haggerty” for his entire 20 years on the board*. Nevertheless, there are at least 10 local races that demand your attention this November.


Rep. Mike Honda-Ro Khanna, Part II.

Yes, everybody, including the two candidates, are completely done with this seemingly perpetual campaign between Democrats Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna. But, this race has national importance and therefore, skips to the top of the list among East Bay races. A seat in Congress is the epitome of entrenched politics. Honda’s been there since 2000 and after coming short two years ago, Khanna finally broke through and defeated the incumbent in the June primary. This is Khanna’s race to win. Can he hold on? Through early September, the likely story lines are these: Honda might only accept one debate, while Khanna will clamor for a series of them. Honda will continue to label Khanna a version of “Republican lite” and Khanna will tip toe around courting disgruntled moderates and conservative while touting a progressive agenda. While it looks good for Khanna with more than two months to go, Honda is still within striking distance and his chances are bolstered by a certain high-turnout presidential election that slightly favors the incumbent.


Assemblymember Catharine Baker and Cheryl

Cook-Kallio meet again in November.

Like other contested legislative races in Contra Costa County over the past four years, the only winner here will be companies recycling tons of special interests campaign flyers. By most accounts, first-term GOP Assemblymember Catharine Baker really hasn’t done anything to threaten her re-election. In addition, Democratic challenger Cheryl Cook-Kallio probably doesn’t have the pedigree that screams member of the state Legislature. Yet, here we are, with presumably the most contested race in the entire East Bay. While the 16th Assembly District is hospitable to Republican life forms, the pollution produced by Donald Trump puts the party’s only East Bay member of the Legislature on life support. The story of this campaign will, of course, be the millions in Independent Expenditure Committee money spent on behalf of each candidate, and whether the prospects of a Trump presidency energizes the slight Democratic majority in the district to visit the polls.

Tom Bates has been a fixture in Berkeley politics for decades. His stint as mayor ends this year following retirement. So, a mayoral election in Berkeley is a rare occurrence and three sitting members of the City Council—Jesse Arreguin, Laurie Capitelli and Kriss Worthington–all staking claim to the office. Political strategery is also at work here. Worthington joined the race late to form a progressive bulwark with Arreguin, and opponents of Capitelli charged him with bailing on the initial council compromise over minimum wage. In addition, the field of eight features an interesting Cal graduate student named Ben Gould and homeless community advocate Mike Lee. Of course, it wouldn’t be Berkeley without a candidates from the city’s menagerie of characters, including Zachary RunningWolf, who gained notoriety when he took residence in a tree to protest the clearing of “sacred” trees around Memorial Stadium.


Sandre Swanson and Nancy Skinner

If this race had maintained the huge head of steam it began with over a year ago, it would have certainly been the top race this November. But things change and Nancy Skinner is the odd-on favorite to make a return to Sacramento after six years in the Assembly. Skinner had the better organization in the primary and ran away with an almost 18-point win over Sandre Swanson in June. In addition, Skinner did it without going negative. The result is a very dignified campaign being waged against a colleague also respected by many in the East Bay. However, it cannot be said enough how much Skinner’s 10-to-1 money advantage over Swanson is not only significant in a literal sense, but also psychologically. How can Swanson possibly close the gap in November? His supporters point to the likelihood of Independent Expenditure Committees swooping in on Swanson’s behalf and the increased turnout from the presidential election. However, increased turnout might not help much in the deep blue Ninth District where most view Skinner and Swanson has nearly identical in their progressive views.


Alameda residents rally outside of City Hall.

This is a proxy election in Alameda this fall. Five candidates, including two incumbents, are seeking a pair of open at-large seats on the Alameda City Council. But the issue of rent control will take center stage. Two rent-related ballot measures are also on the ballot–one advocating for rent control and another backed by the City Council to reaffirm a rent stabilization ordinance passed last March. The latter is opposed by the grassroots renters’ group and led to the successful placement of Measure M1 on the ballot. Both incumbents, Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Tony Daysog, could be in trouble. More likely, though, one is endangered. Daysog, along with first-time candidate Jennifer Roloff, appears slated more towards landlords, while former Councilmember Lena Tam has vacillated on her rent control stance. Ashcraft, meanwhile, has said just enough to placate the Alameda renters’ group and progressives in town. That leaves Malia Vella, a former district director for Assemblymember Bill Quirk, as the wildcard. In a race polarized by one issue, Vella is the only candidate espousing the benefits of rent control. If rent control passes in Alameda, and it very well could, Vella might ride into office along with it.

Fremont is changing both physically and demographically. Construction around town, not to mention a new and much-needed City Hall, has come under first-term Mayor Bill Harrison. However, Fremont is the center of huge demographic changes that are bound to spread out through the rest of Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. Fremont already hosts a minority-majority led by Asian and South Asian Americans. Most observers contend these changes could upend Harrison’s re-election. However, he’s popular in town, but without a few deft political moves four years ago, namely snagging the Alameda County Democrat’s endorsement, he very well could have lost to former Councilmember Anu Natarajan. This time around first-term Councilmember Lily Mei is in an ambitious mood. She won’t be a push over and her moderate to conservative ideology is actually a plus in Fremont. In recent years, this part of the county is beginning to mimic the moderate streak of the Tri Valley. Mei, though, has history. As a Fremont school board member, she advocated for banning certain books from public schools. It’s a tidbit her detractors always bring up.

Former Alameda Councilmember Barbara Thomas nearly won the June primary outright and many in the local Democratic Party and residents on the island, blurted out, WTF?! This is a judicial candidate who was once accused of throwing a brick through her ex-husband’s car window while she served on the Alameda City Council in the early 1990s. She also raised eyebrows when she strongly advocated against rent control at a public meeting in Alameda last fall. Open seats on the Alameda County Superior Court are rare and only come about following retirements. But, this race is important, say many Democratic Party poobahs, because of the lack of diversity on the current county bench. Scott Jackson, who is black, is a former Alameda County deputy district attorney, and although progressives are reticent about another prosecutor as a judge, there’s been a push to back Jackson. However, judicial candidates are limited on how they can campaign. For instance, the State Bar forbids negative campaigning and candidates are prohibited from expressing specific views that could later impeach their impartiality as a judge.

If Oakland at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has an extra bounce in her step, then it must be election season. One of the most popular public officials in Oakland is likely to win re-election, but she often attracts great enmity from her detractors. Peggy Moore is certainly putting her political capital on the line on behalf of Mayor Libby Schaaf and people like Matt Hummel represent those in the cannabis community have grown out of favor with Kaplan. Bruce Quan, no relation to Jean Quan, talks a good game and impressed some at the Alameda County Democratic Party endorsement meeting a few weeks back.. But, again, despite the apparent mismatches in this race, look for some type of scandal, convoluted or not, to fester against Kaplan during this campaign.

This one could go either way and its effect on the increasingly progressive San Leandro City Council could be significan. With District 6 Councilmember Jim Prola terming out of office this year, the council will be losing its most progressive member. Recall, Prola led the city’s successful campaign for minimum wage legislation. His replacement is a former San Leandro police officer whose progressive credential are in doubt. That means the race in District 2 among the union-backed Bryan Azevedo and city planning commissioner Ed Hernandez is so important for the make-up of the City Council over the next two years. In addition, the city’s attention will be focused on this race. That’s because it’s the only contested race on both the council and school board.

Who cares about school boards, right? Not in this campaign that is likely to contain the highest amount of “Game of Thrones”-style machination than all other races combined. A current school board that has been branded as disruptive and rude is being challenged by a slate of three candidates who are backed by many city leaders. Oddly, the political action committee supporting the overthrow of incumbents Luis Reynoso, Annette Walker and John Taylor is funded by the California Apartment Association and the Hayward Chamber of Commerce. In addition, there are already signs there will be political repercussions for the City Council’s declaration of war against the school board. Expect a multi-front battle and one of the most free-wheeling and entertaining races in the East Bay.

*- A “Haggerty” is not to be confused with doing “The Haggerty,” which is the act of an Alameda County Republican suddenly changing their party affiliation to Democratic at a chili cook-off.