Fremont Councilmember Lily Mei registered one
of the biggest electoral upsets in the East Bay.

Using a deft campaign to highlight growing unease over development and traffic, Councilmember Lily Mei is Fremont’s next mayor. She becomes the city’s first female mayor and the first Asian American to attain the office.

Although some ballots are still left uncounted in Fremont, Mei extended her lead over incumbent Mayor Bill Harrison during Monday night’s latest update to 4,479 votes. The county’s initial tally released on Election Night showed Mei up by just 929 votes.

[UPDATE] Mayor Bill Harrison said he called Councilmember Lily Mei Wednesday afternoon to concede the race and congratulate her on the victory. Harrison also offered to his assistance to ease the transition to the new mayor.

Mei’s victory in Fremont is likely one of the biggest upset of the election cycle in the East Bay, however, but totally surprising. Fremont Democrats and those in the Alameda County party as a whole, had been predicting a tough re-election campaign for Harrison over the past few months. Mei is registered without a party affiliation.

Fremont voters also sent a further message to city officials that development must be slowed due to concerns over traffic and a shortage of schools. Voters not only sided with Mei’s slow-growth stances, but also those of her political acolyte, Councilmember Vinnie Bacon, who overwhelmingly won re-election Tuesday night.

Bacon, who mimicked many of Mei’s concerns, won 31.8 percent of the vote in a seven-person field for two open council seats. Bacon’s total dwarfed second-place finisher Raj Salwan by 10 points and nearly 20 points over the third-place finisher.

Harrison’s one term as mayor will end despite signs Fremont’s business sector was growing and public works projects such as the opening of the Warm Springs BART station and rebuilding of the downtown areas was conveying a sense of progress.

But the incumbent mayor was a victim of Mei’s strong campaign that sought to label Harrison as staunchly pro-development and to a certain extent in the pockets of developers.

There was also a derisive quality to the reaction Harrison would receive at public campaign events whenever the issue of developers was raised, further suggesting Mei’s strategy was undercutting her opponent.

In this light, it comes as no coincidence that late vote-by-mail and provisional ballots issued on Election Day are showing higher percentage of support for Mei than the initial vote count following a news story that only reinforced perceptions about Harrison and his reliance on developer’s money.

A newspaper report published five days before the election likely ended any chance of a comeback for Harrison after it detailed his campaign receiving $60,000 in late contributions from developers doing business in Fremont.

Nevertheless, because of Mei’s victory, the political season will not end in Fremont just yet. Once the results of the election are certified in coming weeks, the Fremont City Council will look to make an appointment to fill the remaining two years of Mei council term.