While legislative special elections in Southern California proliferate–mainly due to resignations that follow claim of sexual harassment–the level of interesting and competitive races in the East Bay is lacking something fierce. Several cities in Alameda County will decide whether to re-elect mayors, while other races will serve as referendums on respective first terms. Hayward is the latest city to escape low-turnout June municipal campaigns for November, further diminishing the primary season. But overall, while the dearth of competitive races in June is noticeable, perhaps the two most interesting matchups will take place in the spring, not the fall. Here are the Top 10 East Bay races to watch in 2018:

Assemblymember Catharine Baker seeks a
third term this June.

16TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT Assemblymember Catharine Baker is not only the lone Republican in the East Bay legislative caucus, but the only legislator who has to actual take their re-election campaign seriously every two years. Baker is in the purplish, blue 16th District and that means Democrats always have designs on booting her from office. But Baker has slayed a series of heavily-financed and worthy Dems over the past four years while proving to be independent of the minority Republican Party in Sacramento. That being said, Baker’s level of competition this June appears to lack the quality of recent election cycles. Nevertheless, Democrats Tom Tarantino, a manager for Twitter, and civil rights attorney Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, might make Baker sweat a tiny bit.


HAYWARD MAYOR An East Bay mayoral election should always be on this list, but this one barely makes it. That doesn’t mean Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday‘s re-election is a certainty, just that Hayward voters have not shown much exuberance for participating in local elections over the past decade. With SEIU Local 1021’s backing, voters moved their municipal elections from June to November in order to drum up some excitement. But this race should be watched because they is signs that the city’s formidable Latino American population, especially its youth, are recognizing they have a civic responsibility to foment change, not only with Trump, but local leaders. Halliday’s record over the past four years is unspectacular, but Hayward’s taste for change might not be satiated unless another challenger other than Councilmember Mark Salinas emerges over the next six months. Salinas lost to Halliday in 2014 and thus far hasn’t shown signs that he intends to offer any new solutions and policies. Keep an eye on Councilmembers Elisa Marquez or Francisco Zermeno. Neither would endanger their current seats if they indeed run.

Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks
will have to start playing nice after a jury
found the city liable for $3.5 million after
injuring ex-Black Panther Elaine Brown.
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL DISTRICTS 2 & 6 As we start a new year, CouncilmemberAbel Guillen has a few potential challengers itching take him on over the issue of housing in Oakalnd’s District 2. Housing activist Nikki Fortunato Bas already has a campaign website and part of her platform includes strong opposition to the Laney College ballpark. It’s not clear, though, whether the ballpark issue will be part of the discussion come the fall. But if it does, Guillen could be put in a bind. More worrisome for Oakland A’s fans, Guillen is liable to side with activists, rather than support a ballpark in his district. But, without a doubt, Councilmember Desley Brooks‘ re-election campaign will, indeed, be interesting. An Alameda County Superior Court jury found the city liable in an incident that involved Brooks pushing and injuring Oakland activist and former Black Panther Elaine Brown. Brooks’ temper is likely to cost Oakland taxpayers at least $3.5 million, and maybe more. It’s not clear, though, who might run against Brooks and become the conduit for taking her actions to task. In 2014, a candidate named Michael Johnson repeatedly rattled Brooks by blasting her stewardship and lack of new investment in the East Oakland district. Someone like Johnson, will now have even more ammunition this fall, especially since the jury basically labeled Brooks an elder abuser.

SAN LEANDRO MAYOR During San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter‘s first term in office, the city’s politics have become more progressive, but notably, a far more conciliatory tone on the council emerged after the previous stormy four years of former Mayor Stephen Cassidy’s reign. Things seem to look good in San Leandro, but Cutter may have a council challenger in Councilmember Benny Lee, who could be aiming to leverage a fairly large campaign account (for San Leandro standards) in addition to a network of strong support from Asian American groups, both in the city and the region. Furthermore, Cutter may be facing an unrelated existential threat from the cannabis community, some of which are upset about her votes to stymie the permits of the Davis Street Wellness Center, a medical cannabis dispensary permitted in San Leandro. The dispensary, though, has faced opposition from Cutter and city manager. If the group’s conditional-use permit is not resolved later this month, there is a belief the group will help finance a challenger to face Cutter in November. A good political race might be good for San Leandro. In recent years, the city’s lack of a legitimate generation of new leaders is shocking, coupled with a strong sense of voter apathy. Two years ago, for instance, a termed out seat on the City Council attracted just one candidate.

Between Alameda’s City Council and 
mayoral races, everyone in this photo
could be running for something this year.

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL It is often said when it comes to Alameda politics, the island punches above its weight. Battle lines are clearly drawn between progressives and conservatives, landlords and renters; and played uncommonly rough. Alameda City Council campaign always deliver interesting story lines and this fall’s race will deliver. In fact, the composition of the City Council could wildly shift in one direction this fall. There are several factors that could deliver an entirely progressive City Council. For that to happen, Councilmember Jim Oddie would need to retain his seat (one of two at-large seats up for re-election this year), Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft would need to unseat Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer, another progressive win the second at-large seat; while yet another place third (that person would takeover the two years on Ashcraft’s council term). The likelihood of a new progressive era in Alameda is further increased if Councilmember Frank Matarrese does not seek re-election and instead runs for mayor and loses. Moderate former Councilmember Tony Daysog is likely the foil in this story. He remains popular with a segment of Old Alameda and the most seasoned candidate in the race. Independent Expenditure Committees might also be a story. Alameda’s powerful firefighters’ union not only has the cash, but the willingness to play hard ball politics. On the other side, is a belief the California Apartment Association, through local intermediaries, will funnel cash in order to protect the current status quo regarding Alameda’s rental ordinances.

FREMONT CITY COUNCIL/REDISTRICTING Fremont is the second-largest city in Alameda County. Historically, it has not only felt overshadowed by Oakland, but just about every much-smaller city in between. When it comes to politics, the revamped Fremont City Council is showing signs of a brutal race involving two newly-created seats and one appointed candidate running for a full four-year term. In addition, Fremont is moving toward district-based elections this fall and there are signs that a spouse of a current councilmember is eyeing a run, although its not clear how that might happen. Can appointed District 3 Councilmember David Bonaccorsi win a race on his own is among many questions for 2018. In addition, will the two new seats up for grabs attract any new blood in Fremont politics? As it stands, those interested are old names in Fremont, such as former police chief Craig Steckler and John Dutra, Jr., son of former Assemblymember John Dutra. And remember this is all happening because an attorney in Southern California–with no apparent connection to Fremont–decided last year to threaten a lawsuit against the city that alleged it violating the state’s Voting Right Act by disenfranchising Latino voters through its at-large voting system. The council, instead, voted to expand the council from five to seven seats and institute district-based elections starting this year.

ALAMEDA MAYOR Critics and observers of Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer joke that her re-election campaign amounts to winning votes by hugging every single voter on the island. It’s true that Spencer’s mastery of retail politics is a significant intangible in this race. Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft is almost a sure thing to challenge Spencer. Both are clearly rivals. Councilmember Frank Matarrese, at this point, appears to be laying the groundwork for a run. Maybe Councilmember Malia Vella? Maybe Councilmember Jim Oddie? Maybe the ghost of Ron Cowan, too? Who knows. What we do know is Spencer is going to face the most difficult re-election campaign of any incumbent in the East Bay. Like a certain person in D.C., Spencer has repeatedly catered toward her base of voters, mostly moderate to conservative Alameda homeowners and long-time residents who generally pine for the so-called “good ‘ol days.” With changing demographics and a tilt toward to the left in city politics, Spencer’s ardent base may not be enough for another four years. Recall, Spencer’s upset in 2014 of Marie Gilmore was by just over 200 votes. As mentioned above, Alameda’s firefighters’ union is not shy about throwing haymakers at election time. With Spencer they have a multitude of options to attack her in mailers. And if all fails, they can attack her for attending President Trump‘s inauguration last year–a seemingly trivial fact, but nonetheless, a dynamo of a trump card in a city that loathes him. Yet, somehow, most island observers, no matter their personal animus toward the mayor, admit you simply cannot count Spencer out when election season rolls around in the fall.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s legacy is
more at stake than her re-election.

OAKLAND MAYOR Who are we kidding here? Ignacio De La Fuente is on a suicide mission and a bevy of other first-time or perennial candidates will merely burn like road flares. We all know Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf will win re-election. But the mayoral race in Oakland this fall is really a referendum on Schaaf’s first term. While she has made Oaklanders generally feel good about themselves over the past three years, Schaaf has clearly faced a number of defeats. Uber’s much-ballyhooed move to downtown Oakland isn’t happening and the Raiders are skipping town. Obviously, the will of most Oaklanders didn’t much care about the keeping the team, but stripped down, Schaaf make no headway in keeping a billion dollar corporation in the city and might be headed toward losing another in the A’s. But most importantly, the most interesting part of this race will be how Schaaf responds to the city’s growing and very visible problem with homelessness and her handling of the 2016 police scandal. In 2014, Schaaf famously said Oakland “hella needs new leadership.” It will be interesting how she defends her first term against challengers using a similar refrain.

Challenger Pamela Price and Alameda County
DA Nancy O’Malley.

ALAMEDA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY To be clear, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley is a decided favorite in this June race. But O’Malley has very little campaign experience despite serving since 2010. That’s how county politics works around here. Elected county officials time their retirement just prior to re-election, tab their successor, and nobody dares to challenge the anointed. This is why so many progressives in Alameda County are excited by Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price‘s campaign. She is well-spoken and very direct in her criticisms of O’Malley (in addition, to Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern). Price also raised $230,000 through mid-year–a figure that is significant, but still much less than O’Malley’s haul. The incumbent DA unsurprisingly is snapping up local big-name endorsements to the extent the real news is going to be whether any official dares to side-step backing her campaign. Nonetheless, progressives who believe O’Malley is too cozy with law enforcement, have hope. There is great potential for Price to diminish O’Malley’s perceived state of invincibility here. Although, the two met at an early candidates forum last fall, keep an eye on whether O’Malley publicly participates in a healthy campaign debate over the next few months.

AD15 is centered in Richmond, but its power
center also involves Berkeley and Oakland.

15TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT In this age of extended term limits in the State Legislature, an open assembly seat is a rare bird. In fact, the race in the Richmond, Berkeley, North Oakland 15th Assembly District represents the only competitive congressional and state legislative race in the entire East Bay this year. Of course, Tony Thurmond is leaving the seat open in order to run for the state superintendent of schools. The decision, long rumored and announced last April, was a clarion call for just about every person who ever dreamt about serving in the assembly. Currently, the field numbers nine, and possibly more. As it stands in January, not a single candidate has emerged as the front runner. The early intrigue may be the path progressive activists and labor unions follow toward identifying who they will support. The most likely suspects included Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb, Richmond Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett, East Bay MUD Board Director Andy Katz, and political consultant Buffy Wicks. Wicks is likely to be the most financed candidate by way of her connections with the national Democratic Party, but she is also susceptible to being called a “carpetbagger.” The biggest question may be whether Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan joins the race. Put it this way, if you ask her about running in AD15, she might not directly answer the question, but she never, ever denies the premise.