The status quo in Alameda County has been
aided by a concerted effort to perpetuate
political patronage and stymie insurgents.
As the filing deadline for the June 5 primary passed last Friday evening, the Alameda County Auditor-Controller Steve Manning and Assessor Ron Thomson failed to complete their filings for re-election. Alameda County elected officials waiting until the last minute to bow out of re-election in an apparent effort to boost the chances of their underlings is an even-year tradition in the East Bay, which critics say only reinforces continuity of power among county government loyalists.
In the case of Manning, who has served as auditor-controller since 2014, the filing scheme is most evident. Records with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters long listed Manning as pulling papers for re-election. A race in which he almost certainly would have won. But days before the Mar. 9 filing deadline appeared another candidate–Manning’s subordinate–Melissa Wilk, a deputy Alameda County auditor, replete with a well-designed campaign web site. Irella Blackwood, an outsider to county politics, is also a candidate for auditor-controller this spring.
The same strategy was used four years ago when long-time Alameda County auditor-controller Patrick O’Connell failed to complete his filing and instead opted for retirement. At the last moment, O’Connell’s chosen replacement, Manning, was left as the heir apparent for the job in June. Twenty-eight years prior, O’Connell got the job in the same manner. Manning’s election in June 2014 was also hastened by news reports that his challenger had illegally filed for the seat while living in Contra Costa County.
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In the case of county assessor, Thomson’s incomplete filing last week attracted four late-filing candidates, including a member of the assessor’s office, James Johnson. The race in June includes two candidates with experience in politics: John Weed, an elected member of the Alameda Water Agency, and Phong La, a well-known local Democratic Party activist. A certified general appraiser named Kevin Lopez also qualified for the June ballot.
Meanwhile, variations of this apparently election scheme, which ostensibly edges out outsiders from winning elections at the county-level, has been used repeatedly over the years. An alternate version also used in Alameda County politics involves the seat-holder announcing retirement and forcing an appointment to the seat just prior to the election, thereby, significantly aiding that person’s chances of winning.
This is how Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley got the job and was subsequently elected in 2010. Same for Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern. Since becoming a supervisor in 1998, Scott Haggerty has never faced a challenger. Only in the case of O’Malley this campaign season, has any of the three ever faced a challenger for re-election.
More recently, appointed Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector Henry Levy was the benefactor of a well-timed retirement last year by Donald White, the long-time office holder. Levy was appointed to the office last April and is running unopposed this June.
And just like four years ago, Alameda County Supervisors Wilma Chan and Richard Valle will run unopposed. In addition, 24 races involving incumbents for Alameda County Superior Court judge failed to gain a challenger, therefore, will not appear on the June ballot.
The lone judgeship on the ballot, however, is an anomaly, featuring controversial Superior Court Judge Tara Flanagan and retired public defender Karen Katz. Typically, judicial races in Alameda County are only contested when a sitting judge leaves the seat open due to retirement.