ALCO ASSESSOR: Can Phong La win it outright?

Alameda County Assessor candidates: John Weed, Kevin Lopez, Jim Johnson, Phong La.

–MEET THE CANDIDATES– Alameda County Assessor Ron Thomson is retiring and his number two-man, JIM JOHNSON, was expected to take over. Of course, pending the will of the voters. The move is an Alameda County tradition, after all. Johnson has highlighted his experience in the everyday business of the Assessor’s Office. Like Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley and Auditor candidate Melissa Wilk, Johnson is offering the status quo. PHONG LA, though, has cut through the common Alameda County electoral dynamic and, by way of his extensive menu of local endorsement, feels more like the hand-picked county candidate than Johnson. La wants the Assessor’s Office to be more customer-friendly and to digitize the county’s records. JOHN WEED,  is a long-time elected member of the Alameda County Water District and appointed member of the Alameda County Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board. KEVIN LOPEZ is an appraiser in the Assessor’s Office since 1995.

–WHAT’S THE BEEF– The actual role of the county assessor. And that is to determined the value of residential and commercial properties and assign a fair property tax assessment. When a progressive Alameda activist asked, during a candidate forum last February, about how each of them would keep tabs on the assessments of large corporations, the race started to form. Johnson didn’t answer, but innocently noted the Tesla plant in Fremont was a large property. La heard Tesla and ran with it, suggesting Tesla deserved greater scrutiny because of its treatment of workers. La was clearly playing to the largely progressive audience. La’s statement likely didn’t hurt him and maybe endeared him to progressives. But doing what he said is not the assessor’s job. Instead, as Weed and Johnson argue, the job needs to remain unbiased. Johnson for one, has attacked La for the comment. Johnson says he’s the experienced candidate, while adding La is not. Furthermore, Johnson has also highlighted La’s personal wealth.

-OUTLOOK– The answer to the headline above is probably no, but quite a few East Bay insiders believe it’s possible. Alameda County-level races have November run-offs if a candidate does not receives a majority plus one of the vote. Doing so for La will, for one, save him a lot of money by avoiding a fall campaign. La is an up-and-comer in Alameda County politics who has taken the time to make valuable connections not only in his own Tri-Cities area, but now in Alameda, in addition, to the local Democratic Party. Furthermore, if you’ve seen his mail pieces, you know he’s serious about this race. The alternate thought, though, might be, all of this for county assessor? But the most important factor for those who believe La could lock up on Tuesday is the field of candidates opposing him is lacking in quality. It’s surprising that the supposed heir apparent from the Assessor’s Office is running such a strange campaign with a web site that is all about attacking La. Worse, he only lists four endorsements! Early in the campaign, Johnson repeatedly told audiences that he lives in Contra Costa County, but rented some type of dwelling in Alameda just prior to filing for the Assessor’s race, and claimed it was legal. Who knows, but did this guy just admit to hoarding a rental unit in Alameda when the city is struggling with high rents and low supply? The other Assessor employee, Lopez, is also lacking a proper campaign. Which leaves us with Weed, a candidate who seemingly hasn’t laughed out loud since the Eisenhower administration, but for what he lacks in personality, he seems to have in understanding of the job. It could be Weed or Johnson in second, but the spread is likely to be wide between either of them and La, making a November win for La almost inevitable.

–PREDICTION– 1) La. 2) Weed. 3) Johnson. 4) Lopez.

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