Shifting alliances highlight pivotal Alameda mayor’s race

Intra-council campaign for mayor: Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Frank Matarrese, Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer.

STORYLINE In 2014, Trish Herrera Spencer narrowly defeated Marie GIlmore in the biggest East Bay upset of that year. Spencer went from the school board directly to the mayor’s office. But Spencer’s support for anti-growth policies, siding with landlords, and fighting with unions, has yielded no legislative accomplishments. Two Alameda councilmembers believe they can better represent the city. Their interest in challenging Spencer’s re-election has been, at minimum, about two years in the making.

MEET THE CANDIDATES Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer served eight years on the Alameda school board, but was never elected by her colleagues to be board president. The slight and other against-all-odds tales dot the biographical story she used in 2014 and is using again this year. Keeping her campaign promises, she has proven to be a strong opponent of new housing developments and traffic on the island. Spencer has been the lone vote against public safety unions and is generally fiscally conservative. This month, she also voted against an ordinance to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 (her mayoral opponents voted yes).  Perhaps no other council colleague clashes more with Spencer during meetings than Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft. Often times disagreements appear less policy disagreements and more personal dislike. Ezzy Ashcraft is definitely the progressive in the field, but that moniker should be used lightly in other settings. In this race, she has been the loudest voice in support of renters and housing rights. Ezzy Ashcraft has served on the council for six years and before that sat on the city’s planning board. This is Councilmember Frank Matarrese’s second go-around for mayor. He ran in 2010 and was on the receiving end of vicious negative mailers sent by an out-of-town developer. He soured on politics for a time and won back his seat on the City Council in 2014, while receiving the most votes. While Matarrese could be painted as a moderate, the term is more succinct when describing his temperament. He has a reputation for being a reasonable colleague to interact with. 

“She’s complicated. I’ll leave it at that.”Ezzy Ashcraft, in Alameda Magazine last January, describing Mayor Spencer.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Finance Alameda mayor

PAST RESULT (2014)
1. Spencer 10,488 (50.13%)
2. Gilmore 10,368 (49.55%)

OUTLOOK Alameda politics is weird. Progressives here, almost from Day One, vowed to defeat Spencer in four years time and end what one former journalist derisively labeled early as “Our George W. Bush years.” The time has arrived and now led by the Alameda Firefighters union–the perennial kingmakers in Alameda politics–they are instead standing down. Ashcraft should have been the union’s pick, but she apparently rankled them by continuing to support the former city manager during the recent fire chief selection/tape-recording scandal. Bad move on Ashcraft’s part. Because losing the firefighters’ help is the only reason in the world why she would not win this race. It’s gotten worse for Ashcraft since. The firefighters have flexed their muscle outside of Alameda and, for most part, blocked Ashcraft from gaining key endorsements–the kind that matter and translate into fundraising or foot soldiers. Then, Matarrese, who most initially believed would pull moderate Alameda voters away from Spencer and hand the election to Ashcraft, has veered closer to Ashcraft’s positions and council votes. Matarrese may now been a drain on Ashcraft’s chances on Nov. 6. On the flip side, there is no other public official in the East Bay more peculiar, more beguiling, more downright goofy, than Spencer. There’s a very Trumpian quality to her core style of politics. Polling from about year ago found Spencer is by far the most well-known city official in Alameda. She knows exactly how to talk to city’s aging, long-time residents who speak of their family’s time in Alameda not in terms of years, but generations. She feels their fears of a changing Alameda deep in her heart. But it’s extremely noteworthy that her campaign mentions absolutely no accomplishments during the last four years. One view is, at least, she’s honest. Her propensity for being the lone contrarian on council votes, long ago, failed to be a responsible way of governance. The play by Ashcraft and Matarrese to Spencer’s rabid fan base should be that the incumbent’s style and lack of a vision for Alameda has brought them literally no gains. There is no moderate revolution coming to Alameda politics anytime soon, so work with me because I can work with the growing hegemony of the council’s progressives. And to underscore the point that Spencer has done nothing for her base of moderate supporters is the fact that the Alameda Firefighters, by sitting out the mayor’s race, are probably making the right move. This is how they hope it shakes down on Nov. 6. Spencer wins re-election. Ashcraft returns to the council, Matarrese is out because he gave up council re-election to run for mayor; and Councilmember Jim Oddie and John Knox White win the two seats on the City Council. A new council made up of Spencer, Ashcraft, Oddie, Knox White, and Malia Vella is the most likely scenario next month and one that translates into a solid 4-1 vote on nearly all matters. The end result: Maybe the most solidly progressive council majority Alameda has ever had. But with two weeks to go, Ezzy Ashcraft appears more willing to highlight the string of negative, sometimes strange stories that pock Spencer’s public record.  If the race turns to Ezzy Ashcraft’s favor, this new strategy was the likely factor. No objective reading of the facts in this race remotely suggests Spencer’s re-election has a chance in hell, but, then again, Alameda is a weird place.

VOTER GUIDE
LEFT Ashcraft
RIGHT Spencer

PREDICTION
1. Spencer
2. Ashcraft
3. Matarrese

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