A progressive majority on the Alameda City Council was solidified two years ago with the defeat of its moderate mayor and the addition of a fourth lefty councilmember. But in a city that once represented a conservative island in the liberal East Bay, the past is destined to clash with the present this fall.
Two incumbent councilmembers once embroiled in a City Hall scandal, will seek two open seats in Alameda’s at-large election. The five-person field, also includes former Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer, who was denied re-election in 2018 after one term.
Alameda voters will also reckon with the city’s past when it comes to exclusionary housing policies, in addition, to an opportunity to transform the Alameda school board. Two of the three incumbents will no seek re-election this fall.
During Spencer’s term as mayor, progressives enjoyed a slim majority on the five-member council. But it grew to a 4-1 advantage after Spencer was replaced with a reliable progressive vote in then-Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft in 2018, and John Knox White replaced the moderate Frank Matarrese.
The majority could be challenged this November. Councilmembers Malia Vella and Jim Oddie, arguably the council’s most consistent progressive vote, are likely to again face questions about allegations made in 2017 by former Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach.
Oddie ran for re-election in 2018 under the cloud of controversy for allegedly pressuring Keimach to hire a fire chief backed by the Alameda firefighters union.
An independent investigator hired by the city urged for changes to the City Charter to clarify what constitutes political interference by councilmembers. An Alameda County Grand Jury, meanwhile, found Oddie and Vella violated the charter, but they declined to begin the process of removing them office.
Oddie finished third in the race for two open seats on the council in 2018, but because Ashcraft was elevated to mayor, Oddie returned to the council. He is technically serving the remainder of Ashcraft’s council term, which concludes this year.
Much like the 2018 council election, question about the city manager scandal is likely to return, along with discussions about police accountability in Alameda in the wake of an arrest in May of a black man who was innocently exercising in the street.
Spencer leads the field of three council challengers. She hopes to make the unorthodox downward move from mayor to councilmember. One of the more divisive political figures in Alameda politics, Spencer has hinted on social media that she intends to run on police accountability, along with criticism of the city and county’s response to covid-19. Spencer is also best known for her slow-growth policies in Alameda.
Community activist Amos White and Gig Codiga are first-time candidates. White was slated to partcipate in the council race two years ago, but failed to finalize his registration for the election prior to the deadline. White arrived at the city clerk’s office just minutes after the 5 p.m. cut-off.
He later laid blame on the city clerk and assistant city attorney, suggesting at a press conference in front City Hall, that he had been wrongly denied entry in the race.
White has growing name-recognition in Alameda, but his political ideology is not completely known. Recently, White publicly announced support for abolishing the Alameda Police Department, a position that is far more radical than the “Defund the Police” movement in many East Bay cities.
Codiga’s candidacy comes at a time when Alameda is taking a renewed look at its racial past. Codiga is married to Gayle Godfrey Codiga, an elected member of the Alameda Hospital Healthcare Board of Directors. Her grandfather is former Alameda Mayor Milton Godfrey, whose legacy has come under question recently after it was revealed he publicly urged for the exclusion of blacks from living in Alameda during the early 1940s. An Alameda park is named in Godfrey’s honor.
Dueling online petitions exists calling for the removal of Godfrey’s name from the park, and another, is asking to maintain it. Last month, the Alameda City Council voted to remove President Andrew Jackson’s name from a park on Encinal Avenue due to his poor record against minorities.
The possible repeal of Measure A, the 1970s era charter amendment that significantly limited the number of new housing units in Alameda for a generation, will be a major issue in the City Council race, and for the entire electorate. Opponents of the charter amendment believe it was implemented out of a fear of minorities moving to the island, and being the cause of the city’s lack of rental housing stock and high rents. Proponents believe it serves as an important check against untamed development.
At the Alameda school board wholesale changes to its composition is also likely. Trustees Gray Harris and Ardella Dailey will not run for re-election.
A third incumbent, Trustee Jennifer Williams, however, made a last-minute bid to retain her seat. Uncertainty over Williams’ candidacy follows an arrest last February for alleged drunk driving. Williams was the top vote-getter in the 2016 school board election.
Seven others have qualified in the race for three at-large seats on the five-member school board. They include Beth Aney, attorney; John Casselberry, education activist; Verna Castro, education program administrator; Heather Little, education non-profit director; Megan Sweet, educator; Margi Thomas, high school teacher; and Leland Traiman, retired nurse practitioner.
For candidates in three other Alameda races will not have to suffer through any Election Night drama.
“The Two Kevins,” Alameda Treasurer Kevin Kennedy and City Auditor Kevin Kearney will retain their offices for another four years after no candidates filed for the open seats.
Alameda Healthcare District Boardmember Michael Williams and former Alameda Councilmember Stewart Chen were the only candidates to file for the two open seats on the board and will not appear on the ballot. Chen also served previously on the Alameda Healthcare District board.