Mia Bonta sworn-in; Fremont’s Keng has sights on AD20

Newly-elected 18th District Assemblymember Mia Bonta was sworn-in Tuesday morning just a week after a dominating special election victory over Janani Ramachandran. Bonta, with husband, state Attorney General Rob Bonta, and two of their three children, received the oath of office from state school Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

Bonta thanked her family for their support, while others, including Rep. Barbara Lee, celebrated her becoming the first person of color to hold a seat in the Assembly north of Southern California in recent years.

Bonta won the Aug. 31 special election by 13 points over Ramachandran, a political unknown before this campaign who served on the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. Despite Ramachandran appearing to invigorate the district’s Berniecrats, Bonta’s overwhelming institutional and financial advantage proved too much.

Bonta raised over $2 million in campaign fundraising and benefited from a largesse provided by labor and special interests groups. At one point in early August as vote-by-mail ballots were distributed, many voters received at least one mailer a day for a week from or in support of Bonta.

INSIDE THE ELECTION MAP – The Bonta name and its fundraising engine built their victory in Oakland and San Leandro. Bonta won Oakland, by far the district’s largest city, handily, only losing close contests in precincts around Grand Lake, Trestle Glen and Crocker Highlands neighborhoods. Bonta, meanwhile, won all of San Leandro, despite strong support for Ramachandran from Councilmembers Victor Aguilar, Jr. and Bryan Azevedo.

NO HOMETOWN LOVE – Interestingly enough, it was Alameda, the Bonta’s home, where Ramachandran performed relatively well, pulling out small majorities all over the island. Ramachandran had focused on Alameda late in the campaign. Some political observers, however, believe the strategy also led to her demise in Oakland and San Leandro. While popular districtwide, Alameda’s moderate and conservative fringe hold the Bontas with contempt. Those voters didn’t didn’t need any outreach to vote for someone other than Mia Bonta, even if they did not hold the political values as Ramachandran

BAY FARM BLUES – This election once again illustrates how Bay Farm Island in Alameda is becoming a bigger problem for local progressives. The middle-class, predominately Asian area of Alameda is increasingly voting against progressives, and in last week’s case, against progressives named Bonta. Ramachandran won Bay Farm and registered a nearly five-point win in one 1,000-vote precinct. This follows Bay Farm strongly supporting moderate Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer for mayor in 2018. They also helped turn away progressive candidate Jim Oddie for city council two years ago. Progressive Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella also performed poorly in Bay Farm during her run in 18th Assembly District special election primary last June.

PROBLEMS IN 2022? – The inability to win in Bay Farm will undoubtedly affect the 2022 General Election in Alameda in which Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft is up for re-election, along with Councilmember John Knox White.


KENG FOR ASSEMBLY – To quote the late Michael K. Williams, “If you come at the king, you best not miss.” Fremont Councilmember Teresa Keng officially announced on Tuesday that she will challenge long-time 20th District Assemblymember Bill Quirk. Both are Democrats.

Keng

Quirk made the jump from the Hayward City Council to the Assembly in 2012 and is termed out of office in 2024. He has not announced a campaign for re-election, but there has not been any indication he will not seek a final two-year term in Sacramento.

Keng kicked-off her campaign last Sunday afternoon with a fundraiser at her restaurant the Milk and Honey Cafe in Fremont.

Keng’s statement:

“As the next Assemblymember for our District, I’ll bring a fresh, new political approach to Sacramento. In this time of crisis and beyond, we need elected leaders who have the innovative ideas and experience to get things done. From Fremont to San Leandro**, our assembly district is filled with great promise and great challenges. The ongoing pandemic has impacted our way of life, the health of loved ones, our children’s learning opportunities, and devastated family-owned businesses throughout the region”

At the same time public safety, growing homelessness, the housing shortage crises, transportation issues, and climate change has impacted our quality of life. My commitment to the residents of our district is to be a tireless voice and fighter in guaranteeing our district receives our fair share of state resources that will put our communities on a path for success.”

**Note: the 20th Assembly District does not include San Leandro, but covers Hayward, Castro Valley, Tri-Cities.

QUIRKY ELECTION? – Over the past nine years, Quirk’s tenure has been unspectacular, but he has proven to be a stalwart vote for Assembly Democrats. However, Quirk’s performance in the 2020 General Election raised some concerns about whether he might be susceptible to an intra-party challenge in 2022. Although Quirk easily defeated progressive Democrat Alexis Villalobos by nearly 14 points, Quirk’s 57 percent of the vote in a blue district — one in which he’s represented for nearly a decade — is low. Especially compared to other East Bay legislators who have served as long.

Quirk

KENG’S STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES – She is not been known as a particularly consequential member of the Fremont City Council since being elected in 2018. But Keng has a growing Asian demographic in a a district where their political power is already apparent. Keng is Taiwanese. But can Keng persuade labor and the local Democratic Party to ditch Quirk when he has been loyal to them over the years? In terms of Fremont, labor holds a mostly positive view of Keng, but will it be enough? Democrats in Sacramento don’t like Democrats challenging incumbent Democrats in clearly blue districts because it takes away fundraising from truly up-for-grab races across the state.

ONE MORE THING ABOUT KENG – If a Quirk-Keng primary comes to fruition and it gets ugly, expect to see Keng’s controversy involving the Chinese Communist Party being mentioned. Two years ago, some Fremont councilmembers raised the possibility of censuring Keng after she created a city resolution that was given to a Chinese Communist Party group that advocates for the renunification of China and Taiwan. Keng falsely created the resolution without the vote of the Fremont City Council and made it appear the city supported such a policy. U.S. foreign policy strongly supports of the defense of Taiwan.

ESTEEN ALSO RUNNING IN AD20 – Registered Nurse Jennifer Esteen has also announced a run for Quirk’s seat. She previously contemplated a run for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley’s seat two years ago. Esteen is viewed as more progressive than Quirk and Keng. This week, Esteen unveiled the endorsement of BART Board Director Latefah Simon, one of the East Bay’s rising political stars.