Can Frank Matarrese beat the IAFF Local 689 slate out of a seat on Council by counting on Bay Farm Island voters to give him a come-from-behind victory?
The answer is “Yes,” if two conditions are met:
- Mr. Matarrese stays close in the vote count from the Main Island; and
- Bay Farm voters are adamant about electing a Councilman who is opposed to Ron Cowan’s latest scheme for additional residential development on Harbor Bay Isle.
Let us explain how this scenario would work.
The Merry-Go-Round looked at the results for the last five elections, which encompassed two Mayoral and five Council races.
In one of the five Council races, the Bay Farm vote provided the margin of victory for one of the two successful candidates. Back in 2004, when two seats were at stake, Doug deHaan trailed Pat Bail for the second slot by 93 votes based on the returns from the Main Island. But Mr. deHaan out-polled Ms. Bail by 390 votes on Bay Farm Island, and thus he, not she, was elected to Council.
Likewise, in the two elections in which three Council seats were up for grabs, the battle for the third slot was close enough that the outcome would have been different if a few hundred Bay Farm votes had moved from the third-place candidate to the fourth-place candidate.
In 2010, former Mayor Beverly Johnson led Jean Sweeney for the third available seat by 168 votes based on the returns from the Main Island. Ms. Johnson widened her lead with the Bay Farm vote. But had the Bay Farm totals for two candidates been reversed, Ms. Sweeney, not Ms. Johnson, would have been elected.
Similarly, in 2012, Stewart Chen, D.C. led Jeff Cambra for the third available seat by 365 votes based on the returns from the Main Island. Like Ms. Johnson, Dr. Chen widened his lead with the Bay Farm vote. But had his and Mr. Cambra’s Bay Farm totals been reversed, Mr. Cambra, like Ms. Sweeney, would have squeaked into third place.
So the Bay Farm vote has made, or could have made, a difference in three of the last five Council elections. And it could do so again for Mr. Matarrese in 2014.
We give you the following hypothetical:
Based on the historical averages, there will be about 36,000 votes for Council on the Main Island and 10,000 on Bay Farm. (Remember, each voter may vote for two candidates).
Let’s assume that Mr. Matarrese trails the two candidates endorsed by the firefighters’ union – Bonta aide-de-camp Jim Oddie and incumbent Councilman Chen – in the returns from the Main Island, but the race is close: say 13,000 (36%) for Oddie; 12,000 (33%) for Chen, and 11,000 (31%) for Matarrese.
Now suppose that Mr. Matarrese ups his share of the vote to 40%, plus two, on Bay Farm Island. That gives him 15,002 total votes. If Mr. Oddie and Dr. Chen split the remaining 5,998 Bay Farm votes evenly, Mr. Oddie ends up with 15,999, Dr. Chen with 14,999.
And the new Councilmen? Thanks to Bay Farm, Mr. Oddie and . . . Mr. Matarrese.
So it’s possible that, by polling especially well on Bay Farm Island, Mr. Matarrese could overcome a deficit on the Main Island and take a Council seat away from the IAFF Local 689 slate. But will Bay Farm voters go his way?
One could cite a variety of reasons for voters anywhere in Alameda to prefer Mr. Matarrese to the firefighters’ union candidates. But those reasons apply equally to Bay Farm voters and Main Island voters. There is one reason unique to Bay Farm that may give Mr. Matarrese an edge: his unequivocal opposition to Ron Cowan’s latest scheme for additional residential development on Harbor Bay Isle.
Back in April 2013, Cowan adjutant Tim Hoppen announced that Cowan intended to close the existing Harbor Bay Club, tear it down, and put 80 luxury houses on the site. A new Harbor Bay Club would be built at the Harbor Bay Business Park.
Cowan claimed that, by bulldozing the existing Club and using the land for additional residential development, he was simply exercising “rights” he already enjoyed. He had said the same thing when he was trying to swap vacant scrubland at the Business Park for the Mif Albright golf course. The statement was false then, and it is false now.
Like the golfers before them, Harbor Bay residents mobilized to oppose Cowan’s maneuver. Their grassroots group called Harbor Bay Neighbors now numbers close to 1,000 people.
Among other things, the Neighbors argue that Cowan cut a deal with the City years ago that stands in the way of his latest ploy. The Community Master Plan for Harbor Bay Isle originally included a village commons and smaller recreation centers in each of the four residential villages. But Cowan convinced the Planning Board and Council to allow him to substitute the Harbor Bay Club – at its current site – for the areas reserved for recreational uses so that he could build more houses. According to the Neighbors, Cowan thus “inextricably tied his ownership of the Club land to its continual use as a Community recreational facility.”
Cowan submitted the formal paperwork for his proposal in August 2013. A few months later, he revealed that he also was considering a 212-room hotel and conference center – rather than 80 houses – for the Harbor Bay Club site. But then, in April 2014, Cowan withdrew the application for the current Club site and requested that the City proceed only with the application for the Business Park. There have been no subsequent hearings before the Planning Board.
Harbor Bay Neighbors has mounted a vigorous campaign against Cowan’s effort to replace the Harbor Bay Club with houses or a hotel. It set up a Website and an email distribution list. It encouraged its members to write letters to the editor and to speak out during the “public comment” period at Council meetings. As the November election approached, the group turned to politics.
The Neighbors asked all five candidates to pledge to endorse the existing Harbor Bay Isle master plan and to support a permanent barrier closing off Island Drive from the Harbor Bay Business Park. According to a flyer distributed by the Neighbors, all five said, Yes, to the second – but only Mr. Matarrese (and Mayoral candidate Trish Spencer) supported maintaining the master plan. Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie – as well as their IAFF Local 689 slate-mate, Mayor Marie Gilmore – “declined to declare” an opinion. The firefighters’ union candidates told the Neighbors they were following the advice of City Attorney Janet Kern.
The charade continued at the candidate forums.
At the first of the four – the one sponsored by the Alameda Citizens Task Force – Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie apparently had not yet gotten the briefing on how to dodge the Cowan issue. Dr. Chen – typically – said his position would depend on the results of the environmental impact report and traffic analysis. Mr. Oddie – also typically – sought to appeal to one side while keeping his options open by saying he was “skeptical” of Cowan’s claimed “right” to build additional houses and “concerned” about “messing with” the master plan — but it would be up to Council to “figure it out.”
By contrast, Mr. Matarrese not only praised the master plan but promised to vote against any attempt to re-zone the Harbor Bay Club site to permit residential development. (Ms. Spencer was equally unequivocal in opposition to Cowan’s proposal.)
But the next night, at the forum sponsored by The Alamedan and the Alameda Sun, Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie sang a different tune – or, rather, they buttoned their lips. Asked specifically about the master plan, Dr. Chen claimed it would be “irresponsible” to answer because he would “have to recuse myself” if the matter ever came before Council. Mayor Gilmore, who had not attended the A.C.T. forum, then asserted that it would be “ethically wrong” for her to state her views and advised the other candidates likewise to remain silent. Naturally, Mr. Oddie, who spoke next, did as he was told and said he wouldn’t answer the question, either.
Again, Mr. Matarrese (and Ms. Spencer) felt no compunction in telling the voters what they thought. Both supported preserving the existing master plan. The Business Park should stay commercial, Mr. Matarrese said. The Harbor Bay Club site should remain recreational, Ms. Spencer added.
(The Cowan issue did not come up at the other two forums. The Alameda Architectural Preservation Society focused on parochial issues. The League of Women Voters asked for the candidates’ animadversions on such topics as “the responsibility of a Council member” and “how to increase transparency.”)
How will these performances play on Bay Farm Island?
Maybe Bay Farm voters will be inclined to excuse the IAFF Local 689 slate for what amounts to taking the Fifth on the Cowan issue. But the lawyers on Harbor Bay Isle – and we understand there are a few of them – shouldn’t be fooled by the attempt to hide behind legal “advice.”
The California Supreme Court has made it absolutely clear that, “A councilman has not only a right but an obligation to discuss issues of vital concern with his constituents and to state his views on matters of public importance.” Accordingly, “Campaign statements . . . do not disqualify the candidate from voting on matters which come before him after his election.”
If the City Attorney truly advised Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie to keep silent in response to any question about Cowan’s latest scheme, her “advice” flies in the face of this precedent – not to mention the best interests of the electorate. And since the IAFF Local 689 slate, including the Mayor, has persisted in its obstinacy despite having been made aware of the controlling authority to the contrary, a voter – on Bay Farm Island or elsewhere – legitimately could doubt the team’s ability to exercise sound judgment.
But cynical minds wouldn’t stop there. Could it be that the refusal by Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie (and the Mayor) to reveal their views of Cowan’s proposal was prompted not by a perceived duty to obey the City Attorney (which wouldn’t apply to Mr. Oddie anyway), but by a politically inspired desire to curry favor with Ron Cowan?
We don’t know. But we do know that Mr. Oddie and Dr. Chen are connected to Cowan in ways that Mr. Matarrese (and Ms. Spencer) are not.
Mr. Oddie kicked off his campaign with a fundraiser held at the home of Kathy Moehring, a member-in-good-standing of the Inner Ring – according to the Sun, she submitted the “Alameda Point Revitalization Initiative” on behalf of SunCal – who shelled out $291.32 for food and drink for Mr. Oddie and his guests. Ms. Moehring also attended a similar event for Dr. Chen (held at IAFF Local 689 headquarters rather than at her home) and got her picture taken with the candidate. And the Councilman lists her among his “community member” endorsers on his Website.
And what’s Ms. Moehring’s day job? Since January 2013, three months before Cowan unveiled his plans for the Harbor Bay Club, she has been “Director of Community and Government Affairs” for Harbor Bay Group – i.e., for Ron Cowan. In that role, she issued the press release announcing Cowan’s proposal in April 2013 and led off the presentation to the Planning Board in October 2013. She also is the person to contact for an appointment to get a dog-and-pony show about the proposed new Club.
It may be that Cowan has nothing to do with, and knows nothing about, Ms. Moehring’s activities on behalf of Mr. Oddie and Dr. Chen. But that wouldn’t be the Ron Cowan we know.
No, Mr. Oddie and Dr. Chen haven’t said that, if elected, they’ll support Cowan’s plans for the Harbor Bay Club. But any Bay Farm resident who opposes those plans has to see Mr. Matarrese as the far better choice.
There’s little doubt that many of Cowan’s detractors on Bay Farm Island already know which Council candidate is on their side. Recently, the Neighbors offered to provide, upon request, lawn signs for any of the five candidates running for municipal office. The Neighbors’ Tim Coffey told us that, as of Friday, the group had processed requests from 16 people, 14 of whom asked for Spencer signs and 13 of whom asked for Matarrese signs. No one asked for signs for Gilmore, Oddie, or Chen. (Of course, supporters of the IAFF Local 689 slate may already have picked up their signs at union headquarters).
But that still leaves the question of the extent to which the Harbor Bay Club issue (and opposition to Cowan) will drive the vote on Bay Farm Island.
For our part, we haven’t been able to find any reliable study about “single-issue” voting in municipal elections. But we have heard many times how Chuck Corica – a political unknown and a barber by trade – was elected Mayor of Alameda based on a campaign focusing on his opposition to the sale of the South Course at the Golf Complex. Perhaps opposition to Cowan could achieve an equivalent result for Mr. Matarrese on Bay Farm Island.
Thus far, we’ve confined the discussion to the impact of the Bay Farm vote on the Council race. But a similar analysis could be applied to the Mayoral contest.
Unlike the Council races, the Bay Farm vote did not prove decisive, actually or potentially, in either of the Mayoral races in our survey. In both, the winning candidate led the pack comfortably on the Main Island and easily won the most votes on Bay Farm Island as well.
In theory, if this year’s Mayoral race is close based on the returns from the Main Island, Ms. Spencer could prevail if she does especially well on Bay Farm Island. But she will have to do a lot better.
The Main Island averaged about 21,000 votes and Bay Farm Island about 6,000 votes in the two Mayoral elections. If these averages hold this year and Mayor Gilmore builds up even a 2,000-vote lead on the Main Island, Ms. Spencer will have to capture two-thirds (plus one) of the Bay Farm votes to win. Not an easy task.
But, of the two candidates, Ms. Spencer surely will be the choice for any Bay Farm resident upset by Cowan’s latest scheme. Both in response to the Neighbors’ questions and at the candidate forums, Ms. Spencer spoke out against Cowan’s proposal. Ms. Gilmore stuck to her vow of silence.
At one time, Cowan apparently thought he had the Mayor securely in his pocket. As reported by The Alamedan, the developer sent an email last September to Ms. Gilmore and City Manager John Russo stating that both he and Willie Brown expected support from the Russo/Gilmore administration for his project and threatening that “if we see any indication otherwise it’s going to be hell to pay.”
We don’t know whether the Mayor buckled under to Cowan’s threats (or intends to so in the future). When the story broke, we sent emails to everyone on Council and all of the relevant City staffers asking about their dealings with Cowan. Every single recipient replied – except for one: Mayor Gilmore.
In any event, like her IAFF Local 689 slate-mates, Ms. Gilmore hasn’t said she’ll support Cowan’s plans. But if you were a Neighbor, whom would you vote for?
Back in August, Mr. Coffey published an op-ed in The Alamedan pointing out the potential impact of the Bay Farm vote and lamenting Bay Farm’s “lack” of “representation” at City Hall. “One candidate for City Council [reportedly it was Mr. Oddie] has already flaunted his disdain for Bay Farm at his election kick-off,” Mr. Coffey wrote in conclusion. “The other candidates should not be so naïve.”
We’ll see in two weeks how prophetic those words turn out to be.
Harbor Bay Neighbors election flyer: HBN Election Flyer