The results of Tuesday’s elections for Council and other local offices came as no surprise to the Merry-Go-Round. Indeed, the electoral rules we discussed last week predicted a Vella victory and a Daysog defeat.
Absent any exit polls, there’s no basis for opining why voters chose one candidate over another, and those who presume to do so are, as usual, just makin’ stuff up. For our part, we’ll stick with a few comments.
Daysog out, Vella in (Part I)
It wasn’t only the unions who were celebrating the victory in the Council race by Teamsters lawyer Malia Vella and her IAFF Local 689 slate-mate, Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, and the defeat of incumbent Councilman Tony Daysog. A couple of real-estate developers had something to cheer about, too.
As our regular readers will recall, two major residential development projects currently are being proposed for the northern waterfront: Encinal Terminals (589 new housing units) and the Alameda Marina (670 new housing units). The former project is being developed by Sacramento-based Tim Lewis Communities through a limited liability company called North Cove Waterfront, LLC. The latter is being developed by BayWest Development, whose website describes it as a developer of multi-family residential, retail, and office projects in the Bay Area. According to Alameda Magazine, one of the “advisors” for the Alameda Marina project is Oakland-based developer James D. Falaschi.
For this election, the parties interested in the two projects placed their bets with “Alamedans United,” the PAC sponsored by the Alameda firefighters’ union and the grocery workers’ union and initially capitalized by a variety of out-of-town unions. North Cove Waterfront and Mr. Falaschi each gave the new PAC $5,000. (Subsequently, Hartz Holdings, Inc., a real-estate company located in Danville, dropped another $10,000 into the till.)
“Alamedans United” in turn spent a total of $48,445.02 promoting Ms. Vella and Ms. Ashcraft and trashing Mr. Daysog.
Only a cynic – or Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig – would imagine that Ms. Ashcraft or Ms. Vella will be inclined to support the Encinal Terminals and Alameda Marina projects because they benefited as candidates from the developers’ bounty. For all we know, both Council members might find the projects sufficiently vibrant and robust to earn their favor on the merits.
But even if the developers haven’t locked down two of the votes needed to get their proposals approved by Council, they have managed to eliminate one potential stumbling block: Mr. Daysog.
During the campaign, Mr. Daysog did not go as far as Jennifer Roloff in advocating limits on new residential development. But he did emphasize that “accounting for traffic impacts and transit planning” was crucial to consideration of future projects. And his track record over four years on Council showed that he meant what he said.
Mr. Daysog was the only Council member to vote against a residential development proposal while Marie Gilmore was mayor. The project involved was the DelMonte warehouse, where the developer – which, as it happens, is Tim Lewis Communities – plans to build 380 new housing units.
And it wasn’t just Mr. Daysog’s negative vote that would disconcert a developer; it was his stated reason for the vote: the Transportation Demand Management plan did not impose any penalties on the developer for failing to meet specific targets for mitigating traffic impacts.
A year later, after Trish Spencer had ousted Ms. Gilmore from the mayor’s chair, Mr. Daysog again voted against a residential development proposal. This time, the project involved building seven triplexes, three six‑plexes, a seven‑plex and an eight‑plex (for a total of 52 new housing units) on a 2.78-acre site located at 2100 Clement Avenue.
Perhaps because the discussion occurred at the end of a seven-hour Council meeting, Mr. Daysog was uncharacteristically terse in explaining his reasons for opposing the project, but it appeared he believed that the developer had taken advantage of the density-bonus ordinance to put too many units in too small an area.
Based on this record, it’s fair to say that, had Mr. Daysog been re-elected, he would have been a hard sell, not a soft touch, for the Encinal Terminals and Alameda Marina developers. Tim Lewis and BayWest undoubtedly expect they will get a warmer reception from Ms. Vella and Ms. Ashcraft.
Daysog out, Vella in (Part II)
The replacement of Mr. Daysog with Ms. Vella has another potential impact: it may set up a renewed confrontation between the Mayor and the Inner Ring when it comes time for Ms. Spencer to fill the next seat coming open on the Planning Board.
Since Ms. Spencer was elected, the terms of three Planning Board members have expired: Dania Alvarez and Stanley Tang in 2015 and Mike Henneberry in 2016. Mr. Tang did not seek another term, but Ms. Spencer did not re-nominate either Ms. Alvarez or Mr. Henneberry – and her decision not to extend Ms. Alvarez’s tenure caused a conniption among the local political elite.
“It looks to me like the only thing Dania Alvarez is guilty of is being appointed by Marie Gilmore,” fumed Mr. Henneberry, then still Board president, at the Council meeting at which Ms. Spencer’s replacement nominations were voted on.
During the Council discussion it was Mr. Daysog who defended Ms. Spencer’s right to choose her own candidates instead of re-nominating otherwise qualified incumbents. “[T]he Charter clearly says that it is the mayor who nominates a [candidate for a Board] position [he’s right; see section 10.2 of Article X], and, whether one chooses to call that politics or not, if the mayor has a certain agenda in mind, then that comes with the territory of elections,” he said, adding, “Elections have consequences.”
Mr. Daysog then joined with Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese to uphold Ms. Spencer’s decision to replace Ms. Alvarez.
Ms. Ashcraft and Councilman Jim Oddie dissented. They remain on Council, but now Ms. Vella has taken Mr. Daysog’s place. And guess which Planning Board member’s term is up this June? Why, it’s Inner Ringleader John Knox White himself!
Now, it’s possible that Mr. Knox White will eschew seeking the second full term for which he is eligible and instead retire from public life. (Board member Lorre Zuppan, whose term also expires in June, already has served two full terms.) It’s even possible that Ms. Spencer will re-nominate him despite his oft-expressed disdain for her and her supporters. We know plenty of people – including Mr. Knox White himself – who will tell you that he is an expert in every planning area from Architecture to Zoning. And with David Burton recusing himself all the time, maybe it would make sense to keep one enlightened visionary on the Board.
More realistically, even if Mr. Knox White wants to hang onto his Board seat, he has about as much chance of being nominated for another term as Merrick Garland now does of serving on the Supreme Court. And if he isn’t . . . well, if you thought the Inner Ringers were upset that Ms. Alvarez was not re-nominated, wait till you see how they react when their Ringleader gets the shaft.
This is where, to use Mr. Daysog’s phrase, elections have consequences.
Although Ms. Vella’s views on mayoral prerogative are as unknown as, say, her position on rent control, we suspect that she might take a different stance than Mr. Daysog if Ms. Spencer declines to re-nominate Mr. Knox White, who was one of Ms. Vella’s earliest, and most enthusiastic, supporters. Ms. Vella herself occasionally has joined the Twitter chorus of Spencer bashers, and in all likelihood she would relish the chance to outdo Ms. Ashcraft and Mr. Oddie in excoriating the Mayor.
And then what? Suppose Council members Ashcraft, Oddie and Vella vote down Ms. Spencer’s first choice to replace Mr. Knox White. Does the Mayor try again? How many times? And who will blink first? It could get very interesting.
Bunched at the top
The final vote totals will not be known until all of the mail-in ballots are counted, but when we looked at the election-day numbers in the Council race, we were struck by how closely the votes were bunched together, particularly at the top.
Ms. Vella led the pack with 9,515 votes, but her lead over the second-place finisher, Ms. Ashcraft, was only 771 votes, and the difference between Ms. Vella and the candidate who came in third, Mr. Daysog, was only 1,620 votes.
We decided to review the results of Council elections going back to 2000 to see if this was typical. In fact, the data showed that the spreads between candidates in the 2016 election, based on the votes counted so far, are especially narrow.
Ms. Vella’s margin of victory over Ms. Ashcraft represented the smallest difference in vote totals between the first and second place finisher in the last 10 elections. And her margin over Mr. Daysog was the second smallest difference between first and third in the same period. (Only the difference between Rob Bonta and Bev Johnson in 2010 was smaller.)
But this is not to say that the top three vote-getters ran away with the race. Jennifer Roloff finished fourth with 18.34 percent of the total vote. That is the highest percentage for a fourth-place finisher in the nine elections since 2000 in which more than three candidates have run. Similarly, former Councilwoman Lena Tam took fifth with 14.86 percent of the vote – the highest percentage for a fifth place finisher in the seven elections involving more than four candidates since 2000.
What explains the closeness of this election? We don’t know. All we can guess is that maybe the unions and developers who funded Alamedans United sent out their own version of the famous telegram John F. Kennedy claims to have gotten from his financier father before the West Virginia primary: “Jack – Don’t buy one more vote than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’ll pay for a landslide.”
The unions didn’t win ‘em all (Part I)
The union slate for the School Board didn’t fare quite as well as the one for Council.
True, former teachers’ union head Gray Harris, who got the endorsement of every labor organization (as well as about $20,000 in union contributions and “independent expenditures”), won enough votes to retain her seat on the School Board. (Imagine the consternation at 2027 Clement Avenue if she hadn’t.) But the two other labor-backed candidates finished out of the money.
Transport Workers Union Local 556 executive board member Matt Hettich was endorsed by both IAFF Local 689 and UFCW Local 5, each of which included him in the slate mailers it paid for. In addition, he was the other School Board candidate (besides Ms. Harris) backed by Alamedans United. Altogether, counting both contributions and “independent expenditures,” labor organizations spent $11,090.24 to get Mr. Hettich elected.
He came in next to last.
For the third open School Board seat, the firefighters’ union and grocery workers’ union supported a workers’ compensation attorney named Dennis Popalardo. (Alamedans United did not pick a third candidate.) Mr. Popalardo got $2,500 in cash contributions from unions (IBEW Local 595 and Operating Engineers Local 3), but he received the bulk of his campaign funds (a total of $13,000) from his colleagues at the law firm of Boxer & Gerson. (Yes, it’s that Boxer – Stewart, husband of retiring U.S. Senator and Democratic party bigwig Barbara Boxer.)
He came in dead last.
One might be tempted to interpret these results as showing that Alameda voters will resist any attempt by organized labor to take over elections for the School Board as they have done with campaigns for Council. What does a group of out-of-town unions – the principal funders of Alamedans United – know about local school issues anyway?
But there may be another explanation. The third person elected to the Board was Ardella Dailey, a former A.U.S.D. superintendent and current Cal State-East Bay assistant professor (not “visiting scholar”). Ms. Dailey ran on her professional qualifications, not on her political ties. (Her list of supporters did not include any union or political officials other than Mayor Spencer and former Councilman Doug deHaan). And she didn’t get – or need – any union money to float an inflated resume.
In fact, through October 24, Ms. Dailey raised the grand sum of $2,240, all from individual Alameda residents. She spent $2,238. We’d urge her to use the balance to buy a bottle of Two Buck Chuck to send over to the union hall.
The unions didn’t win ‘em all (Part II)
The unions also failed in their effort to defeat long-time City Auditor Kevin Kearney and City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy as payback for having questioned the contracts guaranteeing minimum annual raises through 2021 for the firefighters and cops regardless of the City’s financial condition.
Both the Auditor and the Treasurer easily won re-election. Mr. Kearney beat City of Alameda Democratic Club stalwart Mike McMahon by slightly less than 10,000 votes, and Mr. Kennedy trounced securities salesman Jeff Bratzler by more than 12,000 votes.
Mr. McMahon is likely to continue to play an active role in local politics, but if Mr. Bratzler bows out of the political arena, we’re not going to miss him.
Mr. Bratzler ran a barebones campaign: Alamedans United spent more to get him elected ($2,775.50) than he raised on his own ($2,000, from his employer, a co-worker, and himself). But he chose to promote his bid for office by giving an interview to Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times in which he slammed Mr. Kennedy’s “shortcomings” and even questioned his competence.
Former City Manager John Russo had appointed Mr. Bratzler to the Pension Task Force on which Mr. Kennedy also served. “My opponent likes to talk about ‘expertise,’ but over the weeks we served on the task force, I witnessed his shortcomings firsthand,” Mr. Bratzler told Mr. Hegarty. “What I saw were inaccurate projections, a stubborn unwillingness to admit when his numbers and resulting conclusions were wrong and, worst of all, bad solutions that stemmed from an all-or-nothing, no-middle-ground perspective.”
Other than its utter lack of graciousness, there is one major problem with this statement. The first job assigned the Pension Task Force was to define the size of the City’s liabilities for pensions and retiree health benefits (aka “OPEB”). The body delegated this job to a sub-committee consisting of Mr. Kennedy, two City employees, and two community members – one of whom was Mr. Bratzler! The sub-committee prepared a report whose findings were accepted, without dissent, by the Task Force as a whole and then were incorporated in the presentation made to Council.
One searches the public record in vain for any criticism voiced by Mr. Bratzler at the time about “inaccurate” projections or “wrong” numbers provided by Mr. Kennedy to the sub-committee on which they both served. It was only after Mr. Bratzler decided – or was asked – to run against the incumbent that he chose to go on the attack.
What a charmer!
Disclosure: Jane and Robert Sullwold gave $200 to the Committee to Re-elect the Kevins.
Campaign disclosure statements for the local candidates,”Alamedans United,” and the IAFF Local 689 PAC are available on the City website: http://docs.ci.alameda.ca.us/WebLink8/Browse.aspx?startid=310100&row=1&dbid=0.
Campaign disclosure statements for the UFCW Local 5 PAC are available on the Secretary of State’s website: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/default.aspx.
Historical election results are availabe on the Alameda County Registrar of Voters website: http://www.acgov.org/rov/elections/schedule.html