The County Assessor’s job is a professional job – not a political position. It requires knowledge and experience. Jim Johnson has worked in this office for 26 years while his opponent, Phong La, has no experience whatsoever. I have spoken with employees of the assessors’ office who are very worried that if Johnson is not elected, the assessor’s office will be in chaos. Property owners should take this very seriously. Johnson has the support of the current County Assessor, as well as the other employees in the office. Indeed, you can hear them yourself at his Facebook page – in English and Spanish.
It is definitely true that the Democratic and Green Party establishment have thrown their weight behind La – albeit for different reasons. Early in the election cycle, the Green Party sent Johnson a questionnaire in which he expressed opposition to a splitting Prop 13 so as to increase taxes on commercial property while keeping the low taxes on homes. He answered in this manner because he does not believe that the role of the assessor is to express policy views, including about the need to change current laws. Rather, he sees the job of the assessor as implementing the law, whatever it is. His political inexperience led him to do some other political mistakes early on, but it would be foolish to punish a professional simply because he doesn’t know how to play politics.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, supports Phong La because he is a well known political operative and contributor to Democratic candidates. Most concerning to progressives is that in addition to running his own firm, La works for a privately held real estate holding company and is a real estate investor himself. Just as worrisome is the fact that La amassed multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions – an unheard of amount for a county assessor’s race. Several of these contributions have been in the five figures, and come from both individuals and corporations. As money in politics is never free, we are concerned about how La plans to repay such generosity by his contributors. Recent corruption scandals involving the Los Angeles County and Contra Costa County assessors come to mind.
We don’t know why La is running for assessor, but we do believe that if he wants to do the job, he should first apply to a junior position with the assessor’s office, learn the ropes and then run.
Meanwhile, I urge voters to vote for Berniecrat Jim Johnson for Assessor.
Welcome to the first post of my new political blog. For better or worse, we’re starting with a hyperlocal inside baseball post. The Alameda County Democratic Party has just announced their endorsements for races throughout the county and people are texting me and saying: “They endorsed him?!!! What were they thinking?!” in more than one race.
While I cannot read anyone’s mind, after 8 years in the Central Committee I can guess why most candidates were endorsed. In general, the Committee want to endorse candidates that are likely to win, so we endorse incumbents and clear front runners. We like candidates that bring us money, as a committee and as consultants, so we endorse those with ties to developers and big donors. We want to pretend we support labor, so we often endorse candidates that have labor support – though that alone is seldom enough. We like our friends, so we endorse candidates that hang out in Democratic party circles And we like to play politics – some of us are even in the business of making money from politics – so we horse trade. You’ll note that there is no “I” in “we,” not all of us play those games. But those of us who vote on endorsements based on the quality of the candidate or their values are a definite minority.
If you want to know how the endorsement process works, go to the bottom of this page. Meanwhile, here are the Democratic party’s endorsed candidates in Alameda County and my best guesses as to why we endorsed them. Note, in order to not betray anything I was told in confidence, I’m only guessing on those races in which, well, I have to guess 🙂
Alameda Mayor: No Endorsement
Assemblymember Rob Bonta has a lot of influence over the City of Alameda, both because he is an Assemblymember who lives there and because he’s the Committee’s greatest donor. If there is no endorsement on this race, it’s because Bonta doesn’t support any of the candidates. Indeed, none were nominated. Incumbent Trish Spencer incurred the wrath of the Party back in 2014 when she ran against then incumbent Mayor Marie Gilmore, which was supported by the Firefighters Union and Bonta. Her challengers, meanwhile, have fallen out of favor with Bonta. The result was that none of the candidates were nomianted. Establishment members didn’t nominate them out of respect to Bonta (or because they don’t want to get involved in Alameda politics) and progressives didn’t nominate them because all of the candidates endorsed Nancy O’Malley, and her record of supporting police brutality.
Jim Oddie, the only incumbent in the race, is Rob Bonta’s district directo and a member of the Central Committee’s executive board. John Knox White had Oddie’s support. Both were put on consent by the Executive Committee. They weren’t pulled by progressives because the candidates running against them are even less progressive.
Berkeley Councilmember – District 7: No Endorsement
No incumbent in the race. The Executive Committee had put Rigel Robinson on consent because District 7 was created as a student district, and Rigel is a recent Cal graduate with vast experience in student government, active on the campus Democratic club and very well prepared for this role. However, Ces Rosales, an older resident of the area, jumped into the race. Rosales has also been a long-time associate and alternate member of the Central Committee and she had enough friends in the Committee to block Rigel’s endorsement.
Berkeley Rent Board: James Chang, Paola Laverde-Levine, John Selawsky, Maria Poblet and Soli Alpert
Slate of incumbents plus one Democratic activist.
Dublin Mayor: No Endorsement/No Candidates Nominated
Republican incumbent. Arun Goel is the only Democrat running for this seat. However, the establishment does not support him because Arun is pro smart-growth rather than unfettered development, and he’s lost the support of progressives for his support of Nancy O’Malley. He was not nominated for the endorsement.
No incumbent in the race, 3 Democrats running. Kumagai got endorsed because he made the effort to show up at Committee meetings in the last two years and get to know the members. He is a delegate to the California Democratic Party and just a pleasant guy. I’m guessing Josey got endorsed because she is being propped up by Angela Ramirez Holmes, a “consultant” (she dislikes the word “lobbyist”) for developers in the Tri-Valley. Angela controls the tri-valley as far as the Democratic Party is concerned. Bobby Khullar, the third Democrat in the race, was not endorsed because he is running on a smart growth agenda and does not have the support of developers. Progressives were unable to pull Jean Josey from consent as the Party changed its rules to require that one of the members making the pull live in the Assembly district for the office in question.
Emeryville Councilmember (2 seats): Scott Donahue and Dianne Martinez
They are both incumbents, Dianne also serves in the Central Committee.
Fremont Councilmember – District 1: No Endorsement
Three candidates are running for this seat, all new to politics. The Party’s establishment is backing Chandrakala (Chandu) Siramdas, a candidate running on a Trumpian-sounding “Make Fremont Safe Again” platform and they put her on consent. Apparently, the establishment considered her the front runner because she raised the most money. Progressives were able to pull Siramdas from the consent calendar, however, and block her endorsement because even some of the more moderate members were put off by her extreme pro-police state ideology.
Fremont Councilmember – District 2: No Endorsement
The incumbent, Rick Jones, had the support of the establishment but his challenger, progressive Cullen Tiernan, represents Ro Khanna at the Central Committee and had forged personal relationships with Committee members. Jones also made the mistake of making his racism clear during the endorsement interviews, when he replied to the question of whether Black and Latino Lives Mattered with “All Lives Matter” . He still managed to get 16 votes from Party members, but not enough to win the endorsement.
Fremont Councilmember – District 4: No Endorsement
No incumbent. The front runner, Yang Shao, is a homophobic school board member who recently voted to oppose teaching sex education in Fremont elementary schools. A No Party Preference voter, Shao has four opponents, three of whom are Democrats. Committee members wanted to be able to rally behind one candidate so as to best help defeat Shao – but they weren’t able to agree on whether to support Craig Steckler or Debbie Watanuki. Ultimately, they split the vote and there was no endorsement.
There are two incumbents in the race but only one, Sara Lamnin, was endorsed. The other, Marvin Peixoto, has a very bad relationship with his local SEIU and that particular SEIU representative is a regular at Central Committee meetings. Five other Democrats are running for that seat, and of those Aisha Wahab was endorsed because she has the longest relationship with the Democratic party, being a regular at Party events and having served as a state party delegate.
The single incumbent running is an NPP. There are three Democrats in the race and these two are likely to be the two most pro-development, Munro has gotten the endorsement of the Building Trades union (which in the tri-valley signifies support for unfettered development) and Pann is an architect. The third Democrat, Rosmary Bartsch, has a history of speaking out against developments.
This one has a long and sordid history. Four years ago, when Courtney Ruby chose to run for Mayor rather than for re-election as Auditor, the Party endorsed Brenda Roberts, despite her becoming a Democrat the day she filed her papers to run. Sharon Ball, a (now former) member of the Party who worked in the Auditor’s office, was her strongest advocate. Alas, Brenda ended up being terrible, Sharon quit her job and spilled the beans to the East Bay Express.
Oakland Councilmember – District 4: No Endorsement
No incumbent in the race. Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan’s Chief of Staff, Sheng Thao, has been able to use her boss’ political capital and receive most of the endorsements out there. But Pamela Harris, an African American member of the California Democratic Party, was able to steal her thunder with far superior rhetorical gifts. Harris’ support from progressives and some African Americans, I suspect, was enough to block Sheng’s endorsement but not get it for herself.
Oakland Councilmember – District 6: No Endorsement
Incumbent Desley Brooks is not liked by many in the political establishment. A scuffle with former black panther Elaine Brown left the City of Oakland with a lawsuit it settled for around $2.2million. Her weakened position has brought her four challengers, none of whom was compelling enough to deserve the endorsement on their own.
No incumbent. Tejinder has been making the rounds of the Democratic Party for a while and he has the support of the local establishment. His opponent is well known for being a progressive Bernie supporter. Progressives weren’t able to find a fifth member willing to pull Tejinder.
This was probably the single race on which the endorsements were based on the actual merit of the candidates.
This was one of the most controversial races at the Central Committee. Instructors at Peralta community colleges are very dissatisfied with the Chancellor, whom they apparently believe is misusing money from a parcel tax. They’ve recruited a couple of candidates to run against the incumbents in the Board who, apparently, are rubber stamping whatever the Chancellor does. Labor is backing these candidates. Meanwhile, the papers have reported financial problems with the district that scream out “board negligence”. For this reason, I think the Committee members were willing to give the challengers a chance.
Corean Todd, the challenger in Area 3, seemed like a committed community member, but she came into the race late and she wasn’t able to answer those questions that required knowledge of the district. Linda Handy, the incumbent, did not come to the endorsement interviews. She sent the President of the Board of Trustees to speak for her, and while she did a very good job, she wasn’t Linda. A “no endorsement” decision on that race made the most sense and is what I voted.
In Area 5, however, Cynthia Reiss was dynamite. She spent many months reading and analyzing all the financial papers of the district and talking to different stakeholders before deciding she would run, so she was able to answer all questions expertly. She is also an exciting and engaging speaker. The incumbent did not have her breadth of knowledge and is a fairly poor communicator.
Mialisa Bonta is the wife of Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the aforementioned largest donor to the Alameda County Democratic Party, and she was the only candidate to be put on the consent calendar.
The competition for the other spot was between Gary Lym, an elected incumbent, and Anne McKereghan, an appointed one. As mentioned above, Rob Bonta controls the endorsements as far as Alameda goes. If Gary Lym got endorsed instead of McKereghan, it’s because that’s what Bonta wanted.
Albany School Board (3 seats) : Charles Blanchard, Brian Doss and Sara Hinkley
Ty Alper is the only incumbent running for re-election. Julie Sinai was a previous Berkeley School Board member and was endorsed by the party when she last ran in 2014. Ironically, she lost her seat to Alper. The two are now running in a slate with Ka’dijah Brown.
Dublin School Board- District 2: Megan Rouse
Dublin School Board- District 5: No Endorsement/No Candidates Nominated
No Democrats in the race
Emery School Board (3 seats): Brynnda Collins, Susan Donaldson and Sarah Nguyen
Four Democrats are running for these three. The one not endorsed is also running for Emeryville City Council and, therefore, is not considered a serious candidate.
The one incumbent running for re-election, Larry Sweeney, is a conservative who most recently voted against sex-ed in Fremont elementary schools. Of the other five Democrats running, Dianne Jones and Fahria Khan are the ones most involved with the party and the political power centers in Fremont.
Two incumbents were running, but of these only Bill McGee was endorsed, probably because he has the most developed relationships with members of the Central Committee. The rumor going around was that Todd Davis got the second spot because his mother is the head of the local NAACP chapter. Given how unusual it’s to not endorse an incumbent, that seems possible.
Livermore Valley School Board (2 seats): Craig Bueno and David Vonheeder
The only two Democrats in the race.
New Haven School Board (2 seats): Linda Canlas and Sarabjit Kaur Cheema
I am guessing Caskey was the only candidate that applied for the endorsement. Candidates from Piedmont seldom do.
A.C. Transit District Director – At Large: No Endorsement//No Candidates Nominated
Incumbent Joel Young still has not recovered from domestic violence charges that came out during a 2012 Assembly election. He has also not yet apologized. His opponent, a former bus driver, is a perennial candidate who has been unimpressive in previous elections.
A.C. Transit District Director – Ward 4: Mark Williams
Incumbent & sole Democrat running.
A.C. Transit District Director – Ward 5: No Endorsement
No incumbent is running in this race.
Kewal Singh has the support of Labor because he, literally, represents labor. He works for BART as a team leader and has represented workers in strike negotiations. He also has the support of the Fremont political establishment. For this reason, he was put on the consent calendar.
However, progressives pulled him and nominated Diana Shaw, who is far more knowledgeable about all aspects of AC Transit’s operations as she worked for the San Mateo County Transit District until retiring. She was supported by a former AC Transit Director that is a member of the Committee and Singh has very troublesome pro-surveillance tendencies. In all, Shaw was able to block the endorsement.
Anu has a long history of involvement with the Democratic Party and is a former Fremont City Councilmember.
City of Alameda Healthcare District Director (short term): Dennis Popalardo
Dublin San Ramon CSD Director (2 seats) : Georgeann Vonheeder and Ann Marie Johnson
Vonheeder is the only incumbent running. I don’t have a guess as to why Johnson was endorsed (put on consent) vs the other Democrat running.
East Bay MUD Director – Ward 7: Frank Mellon
Incumbent & sole Democrat running.
East Bay Reg. Park District Director – Ward 3: Dennis Waespi
Incumbent & sole Democrat running.
East Bay Reg. Park District Director – Ward 5: Ayn Wieskamp
Incumbent & sole Democrat running.
Eden Township Hospital District Director : Roxann Lewis, Mariellen Faria and Felix Martinez
They endorsed all the Democrats that are not former San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy, whom the Chair and other Committee members hate with a passion.
Fairview Fire Protection District Director: Michael Justice
Incumbent & sole Democrat running.
Oro Loma Sanitary District Director (3 seats): Shelia Young, Rita Duncan and Frederick Simon, Jr.
Only Democrats running
Washington Township Health Care District Director (3 seats): Jacob Eapen, Hon. Michael J. Wallace and Hon. Bernard L. Stewart
The Democratic Party’s endorsementsare made by the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, an organization that consists of around 46 members, 32 elected and 14 ex-officios. Most of the members of the Committee are moderates/establishment politicians. There are a total of six actual progressive members, with a handful more that are progressive in some issues and not in others.
There is a new requirement that candidates must be registered as Democrats by the first day of the filing period to be eligible for the endorsement – this requirement made Oakland Mayoral candidate Cat Brooks ineligible for the endorsement as she registered too late (not that there was any chance anyone but the incumbent would get it).
Candidates are first interviewed by the Executive Committee, which is formed by the most establishment members of the Party. A candidate needs 2/3 of the votes of the Executive Committee to be put on consent. The aim of the Committee is to put as many candidates on consent as possible, so as to make the Committee-wide interviews as short as possible.
Until this year, it took two members of the Committee to either nominate a candidate or pull them from the consent calendar. As more progressives entered the Party, the establishment decided to make it harder to pull candidates by requiring five members to do the pulling, one of whom would have to live in the same Assembly district as the office being pulled. That meant that progressives weren’t able to pull some incumbents in districts where no members were willing to risk the ire of the incumbent.
What do you think? Did I get something wrong? Comment below!