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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Giselle Hale may have broken fundraising record

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Redwood City Council approves salary increases for city manager, city attorney

As California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh famously said when he ruled the roost in the 1970s, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

The milk is flowing, as the latest round of campaign finance reports have been filed covering the money raised and spent from September 23 to October 20.

It is likely businesswoman/mother/Planning Commissioner Giselle Hale has set a record for fundraising in the Redwood City Council race, or, most likely, any other Peninsula city council race – she has raised more than $95,000 in cash and nonmonetary contributions so far and she will go over the $100,000 mark in both fundraising and spending.

No one keeps records of this, but if anyone can recall a Peninsula city council race in which someone raised and spent this much money, speak up.

Hale’s next closest fundraising competitor is community activist and Stanford community representative Jason Galisatus, who has raised a total of $72,954 in cash and nonmonetary contributions.

After Galisatus, Hale has essentially lapped the field.

The next-closest is community advocate Diana Reddy, who has raised a total of $50,646, including more than $10,000 of her own money she has spent or loaned the campaign. She also received an unusually large amount of money in nonmonetary contributions — $17,882, or 35 percent of her total campaign treasury.

Nonmonetary contributions include things such as includes donated food, campaign materials and expertise, although the actual value of the contribution is, frankly, much harder to track.

Next is Christina Umhofer, who has raised $38,966, but more than $9,000 of that is in the form of loans she has made to her campaign. She also received a remarkable amount of nonmonetary contributions — $10,608, or more than 27 percent of her campaign funds.

Business manager and Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt has raised a total of $31,142, including a $12,500 loan he made to the campaign, or 40 percent of his campaign treasury. Interestingly, earlier in the year, when Schmidt initially opted out of the race, he predicted the campaign would cost $80,000. He then said he wasn’t sure he had enough desire to raise that kind of money.

Certified Public Accountant and community volunteer Rick Hunter has raised $29,452 in cash and nonmonetary contributions.

Last in the money race is incumbent Vice Mayor Diane Howard, who has raised $28,897, including a $5,000 campaign loan from husband Steve Howard, which is equal to 17 percent of the money she has raised.

Ordinarily, you would expect the incumbent to raise the most money – donors typically want to be on the good side of someone who is likely to return to office.

Conversely, it could be argued that that Howard doesn’t need to raise money as actively as the other candidates because she is an incumbent. In a large-turnout election such as this one, voters will know less about the down-ticket races and opt for returning to office someone who has not been controversial, which can fairly be said about Howard.

Anyway, we’ll find out in about a week whether Howard’s relatively low-key campaign will be sufficient.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then Hale’s campaign is extraordinarily well-financed and that should improve her chances of winning.

A local race is more complicated, however. In some cases, voters may be wary of a campaign that is too professional. I know of several candidates in different city campaigns who, over the years, purposely made their campaign materials a little less polished.

Hale has impressive business credentials and both she and Galisatus have significant experience in political campaigns, so it comes as no surprise that both of them are most effective at the nuts and bolts of running for office, including fundraising, but also campaign outreach.

In ordinary circumstances, both of them would be seen as conducting highly effective, formidable, almost classic campaigns. Are these ordinary circumstances? Most assuredly, they are not.

This local race is unusually active, and the universe of voters – due to all-mail-balloting and alignment of the election with a gubernatorial race – is virtually unknown.

That would seem to argue for raising more money to reach a larger electorate whose voting habits are largely unknown.

The best advice I can give is this: As I mentioned last week, Kevin Mullin and I are co-hosting a live Election Night show on Peninsula TV. If I were you, I’d watch.

FROM INCOME TO OUTGO: The period covered by this report was a critical one. The campaign hit full speed ahead and many of the pieces of mail you’re receiving in your mailbox – or online videos and social media messages – were paid for during this period. It is also critical to note who had money left as of October 22 for the final three weeks of the campaign.

Given her huge lead in fundraising, it is no surprise Hale has spent the most and has the most cash on hand for the final push: She has spent more than $66,000, has more than $17,000 in accrued expenses and still had $46,450 in cash on hand.

Galisatus has spent a campaign total of $72,954 and had $25,411 in cash on hand. Reddy has spent $36,670 and had $13,886 in cash on hand. Schmidt has spent $26,952 and had $3,440 in cash on hand. Hunter has spent $23,253 and had $6,199 in cash on hand. Howard has spent $18,897 and had $14,866 in cash on hand.

In the next column, I’ll dive into who gave to whom, go over some finance reports in other campaigns and discuss what’s behind the campaign contributions.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: My ‘hit piece’ now packs a bit more punch

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Health district board member finally finds something he can support: his own benefits

It didn’t take long for Sequoia Healthcare District Director Jack Hickey to go online and complain that yesterday’s Political Climate column was a “hit piece,” which gives you the sense that Hickey’s political career has been something less than rough-and-tumble.

In any event, he’s really not going to like this follow-up column.

When I asked him several days ago how much money he receives from the district for the healthcare benefit extended to directors, he gave me the amount of money he is reimbursed. That added up to about $8,300 over the 16 years he has been on the district board.

It’s a modest amount, but, remember, this is a guy who opposes the very existence of the district, as well as its expenditures.

What he didn’t disclose is the additional $822 a month the district has to pay for his insurance premiums. Over 16 years, that adds up to more than $150,000 of district funds spent on behalf or on Hickey.

Hickey said via email that the information he provided was correct, and that the district is overstating the amount spent on his insurance premiums by calculating the current rate over 16 years. He also said, however, that he has always cost the district less than other directors.

Now, he’s put up two other candidates for the healthcare board – Harland Harrison and Art Kiesel – so he can gain a majority and shut down the district.

This can’t be said too many times – this is a guy who has opposed every expenditure the district makes, including funding for school nurses, health programs for minorities, even funding for the new Magical Playground planned for Redwood City.

So, it’s of note that he doesn’t object to the district spending money on him for his healthcare.

No doubt, he’s entitled to it, as are other board members. And he accepts the benefit, as do other board members, a fact that seems to bother him a lot, based on the flood of comments he posted following yesterday’s column.

In that morass of comments, he noted that he proposed doing away with the benefit, and was overruled by the other four board members.

His opposition to it hasn’t stopped him from accepting it.

Apparently, it is a blissful campaign for Harrison and Kiesel, neither of whom has been to a district board meeting or sought further information on the district from its staff.

I believe we call this being unencumbered by information. They are not interested in serving the district, only in dismantling it.

ON HE GOES: As clarion calls go, Hickey has been sounding the same note – get rid of the district – for 16 years and he’s not an inch closer than he was when he started this effort in 2002.

The only reason he isn’t looking to shut down other organizations or even governments is that he couldn’t get elected to any other office, despite more than three decades of trying.

The record is clear: Voters don’t agree with his demand to close down the district. He has made that case for 16 years, has tried to manipulate the electoral process to his end and more than once run a slate of candidates. Recently, he ran for another district seat, while still holding his current one.

He contended that campaign was a referendum on public support for the continuation of the district. He lost, but he refuses to accept that the voters don’t agree with him.

His contention is that the district should not be spending tax dollars on healthcare programs, now that it no longer runs a hospital, the purpose for which the district was originally founded.

But whether he likes it or not, the district spends meaningful money on essential programs run by some of the Peninsula’s most respected nonprofit organizations.

Decide for yourself whether this is a waste of money. You can see a list of the organizations that received grants at the district website by clicking here.

THE END IS NEAR: This campaign is going to end, finally.

And On Election Night, you’ll want to turn to Peninsula TV for all the election results.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I will be co-hosting live coverage of the 2018 campaign on Peninsula TV. We will be the only media outlet to cover all the local San Mateo County and Peninsula races in detail, including analysis, voting results and interviews with candidates and other community leaders. We will be joined throughout the evening by Menlo College Political Science Professor Melissa Michelson as our resident expert/analyst.

We go on the air at 8 p.m.

Watch us on Comcast Channel 26, or livestreaming at

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Health district board member finally finds something he can support: his own benefits

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Health district board member finally finds something he can support: his own benefits

For more than 16 years, Jack Hickey has protested every expenditure made by the Sequoia Healthcare District, the closest he has been able to come to fulfilling the promise he made when he was elected to the District board of directors in 2002 – to abolish the district.

Except there is one expense Hickey, 84, is willing to accept – the healthcare benefit reimbursement program extended to all board members.

Over the same 16 years, he has availed himself of that singular benefit.

It adds up to a modest amount of money – a total of about $8,300 or about $43 a month — based on Hickey’s own assertion that the only health benefit he has accepted has been reimbursement for Kaiser Senior Advantage and Social Security Medicare costs.

It could be seen as trivial, except that every other single expenditure by the district has been objected to and opposed by Hickey since he joined the board.

A HOSTILE TAKEOVER: Now, for the second time, Hickey is trying to gain control of the board for the purpose of dissolving the district.

Up for re-election himself, Hickey has lined up two allies to also run for the district board – Harland Harrison and former Foster City Councilman Art Kiesel, both of whom subscribe to Hickey’s hard line view that the district should be dismantled.

For the first time, Sequoia Healthcare board members will be elected by zones. Hickey is being challenged by physician Aaron Nayfack in Zone C, which covers San Carlos to Emerald Hills; incumbent Arthur Faro is being challenged by Kiesel and former nonprofit CEO Michael Garb in Zone A, which covers Redwood Shores to Foster City; and incumbent Jerry Shefren is being challenged by Harrison in Zone E, which covers Portola Valley to Belmont.

The last time Hickey tried to pack the board with like-minded candidates, only he won election.

Hickey justified accepting the healthcare benefit because he uses his own funds to fight for the dissolution of the district, while other board members spend the district’s tax revenues “to help their friends” and “granting money to their favorite charities.” He said the other board members make politically popular grants that will ensure continued support for the district’s existence.

In a similar vein, Harrison said on a recent social media post that “the board diverted $15,800,000 in taxes last year. Much of that money was wasted.”

Diversion of funds is illegal, of course, and it’s not what the district has been doing.

The Sequoia Hospital District was formed in 1946 as a nonprofit to open and run Sequoia Hospital, the first district of its kind in California. A property tax was approved by voters to finance hospital and its activities, currently about $100 per parcel.

In 1996, the hospital was sold to Catholic Healthcare West and is now owned by Dignity Health.

Without a hospital to fund, the district has continued to collect the taxes, but has shifted to awarding grants to organizations that make meaningful contributions to the health and emotional well-being of the community, including school nurses, physical education teachers, mental health counselors and programs to feed the hungry and provide rehabilitation for drug abusers.

For Fiscal Year 2018-19, the district projected collecting more than $15 million in revenue and spending more than $16 million. Among the major grants is $4.4 million for a school health program that provides nurses, counseling and preventive care to 28,000 public school children. A clinic at nonprofit Samaritan House receives a grant of $948,000, the Ravenswood-Fair Oaks Health Center a grant of $700,000 and the new 70 Strong program, aimed at enhancing health and preventive care for seniors, $658,000. Most of the grants are for a set period of time. For example, the district just completed a three-year grant program that provided support to San Mateo Medical Center, the county-operated public hospital.

The district spends $1.1 million a year on administrative expenses, which include a CEO and a staff of four.

Recently, Hickey objected to a grant by the district to help fund the Magical Playground expected to open at the end of this year, arguing that people outside the district boundaries would use the park.

Because the district has gone to elections by zone, that may improve Hickey’s chances of gaining allies on the board.

Up to now, as he seeks his fifth term, Hickey has had little success advancing his cause, neither building meaningful public support for the dissolution of the district nor gaining influence among his board colleagues. The board votes 4-1 on nearly every action that comes before it with Hickey on the losing end.

But what we know for sure is that he will remain undeterred.

When he was elected in 2002, Hickey had run for office so many times that even he had lost count. First as a Republican and later as a Libertarian, he ran for, among many other offices, the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District.

In 2012, when the board was still elected district-wide, Hickey ran against two incumbents, even though he was already on the board and was not up for re-election.

At the time, he told a newspaper that if he won, it would be a clear message that the public supports his position of eliminating the district.

He lost.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo credit: Sequoia Healthcare District

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Views on the council race from two who stayed out

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It is often the case that the issues addressed in a political campaign disappear as soon as the ballots are counted and the subsequent term in office is spent dealing with matters that never came up.

What may be most critical, then, it could be argued, are the inherent qualities of the people elected – who they are on the most fundamental level, how they make decisions, how they learn about new issues, how they interact with others to win support and whether they can embrace new ideas and look beyond the positions they took in the campaign.

Good political leaders bring to office a determination to achieve the specific agenda they set during the campaign.

Great political leaders grow beyond their initial understanding of the job and expand their own knowledge and agendas to address not only current problems, but future needs.

This sensibility of how to lead and how to anticipate what comes next is very much on the minds of two incumbent members of the Redwood City Council who have opted to bow out of the process after nine years – Jeff Gee and John Seybert.

They certainly understand the current problems – costly and insufficient housing, congestion and traffic, development and a municipal fiscal crisis.

But their concern is what comes next and how can the city gain control over a future that is likely to be full of unexpected issues and unintended consequences.
So, when the two outgoing incumbents met with Climate over coffee in San Carlos to discuss the current campaign and the state of the city they love, their focus was not on the current roster of seven candidates seeking three seats on the City Council.

They were focused on the voters, offering advice for how they should be thinking about the election as they begin to decide who will lead the city into the next decade and beyond.

The best thing voters can do, according to Gee and Seybert, is to vote for those candidates who can look beyond the moment, who have a vision for what Redwood City should be like 25 years from now.

And look, they say, for those who can build coalitions among council colleagues, who can best work with a diverse group of local and regional leaders to address issues that are not on anyone’s agenda yet and who can reach beyond a momentary disagreement to sustain civility in local politics.

“Redwood City has always been known as a council that is looking ahead,” Gee said. “What is their vision for the city, not today, but 10, 20, 30 years from now?”

“What will it take to balance the budget in the next downturn, which will come?” said Seybert. “What tough decisions are you prepared to make?”

As an example of unintended consequences, they cite the decisions – or non-decisions — of prior councils that have contributed to today’s costly housing crisis.

“Decisions that were made in the mid-1990s are why we don’t have enough housing today,” Seybert said. “No one was building any housing.”

In 2009, said Gee, the city was the number one developer of housing, demonstrating how different the atmosphere was then, and how decisions made then could have alleviated today’s housing crisis.

Gee and Seybert were elected together in 2009 – campaigned together and have remained close friends and council allies. Each chose separately not to seek a third term on the council, Gee some weeks after he actually kicked off his campaign.

The result is a wide-open race for three council seats among a field of seven candidates with uncommonly extensive and wide-ranging experience: Incumbent Vice Mayor Diane Howard, businessman Ernie Schmidt, community organizer Diana Reddy, businesswoman/mother Giselle Hale, small business owner Christina Umhofer, university community relations representative Jason Galisatus and certified public accountant Rick Hunter.

For both Gee and Seybert, a difficult decision was influenced by a political atmosphere dominated by tweets and Facebook posts, accusations and suspicions, hints and allegations.

“The personal attacks, the drive-bys, having to put cameras on the outside of your house – it’s not worth it,” Gee said.

Even as he announced his candidacy, hanging over his campaign was a still-unresolved complaint against Gee filed anonymously with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging he had failed to recuse himself from voting on some Stanford-related projects in Redwood City that were awarded to his employer, Swinerton. The complaint alleged Gee was financially benefiting from the projects. Gee has steadfastly asserted that he behaved appropriately and that the allegations are untrue.
Nonetheless, questions of his integrity frequently were raised on local Facebook pages and sweeping assertions were made, most of them offered without a factual foundation.

For Gee, it meant a campaign with this issue ever-present and with a cadre of local residents who would have been determined to make him the central focus of the campaign.

Gee said he opted not to run because of increased responsibilities at his job, a leadership position at Swinerton that requires extensive overseas travel.

While he insists he did not shrink from the fight he was facing, it was clear that he was expecting an entirely unpleasant experience.

“Not just this race, but politics in general has been a very toxic environment,” said Seybert. “The cost of leadership is a lot higher now. It got beyond what I was willing to pay. Most people won’t run because most people can’t stomach it.”

Both of them remain alarmed at the way accusers hide behind social media.

“Some people who attack you in social media, when they see you in person, they act like it never happened,” said Seybert. He called it “digital cowardice.”

The ability to succeed in such an environment will require council members with a willingness to withstand the slings and arrows that come with the job, and look beyond the momentary passions of a particular issue.

“Leadership isn’t a popularity contest, but an election is,” said Gee. “There will be decisions a councilmember has to make that are not popular decisions.”

“What tough decisions are you prepared to make?” said Seybert. “I look for people who will make the decisions, whether they agree with me or not. … I don’t like some of the effects of the rapid growth that has occurred. They make me uncomfortable. But I’m not doing this to be comfortable today. You don’t save for college when your kids are 2 because it’s comfortable.”

Gee and Seybert have endorsed Hale and Galisatus. Seybert also has endorsed Howard. Gee said no one else has asked for his endorsement.
“I endorsed people who have what it takes to make these hard decisions,” Seybert said.

Gee urged voters to look among the candidates for those “with the ability to learn and represent the young and the demographics who are not represented. … What do they envision Redwood City to be in 20 or 30 years? What happens when autonomous vehicles hit the road.”

He called it being able to “look around the corner” to see what might be coming.

Ultimately, Seybert and Gee said, there are some essential qualities a council member must possess.

Gee called them basic skills: Leadership, values, guiding principles, vision, working well with others, knowledge and the ability to learn, a breadth of capabilities.
He said voters should be looking for council members who have relevant work experience in day-to-day finance, in borrowing and financing, in asset management, in recruiting and retaining good staff.

Gee and Seybert said that to be effective, a council member must be able to do certain things.

Can the person win over a majority of the council – can he or she get four votes? That implies an ability to work with others and, ultimately, to compromise for the greater good.

Will the candidate represent Redwood City effectively on the many critical regional boards and commissions, winning the respect of colleagues and serving as a useful advocate for the city’s interests?

Gee currently chairs the SamTrans Board of Directors and represents San Mateo County on the Caltrain Board of Directors, positions he obtained by a vote of his peers at every city council in the county.

These regional bodies make decisions that are critical for the region and, therefore, for Redwood City. A council member cannot assume that the issues facing Redwood City are unique and isolated, they said.

“The drawbridge doesn’t work,” Gee said. “We have to work together.”

And will the council member look beyond a council chamber full of angry residents to see the bigger issues that could face the city in the future?

“Can unpopular decisions be made and lead the city?” Gee asked.

“Can they do their homework?” Gee asked. “Will they come to meetings prepared? Do they believe in being a diverse and welcoming city? If so, what have they done? What nonprofits do they support and participate in? What and where and how regularly do they volunteer? Will they represent all parts of Redwood City or just a portion?”

“It’s not about who shows up the city council meetings,” Seybert said, describing the meetings as the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to council duties.

“Paying attention to social media is like running to the front of a crowd and yelling, ‘Follow me,’” Seybert said.

Today is last day to register to vote in Nov. 6 elections

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Latest San Mateo County election results released

Today, Oct. 22, is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 statewide general election.

And this is a big one, with jurisdictions seeing significant increases in voter registration in an election that will determine California’s next governor and three hotly contested Redwood City council seats (See Climate columnist Mark Simon’s guide on the council candidates here).

Voter registration forms sent by mail must be postmarked on or before Oct. 22. To register online, visit the San Mateo County official elections website at and click on “Register to Vote.” Registrations online must be submitted by midnight tonight.

If you don’t have a voter registration form, you can fetch one at public libraries, city and town halls, post offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and any of the county’s vote centers. The list of Vote Center locations can be found online at

Voters who miss today’s registration deadline can “conditionally” register to vote and vote provisionally on the same day at any County Vote Center, according to the San Mateo County Elections Office.

“Under this law, once the county elections official processes the affidavit of registration, determines the individual’s eligibility to register, and validates the individual’s information, the registration becomes permanent and the CVR provisional ballot will be counted,” the county said.

Vote Centers are currently open for the November Election from 8 5 p.m. at 40 Tower Road in San Mateo; 555 County Center, 1st Floor, Redwood City; 840 West Orange Avenue, South San Francisco; and 550 Bell Street, East Palo Alto. From there, five more Vote Centers will open daily beginning Oct. 27 through Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thirty-nine more Vote Centers will be open Saturday, Nov. 3 through Monday, Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. All Vote Centers will be open Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Extra notes: Voters who move to a new address, change their name or would like to change party affiliation must re-register; you can confirm your current registration status online at by clicking on “Check My Registration;” San Mateo County residents were delayed in receiving their mailed ballots for more than a week, after a San Mateo County Board of Education race was inadvertently left off the ballot, as reported by Simon.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why ballots showed up late in county mailboxes

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why ballots showed up late in county mailboxes

Ballots finally are showing up in San Mateo County mailboxes, more than a week after they were supposed to be in the hands of voters.

The all-mail ballots are a grand experiment in democracy with a lot of things to recommend it, but the reason for the delay is mundane, problematic and potentially consequential.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that the elections officials, under the management of Mark Church, San Mateo County’s elections chief, left a race off the ballot. Specifically, it is the race for the San Mateo County Board of Education. The board members run for the seats from a district, but they’re elected countywide.

Apparently, someone thought the election was district-only, and didn’t include it in all the county ballots. A delay ensued while a separate page was prepared solely for the Board of Education, which explains why there’s a page in your ballot with a huge amount of blank space and only one item on it.

This is the second time in recent elections that something was omitted from the ballot, the other being a race for local judgeship.

Church was re-elected in June with token opposition to the post of Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, a job that puts him in charge, among other things, of all local elections. While it’s an independent office, he doesn’t have control over the size of his budget – that’s set by the Board of Supervisors.

The budget is relevant because Church has been known to assert that his office is under-funded and, therefore, understaffed.

Which could be an explanation, but it’s certainly no excuse. Particularly when San Mateo County is at the center of a huge experiment in all-mail balloting.

I’m a big fan of vote-by-mail. I like the idea of voters taking time to go over their ballots, rather than hurriedly whipping through it while standing at a voting station with other voters lined up behind.

I like to think it prompts more people to vote and that they will spend time culling through social media to inform themselves about the down-ballot races, such as city councils, school boards and city ballot measures.

Certainly, the all-mail balloting can be credited for an extraordinary voter turnout in the June statewide gubernatorial primary – 44.3 percent voter turnout compared to 27.5 percent in the 2014 June gubernatorial primary.

So, put me down as an enthusiastic supporter, assuming the people in charge of the elections do their jobs properly.

Mundane: Someone who knows what’s on the ballot should have checked it and re-checked it. Whatever Quality Assurance steps are in place weren’t good enough.

Problematic: If one of the benefits of all-mail balloting is the time voters have to go over the ballot and consider all the races, sending the ballots out more than a week late may meet some legal requirement, but it certainly doesn’t serve the larger purpose.

Consequential: Even though he has just been re-elected, there already is speculation in political circles about a challenge to Church in four years. The names making the rounds include state Senator Jerry Hill, who is termed out of office in 2020, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, whose legislative record includes substantial time and attention to election and campaign issues, including sponsorship of the bill that made it possible for the all-mail balloting, and Virginia Chang Kiraly, current member of the San Mateo County Harbor Commission and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

Full disclosure: Mullin and I co-host a public affairs show, The Game, on Peninsula TV. The mention of his name here was done without his knowledge and is not an attempt by him to float a trial balloon. The same can be said, by the way, about Hill and Kiraly – the trial balloon part, not the TV show part.

Shameless plug: Kevin and I will be co-hosting a live Election Night show on Pen TV from 8 p.m. until the last results are in and digested. It’s the only place devoted exclusively to the local races you’re following.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: CAA campaign mailer sparks controversy

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: CAA campaign mailer sparks controversy

Two Redwood City Council candidates who received $1,000 in campaign contributions each from the California Apartment Association have donated those funds to charity in protest over a negative campaign mailing by the CAA.

Businesswoman Giselle Hale donated $1,000 to Emerge California, which works to elect Democratic women to office and trains them to run for office. Stanford community representative Jason Galisatus donated $1,000 to the San Mateo County Pride Center, a facility in San Mateo that provides support and services to members of the LGBTQ community.

The mail piece that went too far for Hale and Galisatus was a postcard titled: “Diana Reddy Is Wrong for Redwood City,” and cites her involvement and endorsement by Democratic Socialists of America, whose website describes it as “the largest socialist organization in the United States.” Reddy, a community organizer, is also running for one of three seats up for election this year.

The mail piece goes on to cite three DSA positions – the elimination of police and prisons, the abolition of capitalism and the elimination of private businesses. More on the piece and the CAA further on in this column.

The piece states that Reddy will “push for extreme policies that would hurt homeowners, raise taxes and destroy jobs.”

Hale said her protest is about the tone of the mail piece.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not true. I just object to the negative tone,” Hale said.

Similarly, Galisatus said, “I don’t agree with negative campaign tactics having been the subject of relentless attacks on social media, more so than other candidates.”

The CAA has emerged as a major factor in the City Council race, having spent $15,382 thus far on research and mail pieces targeting Reddy, which have been denounced by her supporters and by Reddy as “smears” on her campaign.

The CAA’s local organization also has received an additional $80,000 from the CAA’s Sacramento-based statewide political action committee, although officials from the local association say those funds are to support and oppose candidates in races throughout the Peninsula, including Redwood City, Daly City, Sunnyvale and San Jose.

A PROBLEMATIC PIECE: The latest mail piece from CAA relies entirely on Reddy’s association with the Democratic Socialists of America, states that she is endorsed by the DSA and cites information from the DSA website and news reports as support for the assertions that she wants to eliminate police and prisons, abolish capitalism and eliminate private businesses.

These are positions Reddy has not taken during the campaign. In an interview, she said the mail piece is a “hit piece.”

“I have no idea what they’re talking about,” Reddy said. “I don’t have any desire to get rid of capitalism,” she said, chuckling.

In fact, the piece exaggerates the relationship Reddy may have with the Democratic Socialists of America. She has been endorsed by two local chapters – Peninsula DSA and Silicon Valley DSA – but she has not been endorsed by the national organization, whose positions are the ones cited in the CAA mailer.

On the Peninsula chapter’s web page, it states: “Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few. Throughout the area of San Mateo County, California, our chapter fights for the many and not the few.”

Reddy said she agrees with the progressive views of the organization and “their point of view on supporting working families.”

The reference in the mail piece to the elimination of police and prisons stems from a 2017 DSA convention resolution that calls for the elimination, ultimately, of the need for prisons or police. It’s clearly an aspirational position and not a call for tearing down prisons as an immediate policy.

It’s an aspiration Reddy shares.

“We shouldn’t have more prisons than colleges in our country,” she said, adding that the great majority of prison inmates are minorities, and frequently they have substance abuse problems.

Nonetheless, representatives of the California Apartment Association defended the mailer as accurate and well within the acceptable parameters of campaign rhetoric.

“I think we avoided any type of name-calling,” said Rhovy Lyn Antonio, vice president for Public Affairs for the CAA’s Bay Area organization. “She’s being supported by this specific organization and we’re pointing out verbatim what the DSA stands for and asking the question: What does Diana Reddy stand for?”

Reddy publicly and assertively supports rent control, a position at direct odds with the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords and property owners. The CAA consistently asserts that restrictions on evictions and rent control are harmful to homeowners and will damage the local economy.

The information in the mail piece “is taken from her social media presence, her website, articles written about her and statements she’s made in public,” said Joshua Howard, CAA senior vice president, Northern California.

“She can complain about a comment that was made or a picture that was used but it’s just a distraction from the fact that she has questionable affiliations with groups that seek to undermine protections for homeowners and the addition of rental housing in our community,” Howard said.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Big money flowing into Redwood City council campaign

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Big money flowing into Redwood City council campaign

Big money has started to flow into the Redwood City Council campaign – most of it in support of community activist Jason Galisatus or in opposition to community advocate Diana Reddy.

The money in support of Galisatus has included $12,609 from the National Association of Realtors, including $11,300 in online advertisements.

The support of the national association clearly triggered another $11,000 from real estate-related interests, including $1,000 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee, $3,000 from the Newmark commercial real estate firm and $1,000 from the California Apartment Association.

It is the Apartment Association that has made an independent expenditure of $9,632 for a mass mailing opposing the election of Reddy.

The mail piece dropped yesterday, a postcard asking, “Do you know the real Diana Reddy?” The piece also states, “Diana Reddy wants government to control your home.” Reddy, a long-time advocate for rent control, is described in the piece as being against private property and homeowner property rights and it says she “ran the local organization that tried to remove homeowner protections.”

In fact, Reddy was a leader of what is now Faith In Action, a grassroots, faith-based organization that long has advocated for tenant rights and protections, along with a longer list social justice and equity issues.

Reddy was a supporter of a 2016 ballot measure in Burlingame, Measure R, that sought to implement rent control, a measure that would have affected single-family homes available for rent.

She continues to support rent control and has said in campaign appearances that she supports the lifting of state law that restricts the ability of local governments to implement rent control.

As for the donations to Galisatus, a community relations representative at Stanford University, they are likely to be cited by his opponents as evidence that he is the favored candidate of development interests, although, in campaign appearances, his stated positions are in the mainstream of comments by all of the candidates: That additional growth is likely in the city, needs to be managed effectively and needs to emphasize a wide range of housing options.

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE: Development interests also are beginning to assert their presence in other campaign donations, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

The Western Housing Manufacturing Association gave $1,000 each to Incumbent Diane Howard, businesswoman Giselle Hale and Galisatus. … Harbor Village Mobile Home Park gave $2,500 each to Howard, Hale and Galisatus.

AT LONG LAST, A SLATE MAILER: Ever since the field of Redwood City candidates was set, there has been speculation, bordering on suspicion, that three of the candidates – Reddy, accountant Rick Hunter and small business owner Christina Umhofer – would run as a slate.

That sentiment was further fueled when the three and Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt recently held an ice cream social event organized by Umhofer and held at her home.

Asked about it, Hunter said, with some sign of frustration, “Why does everyone think there has to be a slate?

Well, there is one, it involves Hunter and Howard. It hit mailboxes yesterday in the form of a mail piece from four former mayors – Dick Claire, Georgi LaBerge, Barbara Pierce and Brent Britschgi – and their spouses, along with community leader Dee Eva and her husband, urging support for Howard and Hunter. The mail piece is paid for by Hunter and Howard.

MORE MONEY: From the last round of spending reports, there are some interesting matters worthy of note. Howard received almost 20 percent of her cash donations from people who listed their occupations as “retired.” … The Asian community is always a presence in politics and can be relied on to support members of their community, and they are doing so for Galisatus, who received $3,250 from donors with Asian surnames, not always an accurate measure of ancestry, admittedly. … Fox Theater executive Schmidt received $4,000 total from his former employers, Eric and Lori Lochtefeld. … I’m trying to think if I’ve ever had a boss who would give me $4,000.

NOT ABOUT REDWOOD CITY: Having moderated a recent debate between the four candidates for the Belmont City Council – incumbents Charles Stone, Warren Lieberman and Julia Mates, challenged by Deniz Bolbol for three seats – it is particularly strange to hear the principal argument made by Bolbol for her candidacy: The current council gets along too well.

In a city once so riven with disagreements that they had to hire a relationship counselor, it is more than a little odd to hear someone complain when the council is working together well. Sure, there’s an argument to be made for some dissent, but any unified council tends to get things done, usually because they’ve worked together to develop a consensus around which they can unify. To argue that a council needs someone to disagree for the sake of disagreement sounds pretty argumentative.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City council candidate has voted just once in last 8 council elections

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Redwood City Council approves salary increases for city manager, city attorney

The seven candidates running for three seats on the Redwood City Council are working hard to drive voters to fill out their ballots in the November 6 election.

But some of the candidates have a spotty record when it comes to casting their own ballots in local elections.

Since 2001, according to San Mateo County elections records, small business owner Christina Umhofer has voted only once in eight city council elections. Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt has voted in half the elections since 2001. And community advocate Diana Reddy missed two of the eight elections.

Incumbent Vice Mayor Diane Howard, community activists Rick Hunter and Jason Galisatus all have voted in every election for which they were eligible since 2001.

Businesswoman Giselle Hale, who has only been eligible to vote in Redwood City elections since 2013, voted in 2015, but not in 2013. She said her first child, Lula, was due to be born on Election Day 2013.

Along with eight elections for city council since 2001, the ballots have also included elections for local school boards, the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees, the Sequoia Healthcare District Board of Directors, and several city ballot measures.

Over that period of time, Umhofer voted only in the 2005 city council election, which also included elections for the local school boards, the community college district and three city ballot measures.

During the same period, Umhofer voted regularly in statewide gubernatorial elections and national presidential elections.

An interview with Umhofer regarding this matter was requested via email. She opted to respond via email:

“Like many in our country, I woke up with the 2016 election and decided to pay far more attention to not only national politics, but local politics as well. Given the changes I saw in our community, I started researching more of the why’s and how’s we came to the current state of our City (i.e., the Downtown Precise Plan, the General Plan, the Stanford Precise Plan, El Camino Corridor Plan, to name a few). I deeply recognize that voting is very important and I have made it a priority to be fully engaged locally and nationally, which I have proven by running for City Council.”

Schmidt did not participate in the four elections from 2001 through 2007, but has voted in every other city council election since then.

In a phone interview, Schmidt acknowledged he had not been very active in city affairs until he became involved in his neighborhood association. Then, he said, “As I became more aware of what was happening in Redwood City, it became more important to me to know who I trusted on the council.”

Reddy, whose political and community activism frequently has led her to speak before many local city councils and to engage in protests at Redwood City Hall, has been a consistent voter in all elections since 2001, but she did not vote in the city elections in 2007 and 2009. She has voted in every local election since then. She said her failure to vote in 2007 and 2009 probably was an oversight. Reddy said she was working on other campaigns, political and community, at that time. She said she routinely filled out a mail-in ballot and dropped it off at the elections office. “I probably misplaced my ballot and may just have forgot,” she said.

Howard and Hunter have voting participation records that extend well beyond 2001, but a review of county records show that neither of them has missed a local election – or any other – in the past 17 years.

Galisatus has only been eligible to vote since the 2012 election and he participated in the 2013 and 2015 elections.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.


Political Climate with Mark Simon: Who’s winning the campaign cash race for Redwood City council?

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Election results, San Mateo County

The latest campaign spending reports in the Redwood City Council race show businesswoman and Planning Commissioner Giselle Hale continues to out-raise her opponents by a substantial amount – almost twice as much as the next nearest candidate, grassroots activist Diana Reddy.

And community activist Jason Galisatus, who entered the race late, raised a remarkable amount of campaign money in a shortened period of time.

Hale has raised a total of $78,166 for the campaign, including $29,220 during the most recent reporting period, which ran from July 1 through September 22. The deadline to file reports for that period was last week.

The surprise in the latest set of spending reports is Reddy, who has raised $46,941 for the campaign, including $18,048 during the latest reporting period.

While many of her reported contributions were in small amounts of less than $100, Reddy has raised more than one-third of her campaign funds — $17,838 – from only two sources: herself and Julie Pardini, the founder and moderator of the Facebook page “Redwood City Residents Say What,” which Pardini has used as a platform to advance Reddy’s candidacy.

Reddy has made a personal loan to the campaign of $5,000 and has contributed another $5,398 in in-kind donations. Pardini has donated $7,440 to Reddy’s campaign.

PARDINI’S CAMPAIGN REPORTING VIOLATION: Pardini also has donated an additional $4,000 to three other candidates — $2,000 to small business owner Christina Umhofer, $1,500 to accountant and community volunteer Rick Hunter and $500 to Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt.

That brings Pardini’s total campaign contributions in this election to $11,440, which, under state campaign laws, qualifies her as a major donor. As such, she is required to organize her own campaign committee and file a separate form reporting her donation activities.

She has failed to do so.

Pardini also failed to file a major donor report in 2015, when she donated $12,000 to the unsuccessful city council candidacy of Tania Sole.

Asked about her failure to file the campaign statements, Pardini, with characteristic forthrightness, said she was unaware of the requirement and that she would correct what she acknowledged was a mistake.

“What’s done is done,” she said. “It’s just carelessness on my part. I was told it was not my personal responsibility to file. Whatever I have to do, I have to do. … I need to call my accountant and will not only be reporting for this campaign, but the previous one as well. I’m glad you’re telling me this.”

THE MONEY RACE: Meanwhile, back at the race for campaign contributions, Galisatus came in a strong third, having raised $39,323 during the 83-day period covered by the latest report, all of it in direct dollar contributions.

Schmidt has raised a total of $28,259, all of it during the 83-day reporting period, since he was a late entrant into the race. Nearly half the money he raised was a personal loan he made to his campaign of $12,500.

Umhofer has raised a total of $27,781, including $11,576 during the reporting period.

Hunter has raised a total of $25,538 for the campaign, including $14,886 during the period.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, incumbent Vice Mayor Diane Howard raised the least amount of money — a total of $22,837 for the campaign and $18,672 for the reporting period. This includes a $5,000 loan from her husband, Dr. Steve Howard.

THERE’S MONEY, AND THEN THERE’S CASH: As a 19-year incumbent, Howard undoubtedly has the highest voter name recognition and the most extensive network of supporters, built over more than two decades of civic involvement. That would seem to require less from her in terms of campaign spending.

It is likely, however, that neither Howard nor any of the other candidates is widely known, given the relatively anonymous nature of local politics everywhere and the great majority of people who pay little or no attention to the city council.

Similarly, it is clear that Hunter and Umhofer are relying on their own extensive personal connections to balance the fundraising of Hale, Galisatus and Reddy.

It is equally clear that Hale and Galisatus, in particular, are planning on a more traditional approach to the campaign, raising substantial funds to pay for extensive voter outreach in terms of mail and other forms of contact.

Both of them have the most background in the nuts and bolts of campaigning, having worked on political campaigns in support of other candidates.

With ballots arriving in homes in a week and with only a month to Election Day, the campaign could come down to who has contacted voters the most, and that would tend to favor the candidates who have the most money on hand for the final days of the campaign.

That would be Hale, who began the last stretch of the campaign with $53,868 in cash on hand, and Galisatus, who had $29,744.

In descending order, the other candidates and the amount of cash they had on hand as of September 22 are: Howard, $18,310; Umhofer, $17,078; Reddy, $14,902; Schmidt, $14,369; and Hunter, $11,353.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

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