Category archive

PoliticalClimate - page 5

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Winners and losers in the Nov. 6 election

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
The San Mateo County Elections Office said the Tuesday night results included all ballots cast at vote centers. The results also included vote by mail ballots the Elections Office had received in the mail by Monday, and vote by mail ballots turned into Vote Centers and Drop Boxes by Sunday. The results, however, do not include mailed ballots received by the Election's Office after Monday, or ballots dropped off at Vote Centers or Drop Boxes after Sunday. The results also don't include conditional voter registration or provisional ballots. The Elections Office will release another update on results today at 5 p.m.


It took exactly three weeks for the San Mateo County Elections Office to count all the votes and provide a definitive answer to the eternal political question: Who were the winners and who were the losers?

Of course, here at Political Climate World Headquarters, we dig a little deeper, so this is our own assessment of who were the big political winners and losers from a mid-term election with an historic turnout.

And we have to start with the voters and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (incidentally, my partner on the Peninsula TV show “The Game.”)

A BIG WIN FOR VOTERS: Voters turned out in tremendous numbers, 73 percent countywide. Four years ago, in the last equivalent statewide election, turnout in San Mateo County was 46.3 percent. Eight years ago, turnout was 65.3 percent.

By any measure, it was a landslide win for the county’s all-mail balloting, an experiment for which Mullin strongly advocated. Certainly, there were other factors that drove voters to participate, but all-mail balloting had to be the leading factor.

Yes, it took three weeks for final results to be counted and for us to know who won in the closest races. But even in elections that were all-precinct, all-machine, close races took three weeks to clear up.

Nonetheless, the slow count did undermine the public confidence in the Elections Office, under the leadership of Mark Church. If all-mail balloting is here to stay, more resources have to be dedicated to a swifter count.

REDWOOD CITY WINNERS: The biggest winner in the county’s hottest City Council race was Giselle Hale, a planning commissioner, who set records in fund-raising and total votes that are unlikely to be broken. She cleared the 12,000-vote threshold, an unprecedented amount of support. Hale clearly has emerged as the leading spokesperson for a new and influential group of voters – new families, often needing two incomes to live in the city, and whose professional background is in the tech industry.

Vice Mayor Diane Howard won re-election, despite highly vocal dissatisfaction about development that never seemed to attach to her. She demonstrated that there is still a place for someone who has been a fixture in the community and whose amiability has made her many friends and, seemingly, no enemies. Howard acknowledged this election signaled a changing of the guard.

And Diana Reddy will bring a whole different approach to serving on the Council. She is accustomed to being outside the chambers, speaking for those who she felt were often overlooked or dispossessed by the power structure. Now, she’s part of the power structure, but she is likely to bring a well-defined political perspective not often seen on the Council.

Her narrow win – she squeaked by Rick Hunter by less than 500 votes – is hardly a mandate. But she undoubtedly will bring a grassroots cadre of supporters to critical council issues and her influence on some key policies is likely to outweigh her victory margin.

For all of her commitment to the cause of social justice, Reddy is an experienced and pragmatic political veteran and she undoubtedly will find ways to work with her colleagues.

Hunter came so close. In another era, his combination of community, school and public service would have made him an easy winner. Nonetheless, he was widely liked for his earnest, gentlemanly manner and he was a unifying figure, drawing votes from all factions of the city’s politics.

The Council would be well advised to make use of Hunter’s mediating skills and wide support. Perhaps he can serve as a special ambassador-at-large, working behind the scenes to resolve the differences that marked this election. And he’d be the ideal person to chair a citizens’ commission on developing the new districts the City Council will soon consider.

The Council has to be at arm’s length from this process, lest it seem entirely political, and Hunter has a reputation that could mark the process as fair and unbiased.

Hunter said he probably won’t run again. The remaining three candidates – Christina Umhofer, Jason Galisatus and Ernie Schmidt – said they might, particularly in an election of districts. Expect to see them again.

A REDWOOD CITY LOSER: The California Apartment Association spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to defeat Reddy, and they failed. I can’t recall a special interest getting this involved in a city council race, and it was an extraordinary effort that came up just short.

Reddy said in a post-election interview that it was “hard to say” what the impact was of the CAA’s onslaught of eight dramatically negative mail pieces. It might have hurt her, she said, but it also energized her own supporters to work even harder.

Such negative campaigning also is a new phenomenon in local campaigns and it is quite likely that it generated its own voter backlash.

HOW BIG? How pronounced was the big turnout in Redwood City?

Councilman John Seybert sent along some interesting data. The percentages in the Council race are badly skewed by the fact that voters could cast ballots for three of the seven candidates.

So Seybert took the total vote for Measure DD, the measure to create a cannabis business license tax, which was 28,404, and, using that as the total number of voters in the city election, calculated that Hale got 44.7 percent of the total votes cast, Howard 41.9 percent, Reddy 39.8 percent and Hunter 38.6.

OTHER COUNCIL WINNERS: It was a big win for the slate of incumbents in Belmont – Charles Stone, Warren Lieberman and Julia Mates – who easily brushed aside the lone challenger representing the old and out-of-power guard of that once-contentious city.

In South San Francisco, the big loser was one-term incumbent Pradeep Gupta, who lost to newcomer Flor Nicolas. The big winner there, however, was Karyl Matsumoto, who singlehandedly recruited Nicolas to take on Gupta. Matsumoto, who has been deciding not to seek re-election for at least a decade, remains a formidable power in the North County.

In Daly City, incumbent Ray Buenaventura pushed through his own slate, including Pamela DiGiovanni and Rod Daus-Magbual.

WINNING IN DISTRICTS: The results in Menlo Park, where district elections were held for the first time, undoubtedly sent a ripple of apprehension through every other city that is going to have to move away from citywide elections for this simple reason: Incumbents Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki both lost.

Based on that small sample, it appears money has substantially less impact in a district-level election. In Menlo Park, the districts were small enough that a candidate can knock on virtually every door. Not every city is going to have districts that small. Still, it’s a signal to other incumbents in other cities.

MAYBE THE BIGGEST WINNER: There may be no bigger winner in this election than Rosanne Foust, the president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Association, who singlehandedly raised more than half the $1.1 million that was spent to pass Measure W, the half-cent sales tax increase that will fund badly needed transit and transportation projects in the county.

Since she took over Samceda, Foust has worked tirelessly to remake the group into a regional player and this election proved that she is making great strides. This matters not just for Samceda, but because San Mateo County frequently is overlooked in the play of regional politics. She is doing more than anyone to assert that the county must be given its due.

The win for Measure W came despite several prominent political “leaders” who stayed off the measure, largely because of behind-the-scenes interplay by other regional organizations.

A WIN FOR MOVING FORWARD: Measure W slipped across the two-thirds finish line in the final slug of votes processed by the Elections staff. It’s an example of an endorsement for the progress that has marked the county in the past decades and, by and large, in the Nov. 6 election.

Measure W was a do-or-die moment for transit officials, who need to reinvent the county’s transit and transportation programs to meet the needs of a county choking on traffic. Of course, now they have to deliver and that presents an interesting challenge. Transit projects take years to produce, but the expectation is for some relatively immediate relief.

That’s just one example. Growth is taking place in Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont and South City and voters essentially endorsed changes that are remaking those communities. In Brisbane, a remarkable 55 percent approved a massive bayside project that will triple the size of that city.

And in Redwood City, a sales tax increase passed easily, suggesting that there is widespread confidence in the direction of the city.

Change is here to stay. And while most of the noise comes from those unhappy with the changes, it is clear the great majority of voters in this election are comfortable with the way the Peninsula is evolving.

HERE’S ANOTHER SIGN: Voters also passed all but one of the fiscal measures on the ballot in San Mateo County. There were five hotel tax increases, five cannabis business license taxes, four other city fiscal measures and five school fiscal measures – a total of 19 in all. The only loss was the Millbrae bond measure to rebuild the community center destroyed by fire. It needed two-thirds, and fell well short.

PENINSULA WOMEN WIN BIG: The national trend of electing record numbers of women was replicated in the county. There were 54 school board and city council seats on the ballot and 35 of them were won by women, 65 percent. On school boards, often a launching pad for higher office, there were 23 seats on the ballot and women won 15 of them, 70 percent.

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: Leo Ryan an overlooked part of the Jonestown Massacre

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

My mother, Barbara, was heavily involved in San Mateo County politics as an operative, campaign worker and campaign manager, which means I grew up surrounded by political discussion, debate, campaigns and candidates.

The first candidate I met was Leo Ryan, who was in my living room, conducting a campaign coffee, when I came home one afternoon from the fourth grade.

The 40th anniversary of Jonestown has generated an expected and understandable series of news stories about the horrendous tragedy in that distant jungle.

But it always has felt to me that Leo was an overlooked part of this story, not only because he was the catalyst for what was an inevitable march toward madness and mass murder, but because of who he was – a true maverick, a rule-breaker and a bold personality.

So, in observance of the 40th anniversary of his death, consider this a tribute to a man – frequently and flamboyantly flawed, but one of us, our congressman, our homegrown politician who was, in many ways, truly larger than life.

In addition to cluttering up my living room one fall afternoon, Leo was an English teacher at Capuchino High School in Millbrae, and he led the school’s famous marching band to Washington, where it marched in President Kennedy’s inauguration parade. My brother, Rick, was part of that expedition.

Even then, he was angling for higher office and the legend goes that while the high school band toured Washington, Leo was roaming the halls of Congress, paving the way for his future career.

He served on the South San Francisco City Council at a time when the politics of that city were thoroughly dominated by the Italian-American community, and his election remained a source of resentment among those who thought his seat should have been theirs.

This resentment extended to his election to the state Assembly, representing the northern half of San Mateo County.

By the time he was elected to Congress, he was easily the most dominant political figure on the Peninsula. In one of his elections, he secured the Democratic and Republican nominations and he appeared on the November ballot as the sole candidate.

LEO. JUST LEO: You may have noticed that I’ve been referring to him as Leo, rather than his last name or his title. Everyone knew him as Leo. He was everywhere – speaking to local groups, talking with local newspapers, and gaining headlines for his “investigative representation,” in which he would go places and confront issues.

That was his trademark. He served as a substitute teacher in Watts after the riots there, posed as an inmate at Folsom Prison, and confronted pelt hunters slaughtering baby seals in Newfoundland.

He believed that bringing attention to issues and conditions would spark public policy to address those issues. If, along the way, he gained attention for himself, well, it was only a reasonable result of the risks he was willing to take.

Only one member of Congress has come close to matching Leo’s unique ability to generate publicity that addressed critical issues and raised the member’s profile. That’s Jackie Speier, Leo’s protégé, whose own ability to pull an issue into the spotlight has made her a figure of national reputation.

Leo looked like a congressman. He had silver hair, carefully coifed, and a booming voice. He was well over six feet tall, his face had strong and distinctive features and he could dominate any room he entered.

He was not a team player in Congress and a number of insiders dismissed him as a lightweight, but he didn’t care. He had his own agenda and it wasn’t the classic mindset that you had to go along to get along.

He was proud of his local roots, however, and what was said about him locally mattered to him a great deal. He once sent a handwritten note to my mother, apologizing for a disagreement. As a political reporter, I covered his last campaign for Congress in 1978, and I recall him calling me into his office and conducting a detailed and loud critique of one of my stories.

COME TO JONESTOWN: All that means I was well acquainted with Leo, not just as a political reporter, which I was in 1978 for the Redwood City Tribune, but as a family friend.

On election nights in San Mateo County, it was customary in those days for candidates to make personal appearances at the offices of the county Elections department in Redwood City, where they could get the latest results and speak with the press.

Covering the election for the Redwood City Tribune, I bumped into Leo in the Elections office and, leaning against a row of three-drawer filing cabinets, we talked about the election.

Then he turned the topic to his upcoming investigative trip to Guyana to check on the Peoples Temple. He said something about doing so on behalf of some constituents.

Familiar with Leo’s crusading, some would call it grandstanding, I was skeptical that this was anything more than a junket, and I said as much to him.

I told him I thought he would spend an hour in Guyana and then zip off to some exotic island.

No, he said, this is serious, and he said I ought to join the group of reporters also making the trip. I told him he needed to talk to my editors.

Apparently, he called them the next day and urged them to send me on the trip. They declined. The Redwood City Tribune was a small newspaper that lacked a lot of resources, and they had spent a good chunk of change earlier in the year sending me on a two-week trip around the state with Jerry Brown and Evelle Younger, covering the governor’s race.

Some days later, of course, we got the news about Leo and the Jonestown massacre, which included the shooting of several of the reporters on the trip.

We met in the Tribune newsroom the next day and Managing Editor Glenn Brown, City Editor Bruce Lee and Editor Dave Schutz decided to send me and Bill Shilstone to Washington in time to cover the return home of Leo’s body and to do what reporting we could on those who were returning from Jonestown.

It was a Sunday morning in the days before ATMs and we didn’t have a petty cash fund on hand, so Glenn Brown contacted his pastor at his church and he gave us the money from that morning’s collection plate. I don’t know how much it was, I just remember a lot of small bills. Shilstone, who doubled as an assistant city editor and education reporter, handled the money.

Off we went to Washington. It was a different time. I was able to get into the hospital room of an NBC sound man who had been wounded and into Jackie’s hospital room, although she was in no position to answer questions.

On the flight home, I sat with Joe Holsinger, Leo’s closest friend, as he reflected on his friend’s career. Leo had been getting ready to run for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He was going to push for a statewide ballot measure embracing charter schools. He was going to shake things up.

A UNIQUE BRAND OF FEARLESSNESS: He was always willing to shake things up. It’s what he did. He was fearless. He was convinced his office carried enough stature that it would protect him.

Who would be crazy enough to attack a member of the United States Congress? In fairness, no one knew how crazy Jim Jones was.

All Leo knew was that some of his constituents were scared, terrified for their own family members. And he was determined to do something about it. He knew Congress would do little or nothing. So he decided to take direct action.

He did what he always did. He went to see for himself. It was an act of courage. It got him killed.

As stories pour forth on the events in Jonestown, I like to remember Leo – fondly, of course, with an appreciation for how fully human he was, and with respect for a public servant who saw his job as a platform for courage.

I’m forced to ponder if we’ll ever again see anyone quite like him.

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: As Peninsula evolves, so must our attitudes toward change

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Heads up! Broadway St. utility project to impact traffic for two weeks

In the early 1600s, William Shakespeare and a business partner sought to buy an abandoned monastery in central London and convert it into the first fully indoor theater in England.

The plan eventually fell through. Neighborhood residents rose up in protest that an active theater in their community would result in too much traffic.

Yep, those oxcart backups could be a real nuisance. Not in Ye Backyard.

In other words, there is nothing new under the sun.

As of this writing, we still don’t know the outcome of a handful of issues that were on the November 6 ballot.

What we do know from one of the most active campaign seasons in recent memory is that there are certain issues, concerns and worries that permeate our political environment. They were on display in every local race.

If this were part of the Sophoclean trilogy, right about here is where the Chorus would take the stage and recite in mournful unison: The high cost of housing, the spurt of growth and development over the last decade and the unceasingly frustrating traffic, oxcart or otherwise.

But there is something larger underlying these issues and it is the same central theme that has predominated every city from Daly City to Mountain View: Change.

It is frequently described as a curse to wish upon someone that they live in interesting times, or a time of change.

You can waste a lot of time searching for the root of that sentiment but the truth of it is universal and unmistakable – change is difficult and unsettling. It often is resisted and the resistance often comes too late.

That’s the case in our part of the world now. Anyone who fondly remembers the way things used to be probably is pretty uneasy at how things are now.

You hear it in complaints about how long it takes to get across town. Or how hard it is to find parking. Or that our adult children can no longer afford to live in their hometowns. Or the concern about the changing skyline of our once-quiet little towns.

Those are the localized complaints, of course, and they carry with them a sense that, somehow, we are victims of an unprecedented and sustained economic explosion that has wrought regional changes on our highways and in our employment centers.

That we have lost something essential about what our towns were and who we are.

In virtually every community, the dominant discussion is that we don’t like the changes that have taken place.

But here’s the reality that our political campaigns have not addressed: These changes are here to stay. Our best response – the healthiest and the one that, time and again, has proven most successful – is to embrace it.

THE WAY IT WAS: Two generations ago, the Peninsula was a hotbed of social rest – a quiet, low-key series of virtually indistinguishable suburban communities that most often elected Republicans to state and federal office.

The economy revolved around San Francisco and the peak commute hours saw the vast majority of workers driving to the city in the morning and driving back down the Peninsula in the evening.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a political transformation, first to moderate Republicans and, then, in the late 1980s, to the dominance of Democrats that prevails now.

Still, business and social life continued to revolve around San Francisco and there were few large employers and no major employment centers on the Peninsula, except, perhaps San Francisco International Airport, and that was San Francisco’s, too.

Every city had its own downtown and it was there that many of us of a certain age did our back-to-school shopping. Virtually every downtown had a drug store and a soda fountain and a hardware store and a toy store and a local market and a movie theater.

Then came the regional shopping centers, and the downtowns struggled – some withered – and, much like today, something was lost.

Many of the changes were welcomed enthusiastically.

It was around 1973 that the term Silicon Valley was coined and we attached ourselves to it with pride. It carried a cachet – the place where the future is invented – and it was dynamic and exciting and it meant more jobs and employers with national and international profiles and it seemed to fit the highly educated, cosmopolitan nature of the people who lived here.

Yet, even with the explosion of Silicon Valley, the geography most of us think of as the Peninsula – Daly City to Palo Alto – appeared to remain the same, when, in reality, it was changing slowly.

Then, one day, we looked around, and everything was different. And so it continues.

THE WAY IT IS: This is America. Change is part of our soul.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the character Terence Mann captured it succinctly: “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.”

The point he was making, of course, is that this constant of change makes us long for those things that give us emotional solace, for those things that “mark the time.”

So, we hear in every town people longing for a community that is gone, but, in reality, probably wasn’t quite what we remember it to be.

Nostalgia is fine and it’s why we send our holiday cards with snow and one-horse sleighs and snowmen and why we go to concerts by people we loved when we were young.

But there’s no going back. There is only going forward.

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: As Silicon Valley spread, the Peninsula was an incubator for new industries and new innovations. But companies would reach a certain size and then move major facilities – typically manufacturing – somewhere else and leave a token presence, if any, here.

Now, companies manufacture ideas more than gadgets and the result is growth the likes of which we have never seen.

For the first time in my memory, an entire industry – biotech – has planted itself in San Mateo County and the massive demand for additional office space will be unrelenting.

For the first time in my memory, major employers, most notably, Facebook, Google and Apple, plan to grow in place. They are building huge campuses because they want their employees near each other, working collaboratively, generating a thousand new ideas a week in the hope that one of them will be transformative.

The economic forces at work are not going to leave. There may be downturns – some say it is an inevitable certainty. But entire industries are not going to be wiped out and this new generation of companies is planning for growth.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? As I said at the outset, the only way to manage change is to embrace it.

And to stop fighting it. Sometimes it seems as though the local debates are dominated by people inclined to stand at the ocean’s edge and order the tide to stop.

In many cities, we have new council members and, in some cases, new majorities on the councils.

They are the product of some of the most contentious campaigns in more than a decade.

But the campaign is over and it’s time for us to find ways to work together.

We need to listen to one another. We need to see issues in something other than black and white. We need to grant to others that which we want ourselves – the benefit of the doubt and the assumption that each of us has the best interests of our community at heart.

We need to stop vilifying one another. We need to seek common ground. Individually, none of us occupies the moral high ground but collectively, all of us can.

During the just-completed campaign, more than one friend or acquaintance complained about the toxic nature of our public discourse. They expect our elected officials to find common ground and to put aside individual prejudices for a consensus that embraces the common good.

Our community leads in innovation, in new ideas and in love for the natural wonders that make this a special place. We are the nation’s model in these ways.

Let’s be the nation’s model in our public debate, in how we move forward to manage the change that undoubtedly will be the one true constant in the lives of our community.

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: Why it takes so long to count election ballots

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
San Mateo County: Vote today to avoid lines, and it's not too late to register

We’ve become people who stand in front of a microwave oven, muttering, “Hurry up.”

Not an ideal mindset for an electoral process that requires patience.

Patience. What a concept. It comes in handy when you’re waiting in traffic or standing in line at Disneyland or, say, counting ballots.

Such as counting ballots in San Mateo County’s November 6 election, which is taking much longer than some people seem to think it should.

In a world of instant gratification, elections often are neither instant nor gratifying, although often not for the same reasons.

And for the sake of the permanent record, I want to state unequivocally that they should take their time and make sure to count all the ballots, even if it means waiting for the final outcome.

Yes, we’re used to election results on election night, but it’s not like that. Not this time. Not anymore.

COUNTING THE REASONS: There are a number of reasons why the count for this election is taking a while, most of them valid, some of them worthy of further question.

First, a lot of people voted in this election. As of 10 p.m. last Friday, the absolute deadline, a total of 271,704 ballots had been received by the county Elections office.

That’s a voter turnout of nearly 68 percent, higher than the 65 percent projection from Elections officials. That’s more than 20 points higher than the turnout in 2014, the last gubernatorial election. That’s higher than the 65.3 percent turnout in 2010, when 226,000 voters cast ballots.

That’s also more than 20 points higher than the statewide turnout. When all the votes are counted, San Mateo County will be among the highest-turnout counties in the state, and among the top five highest in urban counties.

As of yesterday’s 4:30 p.m. update, Elections staff already had counted 144,000, nearly as many as the total number of votes cast in 2014 – and they still have another 127,000 ballots to count.

In other words, there was a huge turnout. The more ballots, the longer it takes to count them.

We are used to knowing the results right away. And why not? The run-up to the election took months of ads and mail pieces and all kinds of conversations. Why should we have to wait to know what happened?

And the answer is that this isn’t sports – we don’t always know the outcome the instant the clock runs out. To quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

And there’s another reason – it’s not just a huge turnout, but many of the local races are close.

Back in the days of all-machine voting, under the most normal of circumstances, some of these races were so close that we didn’t know the outcome until the end of November.

And these are hardly the most normal of circumstances.

AND BY THE WAY, WE DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE: The county has been shifting steadily away from voting by machine to voting by mail, or what used to be called absentee voting.

Then, we switched to this election’s all-mail balloting experiment.

Far from a great leap forward technologically, in reality, we went to a technology that more closely resembles voting in the 19th century, when voters made a mark on a paper ballot and stuffed it in a box.

In other words, we went from voting by machine to voting by hand.

When we voted at our local fire station, we slid our ballot into the machine and it was counted – right there, on the spot. We signed a book and no one checked the signature to make sure we were us. At the end of the evening, someone hit a button and the totals were instantly available.

Now, we vote by hand in our homes, sign and seal the envelope and deliver it, by mail or in person, to the Elections officials and we can mail it on Election Day.

Then, the mail has to be delivered, and someone has to open the envelope, cross-check the signature, and then manually slip the ballot into a machine that counts it.

It’s not quite that laborious – a lot of it is done by machines and scanners. But someone has to do the work we all used to do ourselves when we went to our precinct voting place.

It takes time to do it right.

THE BIG TRADE-OFF: The trade-off is more and better voting.

The evidence is plain, a huge number of voters turned out this year in the June and November elections. By any measure, that’s more voting and the assumption in elections is that more is better. Period.

Better voting comes in the form of a better-informed electorate.

Even with the shortened window of time during which the ballots were available in this election, voters had time to go over the ballot, research the often-confusing measures, find out a little more about the candidates and make deliberate, unhurried decisions.

If the cost is that it takes longer to tally all the ballots, it’s a trade-off worth making.

WE CAN DO BETTER: Still, there are some lingering questions about whether the San Mateo County Elections Department was prepared for the onslaught of ballots.

Interestingly, on the Peninsula TV election night show, Chief Elections Deputy Jim Irizarry brought some slides for his interview and one of them shows staffing levels in the Elections offices of the nine Bay Area counties.

San Mateo County is eighth, ahead only of Solano County.

There has been a lot of turnover in the Elections Department. Let’s be generous and assume it has been due to retirements.

I know from talking to people who have worked in the department that it takes two or three election cycles before a newcomer really has a handle on how it all works.

I don’t know if Elections Chief Mark Church failed to make a pitch to the Board of Supervisors, which includes his predecessor, Warren Slocum, for more funding for the Elections Department.

I don’t know if the Board failed to fund the department sufficiently, either at Church’s request or on its own initiative.

And I don’t care.

Moving forward, the department can do better and it needs to have adequate funds to hire the right number of people and to bring on board people with a level of experience that our elections system demands.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo courtesy of San Mateo County Elections Division

*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: Many county races remain very much up in the air

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

Now begins the slow crawl to the finish line.

If all-mail balloting means a bigger turnout – and it looks like it does – it also means a long and protracted post-election in which the outcome of many of the races on Tuesday’s ballot remains still very much up in the air.

In some of the closest races on the Peninsula, it could be three weeks before we know the final results, including the winners of the Redwood City Council race and the passage or defeat of Measure W, the half-cent sales tax to fund transit operations and transportation projects.

On the Peninsula TV Election Night show, Deputy Elections Chief Jim Irizarry said the projected turnout for this election was 191,864 votes. As of last night’s report on the county Elections website, a total of 93,706 votes had been counted.

That means less than half the votes have been counted so far, and, in some races, the results still could change dramatically.

That being said, there were some clear outcomes and some equally clear trends, the most dramatic being a changing of the old guard among Peninsula elected officials, a group suddenly rendered more diverse demographically and in terms of gender.

But the story of the moment is the uncertainty extending into the next few weeks.

In the Redwood City race for three seats, the top three finishers early last night were Vice Mayor Diane Howard, businesswoman Giselle Hale and accountant Rick Hunter. By the end of the evening, Hale had jumped ahead of Howard and Hunter had been supplanted by community advocate Diana Reddy.

The rest of the field stood in this order, as of this morning’s tally: business owner Christina Umhofer, community activist Jason Galisatus and businessman Ernie Schmidt.

Umhofer was still less than 400 votes behind Hunter and less than 500 behind Reddy. It would seem unlikely Umhofer would vault over Hunter and Reddy to land the seat, but with this many votes left to be counted, no one knows for sure.

It is all over for Galisatus and Schmidt, the latter acknowledging as much in a gracious Facebook message this morning.

But for the top four, as Hunter said this morning on Facebook, “It’s going to be a nail biter.  … We’ll all just have to hang in there.”

STILL UP IN THE AIR: There are a number of races where the outcome is still quite uncertain, although the outstanding number of ballots to be counted will have to break in a dramatically different way for some folks to come from behind.

The most prominent of these is Measure W, which elicited passionate concern among several elected officials who appeared on Peninsula TV last night.

In need of two-thirds to pass, Measure W began the evening tallies at 64 percent, but slowly crept up to, as of this morning, 66.18 percent.

It is reminiscent of a couple of races on the June ballot, which began the count losing and finished the count scraping past the two-thirds threshold.

Several city council races remain up in the air.

In Daly City, the slate put together by incumbent Ray Buenaventura still could win. Pamela DiGiovanni was in second, but the third member of the slate, Rod Daus-Magbual was 82 votes behind Gabriella Makstman as of this morning.

In Foster City, newcomers Sanjay R. Gehani and Richa Awasthi were in the lead in a race for two seats, but perennial candidate Patrick Sullivan – he has run four times – was only 136 votes shy of his long-desired promised land.

In Pacifica, Sue Beckmeyer and incumbent Mike O’Neill look like secure winners, but Vickie Flores has a tenuous grasp on the third seat. Incumbent John Keener was only 231 votes behind her.

In South San Francisco, incumbent Mark Addiego won easily. Fellow incumbent Pradeep Gupta appeared on his way to losing to newcomers Flor Nicolas and Mark Nagales, but Gupta is only 212 votes behind Nicolas and 171 behind Nagales.

DOWN ON THE GROUND: Even with all the outstanding ballots, some races were definitely decided Tuesday.

In East Palo Alto, newcomer Regina Wallace-Jones and incumbent Ruben Abrica were elected to the Council but long-time incumbent Donna Rutherford was voted off the council.

In Half Moon Bay, Council incumbents Deborah Penrose and Debbie Ruddock were easily re-elected, joined by newcomer Robert Brownstone.

In Millbrae, Council incumbents Reuben Holober and Anne Oliva easily won re-election.

San Carlos elected an entirely new Council majority in a campaign devoid of incumbents: Laura Parmer-Lohan, Sara McDowell and Adam Rak.

NEW FACES: In Menlo Park, district elections dramatically changed the political landscape: Two incumbents, Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki, were defeated by two well-established challengers, Drew Combs and Betsy Nash, with deep roots in the neighborhoods where they were running. With the victory also by Cecilia Taylor, the Menlo Park council shifts from four white and one Asian American councilmembers to a council with two African Americans.

The Menlo Park outcome undoubtedly will send shock waves through other cities that will be forced to take up the issue of elections by district, as incumbents vote on plans that could spell the end of their council tenures.

Not just in Menlo Park, but throughout the ballot, the local elections mirrored the national election in one substantial way: There was an upsurge in the number of women and minorities seeking and winning office.

It was what Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called “The Year of the Woman, 2.0.”

Look, in particular, at the seven school board races on Tuesday’s ballot and you’ll see an unprecedented number of women and minorities who were elected.

The long-term significance of this is that many city council members get their start on a local school board. The bench is deep in San Mateo County.

NOTES, QUOTES AND MOTES ON THE VOTES: It had one of the most low-profile campaigns outside of Brisbane, but the approval of its Measure JJ may have the greatest impact on the region of any measure on Tuesday’s ballot. The proposal amended the city general plan to allow the building of up to 2,200 residential units and 6.5 million square feet of new commercial space on the Baylands portion of the city. It’s a sweeping decision that can make a dent in the region’s jobs/housing imbalance and it’s a credit to the City Council, city leadership and the city’s voters that they took this step.

The Millbrae bond measure to rebuild a community center destroyed by fire was handily defeated, which is likely to force the city to re-think the whole project.

The Jack Hickey era is over on the Sequoia Healthcare District. Elected 16 years ago, Hickey has long advocated for the dissolution of the district. For the first time, the board members were elected by district. Hickey put together a slate of candidates and all of them lost, including Hickey. Maybe this will bring an end to his advocacy to end the district, but Hickey doesn’t let a little thing like defeat deter him.

On the San Mateo County Harbor District, Sabrina Brennan, not on the ballot, won two allies in Ed Larenas, who was re-elected, and Nancy Reyering. They now control the majority of that commission. It’s always hard to tell what Brennan’s long-term goals are for the district, but she is a disruptive force. This turn of events could hasten the efforts of her critics to dissolve the district and turn it into a county department.

All the measures on Tuesday’s ballot to tax cannabis were approved. That was not the fate for four advisory measures in Half Moon Bay that would have signaled to the City Council to go forward with allowing sale and production of marijuana in town. All four lost.

And in Redwood City, voters easily approved a measure to increase the local sales tax that would cover a budget shortfall induced by pension obligations.

But the theme of this election was and, for the foreseeable future continues to be, uncertainty.

It’s all over but the counting, and the counting is going to take some time.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo of county ballots being picked up from USPS shared by the San Mateo County Elections Division.

*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: Will voters embrace change on large ballot?

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

It may not be the biggest ballot in the history of San Mateo County, but if it’s not, it’s pretty close. And change is in the air. Will voters embrace the changes that are affecting their communities, or will they vote to slow down and, in many instances, stop these changes?

In addition to races for every statewide office from governor on down, 12 statewide ballot propositions and legislative and congressional races, county voters will cast ballots in 13 city council elections and 20 school board races and on 23 city ballot measures and five school ballot measures, as well as countywide races for the Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District board.

This is a political year tailor-made for a run-on sentence.

And that doesn’t include the campaign we’re all watching – the race for control of the U.S. Congress and, some would say, the soul of America.

If the national race is for the soul of America, there are some who think the local races are for the soul of a Peninsula that is quieter, smaller and less crowded.

These are the sustaining themes that cut through many of the races, as we are confronted by an entirely new economic reality.

There may be no more dramatic example than Measure JJ on the Brisbane ballot, a proposal to amend the city general plan and allow construction of up to 1,800-2,200 new homes and 6.5 million square feet of new commercial development in the Baylands area.

It was put on the ballot in the face of immense regional pressure to develop what is seen by many as one of the few remaining large plots of developable land in the Bay Area. The resulting development could easily double Brisbane’s population.

In South San Francisco, big plans for downtown development has prompted the usual complaints that the nature of the community is at risk.

The same concerns are at hand in Redwood City and Menlo Park, the latter being the company town for booming Facebook.

Change, albeit on a more modest scale, is also the issue in Belmont, where a unified City Council is looking to build a new downtown center to the community.

It always strikes me as ironic that Belmont has a downtown park, but no downtown, while Redwood City has a downtown but no downtown park.

Anyway, here are how some of the races seem to be shaping up.

AROUND THE HORN: In Belmont, incumbents Julia Mates, Warren Lieberman and Charles Stone have run as a slate, hoping to collectively overwhelm challenger Deniz Bolbol, who represents the out-of-power old guard of a decade ago. A sweep by the incumbents could be a mandate for their approach to transforming Belmont.

Daly City Mayor Ray Buenaventura, up for re-election and expected to win easily, has heavily backed Pamela DiGiovanni, so the election will be a test of his influence.

In South City, three seats are up and incumbents Mark Addiego and Pradeep Gupta are running. Congressional aide Mark Nagales has the support of most of the county’s political establishment, but the uneasiness in this town could put one of the incumbents at risk.

In East Palo Alto, longtime incumbents Donna Rutherford and Ruben Abrica face five challengers, so their election will be a measure of whether there is widespread dissatisfaction in their community, driven by the traffic and gentrification spurred by the presence of Facebook.

In Foster City, the absence of any incumbents has drawn six candidates for two seats. The race has been quite heated and the outcome quite uncertain. The usual movers and shakers in Foster City politics are spread out in this race.

In Half Moon Bay – Coastside politics always are as bracing as the ocean temperature – incumbents Debbie Ruddock and Deborah Penrose should be assured of re-election, but it is notable that neither of them listed their incumbency for their ballot designation, hinting that there could be turmoil.

In Menlo Park, where they have gone to district elections for the first time, two incumbents, Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith, have drawn opposition. Ohtaki appears to be the safer of the two, aided by two challengers who can split the vote. Political insiders think Keith is in some trouble. Her challenger, Drew Combs, almost won a seat citywide last election, and Keith’s high-profile approach to issues has made some city leaders uneasy.

In Redwood City, the highest-profile race in the county, the seven-candidate race for three seats is anyone’s guess. Incumbent Diane Howard would be safe under normal circumstances, but the backlash against development undermines that sense of safety.

The race will measure how widespread is the dissatisfaction with how Redwood City has changed and will continue to change. It is hard to tell. Unhappy residents are always louder.

Two candidates are running classic political campaigns, Giselle Hale and Jason Galisatus: Raise money, build a high profile, issue targeted mail and build a presence on social media that remains positive, phone bank and knock on doors. The other candidates – Howard, Diana Reddy, Rick Hunter, Ernie Schmidt and Christina Umhofer — have relied more on grassroots and a network of neighbors, although all of them have raised enough money to send out some mail pieces and, Reddy, in particular, has been a prominent presence in social media.

Reddy also has been the target of an extraordinarily aggressive opposition campaign from the California Apartment Association, which sent out six negative mail pieces, the most of anyone in this race. The election also will be a test of CAA’s ability not only to oppose rent control measures but affect a city council race.

AND SO IT GOES: As I said at the beginning, it’s a full ballot.

Six of the city ballot measures are to increase a local hotel tax and five of them are to put some kind of tax on cannabis businesses.

There are races for control of the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors and the San Mateo County Harbor District Commission.

Two San Mateo County Community College District Trustees – Rich Holober and Tom Mohr – are running against each other in the first district elections and it’s anyone’s guess how that will turn out.

The only real choice you have is to watch Peninsula TV (Channel 26, tonight, starting at 8 p.m. There, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I will wade through it all – national, state and, especially, local races, joined by our own analyst/expert, Melissa Michelson of Menlo College.

One thing is sure: It will be fun. Dial by.

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: Measure W is profoundly necessary

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
SamTrans board approves express bus feasibility study

Tomorrow’s ballot is loaded with critical issues and elections, but none may be more important to the future of San Mateo County than Measure W, the half-cent sales tax increase that will fund badly needed transit and transportation projects.

Full disclosure: For 15 years, ending last year, I was an executive at the San Mateo County Transit District, which manages the SamTrans bus and paratransit system, the Caltrain commuter rail system and the Transportation Authority, which spends taxpayer money on transportation projects.

I am a full-throated supporter of Measure W. I was involved in its genesis and believe profoundly in its necessity.

SamTrans is more than 40 years old and needs to change to reflect a changed county that is bedeviled by traffic and spurred by economic growth that was inconceivable a generation ago.

In 1976, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund SamTrans. At the time, it provided essential transportation to service workers who need the bus to get to work, to young people going to school, and to the elderly who couldn’t afford a car or who couldn’t drive. And it provides paratransit service for those whose independence and mobility depend on specialized vehicles and assistance.

SamTrans still needs to do all these things, but it also needs to be a central part of the solution to our traffic problems. Or those problems won’t get solved.

DOING MORE WITH MORE: Since passage of the 1976 tax, SamTrans has gotten by on that single revenue source. To do more – and we all need it to do more – it will need more money.

Without additional funds, SamTrans may not be able to keep doing what it has been doing. It certainly will not be able to do all the things it needs to do to become nimbler, more useful, more essential to us all.

We want to get out of our cars. We want a transit system made up of all kinds of vehicles, big and small, reflecting our collectively individualized needs. We want to get picked up in a convenient place, go where we need to go and do all that in a timely and affordable way.

That means “microtransit,” on-demand service using small vehicles. That means creative scheduling that looks beyond main, centralized routes to serve the complicated geography of the Peninsula. That means fuel-efficient vehicles that reduce greenhouse gases.

It means more – more service, more vehicles, more people doing more to meet our growing needs.

If Measure W passes, it will mean more of the kind of transit system all of us say we should have.

WHY DOESN’T TRANSIT WORK BETTER? Here’s why: They don’t have enough money. Pass Measure W and they will.

It is particularly disappointing that the two local newspapers came out against the measure. Their arguments suggest neither of them understands local transit, the complexities of transit funding, nor the desperate need for these funds.

One editorial was critical that not enough has been done with the money they already have. That’s a mistake – the money currently being spent on transportation projects doesn’t help SamTrans run its buses. Money spent on projects, like freeway improvements, are from the Transportation Authority.

It’s also wrong. A grade separation project in San Bruno was funded by the TA. So was the new Broadway overpass in Burlingame. So are improvements to all the Caltrain grade crossings in the county. And newly acquired Caltrain railcars were funded, in part, by the TA.

At the same time, another newspaper sharply criticized SamTrans for buying new electric buses when it’s asking for more money. The word used was “chutzpah.”

So, essentially, while it’s asking for money to do more, SamTrans should stop trying to do more.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The other side of that argument, one I made while working at SamTrans, is they needed to demonstrate to the public that the agency is not standing still. That it is working to try new things and ready to innovate and reinvent itself as a modern mobility agency if it receives an infusion of new revenue, which it hasn’t received for 40 years.

Let’s make this clear. SamTrans is trying to operate in a new atmosphere with a funding basis that dates from the Ford administration.

And it has been trying within the limits of a sharply constrained budget, producing new, innovative service to schools in San Carlos and to Woodside High School and a new “microtransit” experiment in Pacifica. And, yes, new electric buses.

It’s not chutzpah. It’s a promise to the public of what will come if Measure W passes.

There are a lot of other things in this proposal – more money for street and road maintenance, money for bike and pedestrian pathways, money for Caltrain’s electrification project. The spending plan is the result of an extended community outreach and consensus and to say it doesn’t include one thing or another is classic nitpicking.

We all tend to think of traffic in the spirit of the famous Mark Twain quote: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Here’s a chance to do something about it.

FOOTING THE BILL: An array of the county’s business interests is lined up behind Measure W and have provided a campaign treasury in excess of $1 million. That would seem like a lot, given that there is no organized opposition, but the campaign organizers had been hoping to raise twice that much.

Measure W requires a two-thirds vote. With tax increases on a number of local ballots and the statewide measure to repeal the recent gas tax increase, Proposition 6, campaign officials are nervous that the two-thirds threshold may be too high a bar.

Nonetheless, big money has weighed in big numbers at a level that may be unprecedented in San Mateo County and reflects the reality that a place once known as solely a bedroom community now is a major economic force.

The big donors: Facebook, Genentech, the David D. Bohannon organization (owners of the Hillsdale Shopping Center and a Menlo Park business park) and the San Mateo County Economic Development Association all have come in for $100,000, and Harbor View Property, seeking to develop a major site in Redwood City, is in for $99,500.

Other big ones: Silicon Valley Community Foundation, $40,000; Herzog Contracting Group, the St. Louis-based company that currently operates Caltrain, $50,000.

The San Francisco Laborers union, Irvine-based real estate firm Nuquest Ventures, the Operating Engineers union, real-estate firm the Sobrato Organization, ambulance services company American Medical Response, Burlingame auto dealer Putnam Automotive Group, and Hanson Bridgett, the law firm that serves the transit district, all came in for $25,000 each.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Livermore -based bus manufacturer Gillig came in for $10,000 each. The Northern California Carpenters union came in for $20,000.

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: County could see historic voter turnout

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

A huge number of ballots already have been turned into San Mateo County elections offices, signaling what could be an historic voter turnout when all the ballots are counted from next Tuesday’s general election.

As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 93,470 voters had voted – 92,190 by mail and 1,280 in person at one of the polling places throughout the county, according to county elections chief Mark Church.

The tally of returned ballots, posted with a week to go before the close of the polls, nearly equals the 97,447 ballots cast in total in the last equivalent election, the 2014 gubernatorial ballot.

This comes as no surprise, of course.

The national, statewide and local issues at stake in this election have created an uncommonly high interest in the 2018 campaign year. A national fervor has been matched by a passionate interest in local city council races, more than a dozen of which are on this ballot since the Peninsula moved its elections to coincide with even-year statewide elections.

“I’ve never seen an electorate as energized as they are right now. It’s no longer just about the national dialogue,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a prime mover behind the vote-by-mail legislation. “I have not seen in my political life a non-presidential election generate this kind of energy.”

And that’s the other factor that makes it likely the turnout in San Mateo County will be at near-record levels.

In June, when the vote-by-mail experiment first was implemented, more than 172,000 votes were cast, a turnout of 44.3 percent. The equivalent election in June 2014 had a turnout of 22.5 percent.

IT’S MONEY THAT MATTERS: As Randy Newman so eloquently put it.

The most common question this late in the campaign is about who might win. In the hotly contested race for three seats on the Redwood City Council, it’s hard to say and no one really knows.

But if we follow the money, it appears development and real estate interests seem to think the race for the third-place seat has come down to university relations representative Jason Galisatus or community advocate Diana Reddy.

We reported recently on the amount of money spent by the California Apartment Association targeting Reddy, a long-time advocate of broad rent control laws that would extend to apartments and homes. It’s not just a position, as far as the CAA is concerned, it’s a battle line, which is why the money they’ve spent has resulted in five anti-Reddy mail pieces, including two co-funded by the National Association of Realtors.

On the other side of the coin, real estate and development interests have weighed in heavily on behalf of Galisatus, helping him raise more than $71,000. It’s an astonishing achievement for a first-time candidate whose background includes serving community organizations such as the Downtown Business Association, but no formal office.

Of the $37,000 Galisatus raised through October 20 more than $12,000, nearly one-third, came from real estate interests, including $5,000 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.

This has prompted claims on social media that he is pro-development and is ready to give in to developers in future Redwood City proposals. He says he’s just demonstrated to these interests that he’s capable.

But it is more likely that these same interests simply find Galisatus a more reasonable option – someone they can work with – as opposed to Reddy, whose election they would regard as a disaster. She is the only advocate in the race, or quite likely on the City Council, for rent control and other positions they regard as anti-growth.

By the way, Vice Mayor Diane Howard also received $1,000 from the CAA and $2,500 from the California Association of Realtors.

It should be noted that the anti-Reddy mail pieces are the only overtly negative campaign mailings in this election. None of the candidates has uttered a negative word about the other in the many candidates’ forum or in the mail.

The only other exception is a local Facebook page, Redwood City Residents Say What, which has lined up aggressively behind Reddy and, to a lesser degree, business owner Christina Umhofer and where their approach to criticism of Galisatus and businesswoman Giselle Hale has been frequently harsh and more than occasionally personal.

OTHER KINDS OF MONEY: Money traces a fascinating path in the Redwood City election.

Aside from real estate and development interests, the dominant campaign donors in this race have been individuals, the most notable being Julie Pardini, a property owner and the creator and moderator of the Say What page.

She has contributed more than $14,000 to four candidates, the bulk of it to Reddy, who has received $7,540 from Pardini.

Add in Reddy’s own direct contributions to her campaign – a $5,000 loan and another $5,600 in nonmonetary contributions – and more than one-third of the $50,000 in the campaign has come from two individuals.

Pardini has given $2,999 to Umhofer, $1,500 to accountant Rick Hunter and $1,000 to businessman Ernie Schmidt.

Of the nearly $40,000 Umhofer has raised, more than 30 percent has come from two sources – the funds from Pardini and Umhofer’s own loan of more than $9,200 to the campaign, which she has since repaid or forgiven, according to her October 20 campaign report.

This is significant in that such individual donations, it could be argued, are less transparent than a “special interest” donation. We can clearly discern the interests of the real estate industry.

It is harder to precisely what interests an individual donor may have, other than what they say they are.

And there is the post-election issue of what a newly elected council member might have to do in order to pay off an outstanding campaign debt.

OTHER DONORS OF NOTE: Labor has weighed in on the race: Howard received $250 from the San Francisco Laborers Union; Galisatus has received $350 from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators, $150 from the SF Laborers, and $500 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and $1,000 from the Redwood City Firefighters Association; Hale received $1,000 from the RWC Firefighters and another $1,000 from the San Mateo County Firefighters Association; $500 from the IBEW and $1,000 from the Plumbers Union.

MEASURE RR: Development and real estate interests also have contributed heavily to the Yes on RR campaign in Redwood City, the general sales tax measure to meet city budget shortfalls. Developer Sares Regis has donated $2,000, the owner of 601 Marshall Street has donated $1,000, Harbor View Property owner Jay Paul has donated $10,000, and apartment and office developer Greystar Development has donated $5,000.

Contact Mark Simon at

— The story has been updated to include that Christina Umhofer has repaid or forgiven the loans to her campaign.

*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: Giselle Hale may have broken fundraising record

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
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

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
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.

1 3 4 5 6 7 11
Go to Top