Tim Sbranti

Nov 132014

right_arrowIt’s time to face the facts.  Alameda County has ceased to be a home for liberals.  Perhaps we can trace this development to the replacement of the word “liberal” by the word “progressive,” perhaps to the broken promises of the Obama administration or even to 9/11.  Or perhaps the yuppy generation grew old, more afraid, more conservative.  In any case, policies throughout the county show that, by in large, liberal values have been abandoned.  We now welcome mass surveillance, the loss of fourth amendment rights and the militarization of police, under the fear or excuse of crime, even as crime has plummeted since the 1980’s.  We are willing to accept racial profiling by police almost as a fact of life.  We pass ordinances prohibiting the feeding of the homeless, the eviction of the poor and even attempt to criminalize people from sitting on the sidewalks.  And we elect conservative politicians.

Despite the claims of Democratic operatives and newspapers, this election has been terrible for liberals in Alameda County, at least as far as local governments goes.  In most local races, the more progressive candidates lost.  When they didn’t, it was because they were well-established incumbents, often facing token opposition, or as part of plurality elections, where multiple candidates split the vote.

Here is a brief analysis of how the City Council races turned out countywide.

Berkeley had three City Council seats up for election.  Incumbents Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio won. Worthington faced a more conservative challenger, while Maio was up against a more liberal one.  If anything, this was a wash.  As for District 8, the political distinctions among the candidates were minor.

In Oakland, Dan Siegel, the only actual liberal candidate for Mayor, did not win the election. Libby Schaaf moved to the left in the latest stages of her campaign, at the same time that she basked in the endorsements of  Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, who have long abandoned the pretense of being progressive.  Early in the year, however, Schaaf was supported the establishment of the Domain Awareness Center, an intelligence fusion center that would allow government officials to better track the movements of regular people.  At the start of the election, Schaaf was actually lumped with Joe Tuman and Brian Parker as the most conservative viable candidates in the race.

All the viable candidates for Oakland City Council District 2 were equally progressive, some stronger in one area while weaker in another.  In District 6, incumbent Desley Brooks barely beat out a staffer for Libby Schaaf, whom would have likely been more conservative than Brooks.  Only in District 4 we see a clear win by a progressive candidate over a conservative one.  If there is one bright light on this election, it’s Annie Campbell Washington’s win.

Unfortunately, I did not follow the Emeryville City Council race, so I can’t judge where the candidates fell in the political spectrum, though I can say the two winners had the Democratic endorsement.

Trish Spencer was elected Mayor of Alameda.  She is significantly more liberal than incumbent Mary Gilmore, who supported the acquisition of license plate scanners and of an armored personnel carrier for the police, but Spencer ran on an anti-development platform which attracted many conservative votes.  Similar issues played out in the City Council race, where just three candidates vied for two seats.  The loser was the incumbent member of the Council who had voted to expand development.

In San Leandro, Pauline Cutter, a moderate Democrat was elected Mayor against a more conservative opponent – but the more liberal candidate was left in the dust.  The three City Council races saw the most conservative candidates win, all endorsed by the police union.

Results were just as bad in Fremont, where even a moderate Democrat who had the endorsement of the Police, was defeated by two of the most conservative candidates.  One is an ex-police officer who openly supports the militarization of the police.

Union City saw its two Democratic incumbent Council members get re-elected, as well as their Republican colleague.  Meanwhile in Newark, the Democratic Mayor won re-election against a Democratic opponent, and the two empty City Council seats were split between a Democrat and a Republican

In Pleasanton, the Republican Mayor won re-election and the two City Council seats were filled by Republicans.  Dublin Mayor and Assembly candidate Tim Sbranti was replaced by a Republican, though the two Democratic incumbent council members won re-election.  Tim Sbranti, by the way, lost the Assembly race to a Republican, the seat had been previously filled by a Democrat.

No Democrats even ran for City Council in Livermore.

The results were much better at the School Board level, but only because the trend was to see parents of students in their respective school districts get elected over non-district parents, regardless of their political views.

Jun 042014

politicianDespite most open primary, most November contests will feature a Democrat vs. a Republican candidate

Races for Controller, State Superintendent, CD 15 and AD 16 still too close to call

Good morning San Leandro! Happy post-election day!

And what a stressful day it must be for many candidates in California!  The mailed & poll-day ballots have been counted, but many races are close enough that the absentee ballots turned in at the polls and provisional ballots may very well make the difference.

This election, I think, has been characterized by voter apathy and lack of knowledge about candidates, so name recognition was key.  Nothing else can explain that indicted-arms-dealer Leland Yee would come out third in the Secretary of State race with almost 300,000 votes!

Worth noting is that despite the open primary, most of the November elections in Alameda county are posed to be between a Democrat and a Republican. It would seem that Republicans will continue to vote for Republican candidates, rather than a more moderate Democrat, even when their candidate has no prayer of winning in November.

Results from the more certain contested races:

Karen Monroe and Helen K. Foster  will be competing against each other for Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. That means that we get our Chinese-flag-waving Ursula Reed in the City Council for 2 more years. I’m sure she’ll be lovely. Personally, I felt Foster had a good chance to win 2nd place based on her name alone, but she also was a smart campaigner, putting up signs and using internet ads to further that name recognition.

– With 3330 votes (so far), Barbara Halliday is the new Mayor-elect of Hayward. Look at that number again. Hayward has a population of almost 150,000 people and just 3330 voted for its new Mayor. As a comparison, San Leandro Mayor Cassidy was elected in 2010 with over 10K votes in a city with almost half its population. Hayward needs to change its elections to November and consider adopting ranked-choice voting.

– Incumbent Marvin Peixoto and Homeless Advocate Sara Lamnin have been elected to the Hayward City Council, both also with barely over 3K votes so far.

– As predicted by polls, Ro Khanna will be facing Mike Honda for the Congressional District 17 seat in November. The 20+ point spread between the candidates must be making Khanna nervous. He’ll need to decide whether to continue to play nice, as he builds support for a 2016 rematch or whether to take the gloves off and make the case why voters shouldn’t want to vote for Honda.

– It will be Bob Wieckowski  vs. Republican Peter Kuo for Senate District 10Mary Hayashi is left on the dust. Will she disappear quietly or will she use whatever money & fundraising power she has to go after her perceived enemies? We’ll just have to wait and see

– In Assembly District 15 (north Oakland to Pinole), it’ll be former Obama administration official & Alameda County Democratic Party member Elizabeth Echols vs. former Richmond Councilmember Tony Thurmond. With 6 other candidates out of the way, there will finally be a chance to distinguish between the two Democratic candidates.  This, by the way, only one of two Alameda County races where two candidates from the same party will face each other in November.

– In Assembly District 25 (Fremont & parts of Santa Clara county),  San Jose Councilmember Kansen Chu, a Democrat, will face Republican Bob Brunton. My endorsed candidate Teresa Cox came third, despite being heavily outspent by fourth-placer Armando Gomez (though those numbers could still change).

– Governor Jerry Brown will face Republican Neel Kashkari.  A blow to the tea party, but also Democrats who hoped a Donnelly win would depress Republican turnout in November. My bet is that it wouldn’t make a difference.

Alex Padilla will face Republican Pete Peterson for Secretary of State.


Eric Swalwell will clearly be re-elected to Congress come November.  It’s not clear yet whether his opponent will be Democrat Ellen Corbett For Congress or Republican Hugh Bussell.

– It looks like the battle for Assembly District 16 (tri-valley) will be between Republican Catharine Baker and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, a Democrat, come November.  But I’m not calling it just yet because Steve Glazer was ahead of Sbranti for a while last night, and it’s hard to know how many ballots are left to count or how these will break.

– Republican candidate Ashley Swearengin heads to November in the Controller’s race. No way of knowing yet whether she’ll be facing Republican David Evans or Democrats John Perez or Betty Yee.

-Incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a Democrat, didn’t reach the 50% of the vote he needed to avoid a November runoff.  His likely opponent will be Democrat Marshall Tuck, in what would be the only Democrat vs. Democrat race at the state level.  Republican Lydia Gutiérrez may still catch up when all votes are counted, however.

May 202014

Here are my voting recommendations for the June 2014 election.  I’m a liberal Democrat, and the issues I’m most concerned about are good governance, transparency and accountability and the protection of human rights and civil liberties.   I only include competitive races for which I have a recommendation.


Secretary of State: Derek Cressman
The Secretary of State is responsible for elections in California. We need someone who is clean, ethical and committed to a democratic political process.  Derek Cressman headed a campaign reform advocacy organization and, among other things, wants to create a vetted multi-media online voter guide with actual useful information for voters.

Controller:  Betty Yee
Betty has the financial preparation and attention to detail that the office requires, plus she is committed to good governance and transparency.  Her Democratic opponent, Assembly speaker John Perez, has the arrogance to believe he should be elected just because of his current position and did not even bother to submit a ballot statement.

Measure 42: Yes
This will force City governments to continue making agendas for public meetings available to the public even if the state does not reimburse them for the cost.  It assures the public right to know.


Superintendent of Schools: Jeff Bowser or Helen K. Foster
I heard the candidates speak both at the interviews for the Democratic and the Oakland Tribune endorsements. They all did equally well on general issues, Bowser and Thomas have the best understanding of the financial situation. Karen Monroe will make it past June on the strength of her ballot designation alone. Naomi Eason is great but seems less prepared. Ursula Reed has done little to help schools while a San Leandro Councilmember, instead putting her efforts  into trying to get the communist Chinese flag to be flown over City Hall.

Measure AA: Yes
Not only should everyone have access to health care, when we don’t provide it for those who are most vulnerable, we endanger public health.


Mayor: Francisco Zermeño
Zermeño provides the best combination of love for Hayward, commitment to the community and ability to relate to everyday people.

City Council: Rocky Fernandez and Sara Lamnin
There are a number of good candidates, but I think these two have the greatest political experience and clearest progressive values to move Hayward forward.


CD 15: Ellen Corbett
Ellen is quiet but she’s a work horse, passing legislation that protects consumer rights and the environment. Her opponent, sitting Congressman Eric Swalwell, is a show horse with one intention only: remain in Congress at every cost, no matter how many ethical lines are crossed (including paying for delegates to vote for him and using congressional mail for campaign purposes). He has voted against civil liberties and opposes religious equality.

CD 17: Ro Khanna
Mike Honda is as true-blue a liberal as they come, and I’m very appreciative for his service,  but Khanna holds the same essential positions, only he does it with a greater, more thought-out foundation, more vigor and intelligence. Khanna has the potential to be the Democratic Party’s answer to both Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and a true political leader for his generation and the country.


SD 10: Bob Wieckowski
Wieckowski is another quiet leader, turning out legislation that helps people without much fanfare. An ACLU-vetted bill to combat “revenge pornography” is just one of his latest accomplishments. The San Francisco Chronicle’s endorsement makes it clear why everyone should vote for this man.


AD 16: Tim Sbranti
Sbranti has done a good job of handling different interests in Dublin. While he’s not nearly as progressive as I, he’s the most progressive of the bunch.

AD 25: Teresa Cox

Teresa Cox is a fighter, she’s the first African-American woman to receive a degree in nuclear engineering, and she’s very smart, pragmatic and committed.  Those are all faculties that I believe we need in the Assembly. She is also less indebted to special interests that some of her opponents.

Feb 122013
Ellen Corbett

Ellen Corbett

She can, but only if she stop playing it safe.

Last October, in the midst of the 2012 electoral battle between veteran Congressman Pete Stark and Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell for Congressional District 15, California Senate Majority leader Ellen Corbett took the unprecedented step of announcing she would run for that seat in 2014.

Corbett had been angling to run for Stark’s seat, after he retired, for years.  And there was much speculation that Stark would retire in 2012.  He was in his 80’s, frequently in bad health, and had been marginalized in Washington.  Furthermore, his district had been redrawn and he had lost much of the more liberal parts of western Alameda county, while gaining the conservative Tri-Valley area where his liberal policies were unlikely to be popular. Corbett already represented some of these areas – namely Castro Valley and Pleasanton – and her more moderate Democratic views would be an easier sell.

Stark, however, declined to do the “right thing” (for the local party, at least) and retire and while Corbett entertained the idea of challenging him, she eventually backed off. My guess is that labor would not support her against the aging incumbent.

Eric Swalwell

Eric Swalwell

Her decision proved to be like manna from heaven for Eric Swalwell.  The young Dublin City Council member had little to lose by taking on Stark.  A prosecutor from a conservative Bay Area suburb, Swalwell was too young and had yet to pay enough dues to be taken seriously by the Democratic establishment or by labor.  He had no support to lose by challenging the incumbent.

Swalwell, however,  proved to be a consummate campaigner, willing to knock on door after door, attend event after event, and embrace the power of social media and new campaign technologies. He was also able to draw on the expertise of local politicos disaffected with Stark and the local Democratic party. Our own Mayor Stephen Cassidy, for example, shared his own tips and experience on defeating incumbents (he’d done it twice in San Leandro) while Swalwell’s former High School teacher and mentor Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, an upcoming political force himself, once again took him under his wing. It certainly didn’t hurt that Stark made some serious gaffes during early debates and then disappeared altogether from the campaign trail, leaving it all in the hands of his campaign managers and his supporters in labor and the Democratic party.

Pete Stark

Pete Stark

Ultimately, it was the new open-primary system in California that gave Swalwell his win. After his surprisingly good showing in June, which put him in a one-to-one contest with Stark in November, Swalwell started drawing on support and money from more disaffected politicians and individuals. He became the new darling of the news media, which covered Stark’s gaffes with gusto. And he was able to make the race about personalities, rather than issues, which allowed him the flexibility of appealing to voters with very diverse ideologies.

By the end of the campaign, Swalwell had raised $826K and spent $800K of that. That still pales in comparison with the almost $1.4M Stark spent on this race, but it definitely made him competitive.

At the end of the day, in the November election, Stark’s incumbency held and he easily won the part of the district that he had historically represented, while Swalwell easily won the rest.

The question, of course, is what all of this means for Ellen Corbett. While nobody can predict the future, it’s helpful to look at the differences between Corbett and Stark and what she can and cannot bring to a Congressional campaign.   Let’s also keep in mind that as everyone wants to back a winner, Corbett’s chances at winning are also dependent on the analysis politicos, contributors and voters make of those same chances. If people think Corbett has a shot, they are more likely to give her their support. And she will definitely need lots of it.

Ellen Corbett is not Pete Stark – in either the bad or the good ways. She is a calm, measured politician; she’s pleasant, smart, compassionate and empathetic, without being overly emotional. She is unlikely to make offensive statements on the campaign trail and give Swalwell the type of ammunition that he had with Stark.  However, Corbett has been in public office for a couple of decades: first as a City Council member and Mayor of San Leandro, and then in the California Assembly and now California Senate. If Swalwell decides to run a negative campaign against her, he will probably be able to find plenty of things to criticize.

In 2012, Corbett’s advantages over Pete Stark were that her Senate district included most of CD 15 and that her views were more moderate, and thus more attuned to the voters.   She’s always been a grass-roots politician, and knows the importance of one-to-one contact with voters. Voters have seen her at community events in their cities throughout the years. Since the district was redrawn, Corbett has also been seen in community events in those cities she does not currently represent: Dublin, San Ramon and Livermore.

In order to win, Corbett will have to make sure that the votes that went to Stark in 2010 now go to her and that the Democratic voters in Castro Valley and Pleasanton who voted for Swalwell, now vote for her instead. Of course, she will also have to make inroads with other Tri-Valley voters.

The first proposition should be the easiest. Southern Alameda county voters are used to seeing her name on their ballot and seeing her at events, and they may still be bitter about Stark’s loss. However, Swalwell is well aware of this and he is reaching out towards those parts of the district, attending events and trying to ingratiate himself with the local political establishment.  He might have made a mistake by locating his district office in Pleasanton, however, as that sends a message that his heart is really in the Tri-Valley (plus it’s awfully inconvenient for voters in the southern part of the district to drive to Pleasanton), but Corbett is not helping herself either by keeping her district office in San Leandro.

Converting Swalwell voters to her is likely to be more difficult. While it’s true that many of the votes that Swalwell got were “anyone but Stark” votes, Corbett will need to make a case to the voters as to why she’s a better choice for them than the man they just put in office.   Attacking his youth or inexperience did not work for Stark, so she will have to try to draw other distinctions.

So far the only message I’ve heard concerns Swalwell’s political stances. Rumors are being circulated that he has reached out to Blue Dog Democrats and to Republicans and that he is really a Republican in disguise (though that can also be said about President Obama).  But rumors are just rumors and Swalwell is smart enough to know that it behooves him, at this point, to entrench himself within the Democratic party and follow  Nancy Pelosi‘s lead.  So far, all indications are that he’s doing just that.  He has co-sponsored gun control legislation and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and he happily accepted being appointed an Assistant Whip, which means he is now responsible for making other Congress members fall into the Democratic party line.  If Corbett wants to go after Swalwell on the issues, she will have to be ready to make strategic attacks on the party line.

One area in which Eric Swalwell and the Democratic leadership are particularly weak is the protection of civil liberties.  Swalwell approves of the Patriot Act, going to war with Iran and  has dodged questions about whether he supports US Presidents having the power to assassinate American citizens (which would imply that he does).  Swalwell, moreover, has made it explicit that he doesn’t believe in a separation of Church and State and has suggested there is no place in government (or maybe even America?) for non-believers. While those positions may play well with his conservative base in both parties, they will make many voters on his district – both in the Democratic left and the libertarian right – very uncomfortable.  Indeed, his support for gun control legislation is already losing him support in the Tri-Valley.  Corbett could seize on this and develop a strong civil liberties agenda that would put all those voters in play.  Indeed, this would also draw her closer to her potential colleagues to the north and south, Barbara Lee and Mike Honda, both staunch civil liberty advocates.  That said, Corbett has not focused on civil liberties in the past and seems to be in favor of stronger federal gun control measures.

Corbett has two other big hurdles to clear: money and support. It’s almost impossible to win a Congressional campaign without money. Candidates need to put their names out there and that involves sending out mailers and putting out radio and TV ads, all of which are very expensive. A crafty candidate can save some money by manufacturing news events and getting free media coverage, but Corbett has not exhibited those media skills. Corbett started the year with only about $100K in her campaign account for Congress, that’s less than a tenth of what she will need in order to run a competitive race. And it’s not clear where her funds will come from. Her previous campaigns have been funded almost exclusively by PACs, so she doesn’t have a network of individual contributors on whom to rely on (by contrast, 85% of Swalwell’s contributions came from individuals). PACs, however, are unlikely to support her unless she can give them something that Swalwell can’t or won’t.

It’s also unclear how much support Ellen Corbett will be able to get from the Democratic party, labor and other groups.  She is extremely entrenched within the local party, while Eric Swalwell has received the cold shoulder – at least publicly – from local politicos.  But Corbett is not without her detractors: it’s hard to be in politics for so long without making enemies. She also has a reputation for not paying back her political debts, something which may come back to haunt her.  She does, however, have a good shot at winning the party’s endorsement, though it’s definitely too early to know how that will play out.

Local Democratic insiders seem to be under the impression that Corbett’s gender will play in her favor.  Some believe that Corbett will get the support of Nancy Pelosi because Pelosi wants to see more women in Congress.  While I’m sure she has that goal in general, I will note that in 2011 she participated in fundraisers for Ro Khanna, who at the time was planning to run for CD 15 against Ellen Corbett.  And if Swalwell falls into line, Pelosi would have no incentive to back Corbett – in particular, when there are plenty of more important races for her to concentrate on. It’s also doubtful whether Corbett will enjoy the support of Emily’s List,  which also has more important races to focus on.  Plus Swalwell has been playing it smart, not only did he co-sponsor re-authorization of VAWA but he joined the pro-choice caucus.

Even without overwhelming party support, Corbett is likely to have the support of the Alameda Labor Council. She has been faithful to labor for many years and chances are they will go to bat for her. However, it’s unlikely that the AFL-CIO will go against an incumbent Democratic candidate – in particular, if he doesn’t do anything to offend them – which could put local labor in a pickle. Without labor’s money and volunteers, her campaign is a non-starter.

Even with them, Corbett’s campaign has one additional problem: it has not embraced digital campaign technologies. As of this writing she doesn’t have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, a mailing list or even her own campaign website. This means that, at least online, the story of her campaign is being told by others (including me, if you search for “Ellen Corbett” you’ll see a link to San Leandro Talk). While in the digital age, it’s impossible for any politician to completely control their message; they still need to attempt to do so. And digital technologies not only allow politicians to interact with voters and maintain name recognition, but they also make it easier to run organized campaigns cheaply.

Swalwell knows all of this only too well. He has been tweeting out a storm (though he doesn’t respond to tweets), keeping up his Facebook page, posting videos on YouTube and making sure he’s seen everywhere. According to a recent tweet: “January by the numbers: 50 mtgs, 30 dist. events attended, 10 hearings, 200 guests from #ca15 for swearing-in & 9,000+ miles in the air.” He could have added his office issued 10 press releases in January, all available on his website (Corbett’s last press release is from September 2012). Moreover, Swalwell has been keeping the eyes of the media on him by hosting quirky events (e.g. “Ride with your Rep“) and vowing to try out one job held by people in his district every month.

One of the keys to Swalwell’s victory in 2012 was the support that he got from the news media, in particular San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci and Bay Area Newspaper Group’s Josh Richman, who were happy to write about the many gaffes of Pete Stark.  Stark’s personal arrogance and disrespect for the media had made him many enemies, of course. It will be interesting to see what type of coverage Corbett gets.

One final factor on this analysis are what other candidates might enter this race. It seems unlikely that any serious Democrats will throw their hat into this ring, but stranger things have happened. Ro Khanna, who raised over $1 million in anticipation of a run, has since transferred his ambitions towards a run in CD 13 against Mike Honda. If a serious moderate Republican entered the race, however, things could get complicated very quickly. Roughly 40% of the votes in CD 15 are conservative/Republican votes. Swalwell got all of these in November 2010, but he would likely lose a large percentage of them in June 2014 if a serious, well-funded Republican entered the race. If Corbett was able to hold on to Stark’s votes, it’s possible that Swalwell could be eliminated in June, sending her and the Republican candidate to November (when the 60% Democratic votes would give her a win). If I was Corbett, I would be looking hard through my Rolodex with anyone with an R by their name.