Challenges to Oakland Council Incumbents Fizzle as Veterans Avoid Run-Offs

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday June 04, 2008 - 05:20:00 PM

A campaign season that began with the possibility of a major overhaul of the Oakland City Council’s old guard ended quietly in the status quo early Wednesday morning, as two incumbent Councilmembers avoided run-offs against what had been expected to be stiff opposition, and two others easily swamped their opponents.  

Overall, as in Tuesday balloting all over the state, voter turnout in Alameda County was low. Of 725,098 registered voters in the county, 14.63 percent (106,093) cast absentee ballots and 9.6 percent (69,642) voted on election day, for a total turnout of 24.2 percent (175,735). 

In Oakland’s wide-open at-large City Council race, where incumbent Henry Chang had decided against running for re-election after numerous challengers had indicated their intention to run against him, At-Large AC Transit Board member Rebecca Kaplan and District 1 Oakland School Board member Kerry Hamill face a November runoff, with Kaplan comfortably ahead of Hamill in the first round of voting, 39.3 percent (17,086) to 21.6 percent (9,415), a margin of 7,671.  

With 19.63 percent of the vote (8,531), former Oakland Planning Commissioner and AC Transit Director Clinton Killian missed making the runoff by 884 votes. Senior volunteer Frank Rose and Oakland Residents For Peaceful Neighborhoods co-founder Charles Pine came in a distant fourth and fifth. 

A visibly pleased Kaplan said early Wednesday morning that while she had expected to be in the lead after Tuesday’s voting, she had not expected to come ahead by as large a margin. She attributed her victory in the first round of voting in part to a large cadre of campaign volunteers—including representatives from labor—and the fact that she said she was the only at-large candidate to open her own campaign headquarters. 

Killian, for example, ran his campaign out of his 8th floor downtown law office. A visit to his office while voting was still going on early Tuesday afternoon revealed no campaign literature, no signs, no volunteers, nor any other sign that a political campaign was in progress. 

Kaplan also said that what she called Hamill’s “scare tactics” may have backfired against the school board member. Citing campaign literature in which Hamill backed a controversial pending ballot measure to increase Oakland’s police force by 300 officers, Kaplan said that while “you can legitimately be for law and order, this seemed to be a way to frighten people over the issue of crime and violence, and I think people resent being frightened.” 

Council President Ignacio De La Fuente beat off a scrappy challenge by Fruitvale businessperson Mario Juarez, 53.8 percent (2,332 votes) to 33 percent (1,431 votes), with two other minor challengers making up the remaining 13 percent, and 3rd District Councilmember Nancy Nadel pounded political newcomer Sean Sullivan 51.7 percent (3,576 votes) to 27 percent (1,873 votes). Education consultant Greg Hodge, who represents the same West Oakland-downtown geographical area on the Oakland School Board as he was trying to do on the Council, came in a weak third at 20.7 percent (1,435 votes), leaving his political future in some doubt. 

With returns from Alameda County coming in unexpectedly late, De La Fuente’s victory was not announced until 1:20 in the morning. 

For the triumphant De La Fuente, however, it was a night of mixed emotions. The veteran council president missed the election day campaigning and electoral triumph altogether, flying out to Mexico Monday night to be at the bedside of a gravely ill uncle. Family members said that the uncle, 85-year-old Hiel Morales, had raised De La Fuente after the councilmember’s father died. 

In North Oakland, District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner won easily over neighborhood activist Patrick McCullough, as expected, with 73 percent of the vote (7,835 to 2,933), and in the city’s farthest East Oakland area, District 7, Councilmember Larry Reid did the same, beating out neighborhood activist Clifford Gilmore 62.7 percent (3,122) to 36.8 percent (1,833). 

Despite the failure of challengers to oust any Council incumbents, Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who ran unopposed for re-election, said that he believed Tuesday’s races signaled a changing of the guard in Oakland. 

“For a long time, we’ve had a political alignment in Oakland dominated by the old Dellums-Barbara Lee faction on one side and the Perata-De La Fuente faction on the other,” Russo said. “But as the baby boomer generation is being replaced by the new generation, we’re beginning to see political newcomers who are not necessarily members of either faction, but are making their own alliances that cross many of these factional lines.”  

Russo said he expected that future elections would see a continuing shifting of Oakland’s political alignments. 

In other Oakland election news, parent activist Jody London easily defeated education philanthropist Brian Rogers 55.8 percent (5,707 votes) to 35.1 percent (3,592 votes) in what had been expected to be a closely contested North Oakland race to replace Kerry Hamill on the Oakland School Board (Tennessee Reed, daughter of Oakland author Ishmael Reed, came in a distant third at 8.7 percent with 885 votes).  

And despite Greg Hodge’s decision to give up his school board seat to run for City Council, the board will continue its uninterrupted string of having a Hodge among its members. Greg Hodge’s wife, West Oakland educational activist Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, will replace her husband on the board after beating program manager Olugbemiga Oluwole, Sr., 52.1 percent (3,011 votes) to 46.8 percent (2,703 votes).  

Sylvester Hodges was the longtime Oakland School Board member from the 7th District, replaced several years ago by Jason Hodge, no relation to Gregory Hodge. Jason Hodge, in turn, was replaced by Alice Spearman in the 7th District seat after Jason Hodge opted not to run for re-election after the 2003 state takeover.  

In Tuesday’s election, Spearman missed avoiding a runoff by 0.07 percentage points, beating out former Acts Full Gospel Christian School principal Doris Limbrick 49.54 percent (2,299 votes) to 32.45 percent (1,506 votes). Administrative assistant Beverly Williams placed a distant third at 17.35 percent (805 votes). Spearman and Limbrick will square off again in the November voting. 

District 5 School Board member Noel Gallo was unopposed for re-election. 

Veteran incumbent 4th District Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley easily beat retired business owner Steve White 74.3 percent (20,775 votes) to 25.1 percent (7,026). Fifth District Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson ran unopposed. 

In the races to succeed two retiring Alameda County School Board members, Gay Plair Cobb and Dennis Chaconas, business manager Conchita Tucker beat public affairs consultant Ernest L. Hardmon III to 54.6 percent (10,831 votes) to 44.3 percent (7,728 votes) in Area 2, and children’s nonprofit director Ken Berrick faces a November runoff in Area 3 against school superintendent John Bernard after beating Bernard 43.5 percent (8,862 votes) to 35.4 percent (6,484 votes) in Tuesday’s voting. Mentoring Center Executive Director Celsa Snead came in a distant third at 20 percent (2,334 votes).