Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele typically doesn't do political endorsements, but she is making an exception for the race to succeed her. Steele has eschewed campaign horse trading for over two decades, until today, when she announced support for former state Sen. Liz Figueroa over Nadia Lockyer in the race to replace her.
The 26-year veteran District 2 supervisor had been rumored to be contemplating such a move for more than two weeks. A source with first-hand knowledge of Steele's thinking said concerns over Lockyer's lack of community ties along with the avalanche of campaign fundraising dollars had been rising of late. In a statement sent to the East Bay Citizen Tuesday morning, Steele struck a similar chord in endorsing Figueroa.
"Over $1 million dollars has already been raised and spent by one candidate to replace me on the Board of Supervisors," said Steele. "I am completely disheartened and troubled by this excessive expenditure to win an elected office, when our county has so many needs. When money is allowed to shape the future of elected government, proven community leadership loses out.
"A person who truly comes from the community and has worked in the community does not need that amount of money to win an election. A person who is committed to public service will build name recognition and earn the reputation of getting the job done. Support should come from people working toward a common goal, motivated by principles, not money."
Steele described Figueroa's ties to the community as a prime factor in making her decision to endorse her. "She is the only candidate in this race who truly is from this community and has given back to it," Steele said.
Figueroa said she is "beyond being honored" by Steele's backing and lauded her for her work in the community. "She will leave a legacy in the community that is not only about politics, but about helping people."
Steele's words reflect a growing chorus of voices who are growing critical of Lockyer's campaign after financial disclosure statements released last week showed the campaign of her husband, California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, has contributed more than $1 million to her bid for supervisor. Noted environmentalist and former Cal State East Bay professor Sherman Lewis also spoke out this weekend on Lockyer's lack of community connections and called alleged arm-twisting of local politicians to support her campaign, "unacceptable." A spokesperson for the Lockyer campaign could not be reached this afternoon.
Just how much Steele's surprise endorsement changes the dynamic of this race with just three weeks to go is still up in the air. A former Hayward official who chose not to be named said Steele's reputation in the community is strong. "Gail is not a typical politician, but she has a personal touch with everything she does," the official said. "I think people remember her for that."
Shortly after news last week of Lockyer's robust fundraising figures, a scathing mailer was sent to voters last Wednesday again highlighting Figueroa's ongoing problem with delinquent property taxes. The letter, designed to look like a tax bill, detailed Figueroa's tax liabilities and noted her $120,000 salary at the state unemployment department. Ironically, current Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney employed a near replica of the mailer to Hayward voters in 1998 when he ran against Figueroa for state senate. That mailer also alleged she was a tax cheat, but infamously included Figueroa's Social Security Number.
That mailer is part of local Hayward political lore and is widely believed to have cost Sweeney that election. When asked about the historic significance of the Lockyer mailer, Lockyer's campaign consultant Katie Merrill said, "We didn't talk about that. That was before I was around."
The release of this latest mailer is showing a softness in support of Lockyer, some believe. According to person who has seen internal polling done three weeks ago by the Lockyer camp, Figueroa has nearly erased her opponent's lead from the June primary despite the wide disparity in fundraising. The source told The Citizen, the poll showed Lockyer leading Figueroa by just two points, without factoring in the statistical margin of error. Lockyer won the June primary with 38 percent of the vote. Figueroa advanced to next month's runoff by narrowly beating Union City Mark Green with 25 percent.