The coronavirus election is upon us, setting up a crosscurrent of anxious voters worried about the re-election of President Trump and local candidates unsure how to navigate the pitfalls of campaigning during a pandemic. Meanwhile, the Alameda County Registrar's Office is dealing with a massive influx of ballots with a mostly vote-by-mail election, which is expected to draw 1 million voters. All of this is happening as uncertainty hovers over elections in Oakland, neighboring Alameda and Berkeley, as well as with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
Oakland voters will decide whether to bring back a majority of the City Council, while the same electorate will be asked to add four new members to the much-maligned Oakland Unified School District Board of Education. In addition, Measure S1 in Oakland could radically reframe how the Oakland Police Commission goes about reforming the city's turbulent police department.
In Alameda, a political scandal from three years ago threatens to roll back the island's recent progressive renaissance, as three moderate candidates hope to unseat two incumbents this fall. Island voters will also decide whether to erase Measure A, a charter amendment passed in 1973 that is blamed for styming new housing for nearly half a century while also blocking housing opportunities for minorities. Meanwhile, voters in the Tri-Valley and Fremont will elect a new member to the powerful five-member county Board of Supervisors in a matchup that has involved both sides slinging brickbats at each other for months.
Of the five Oakland council races this fall, the District 3 matchup in West Oakland—featuring Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, longtime Oakland activist Carroll Fife and four others—represents the most likely upset, according to several local politicos. McElhaney has attracted the ire of labor for several years, stemming from a number of slights—none more debilitating than a perception she failed to support SEIU Local 1021 during recent contract negotiations. SEIU and the Alameda Labor Council have pumped $343,000 into an independent expenditure committee to defeat McElhaney. In the meantime, Fife also outraised McElhaney through the Sept. 19 campaign finance filing period. Aside from conventional wisdom that points to McElhaney's potential defeat, polling suggests a potential drubbing is in store for the incumbent, who was first elected to the District 3 seat in 2012. A survey from the Oakland Housing and Jobs Coalition last week showed Fife, who garnered considerable attention by leading the Moms 4 Housing occupation earlier this year, with a commanding advantage heading down the home stretch.
The same poll found District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb with a slight advantage over newcomer Stephanie Dominguez Walton. Kalb has campaigned on his experience and a number of legislative victories since his election to the council in 2012. For example, Kalb is a co-author of Measure S1. But his wonky persona has conversely been attacked by Walton, who has often asserted that Kalb has lost his connection with the North Oakland district.
At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is facing perhaps the nastiest re-election fight from well-financed challenger Derreck Johnson. Tech giants Lyft, Uber and DoorDash have poured huge amounts of money toward an independent expenditure committee bent on defeating Kaplan, who has been a nemesis of the gig companies for several years. Johnson, who is backed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf—another Kaplan rival—also holds a significant fundraising advantage over the incumbent. Johnson's campaign, however, has taken a number of hits in recent weeks over his self-touted business acumen. After portraying himself as the owner of Jack London Square's Home of Chicken and Waffles, reports came out that he lost the eatery in bankruptcy among other questionable business dealings.
East Oakland's District 7 is guaranteed to have a new representative following the retirement of Councilmember Larry Reid, but the seat is expected to stay in the family. After holding the seat since 1996, Reid hopes to hand it over to his daughter, Treva Reid. She headlines a five-person race that includes Full Acts Gospel Church pastor Bob Jackson, former Oakland mayoral candidates Marcie Hodge and Marchon Tatmon, and Aaron Clay, a solar power businessman. Notably, on the issue of the Oakland Coliseum, which resides in the district, all five candidates advocate for the Oakland A's to build their new ballpark at the site and not at the waterfront property known as Howard Terminal. The team, however, has voiced no intention to do so. Each candidate also opposes the city selling its 50 percent interest in the property to the team, which is proposing to build housing, retail and office space.
In Fruitvale's District 5, Councilmember Noel Gallo, also a part of the 2012 class that included McElhaney and Kalb, is facing two young challengers in Richard S. Raya and Zoe Lopez-Meraz. While most do not believe Gallo's re-election is in danger this fall, the age gap between himself and his opponents has sometimes been comically evident. During the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee endorsement meeting, held virtually last month, Gallo repeatedly struggled to master the new realities of Zoom meetings, often beginning to answer questions without unmuting his audio, while his much younger opponents looked on with a knowing smile.
Oakland's city attorney race also has a familial dynamic. City Attorney Barbara Parker is seeking re-election against one of her own, Eli Ferran, a member of the Oakland city attorney's office. Ferran's wife is also chief of staff for District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor. Throughout the campaign, Parker has portrayed Ferran as inexperienced and unexceptional in his performance as a deputy city manager. Parker, though, has suffered a number of losses as city attorney, including her defeat in the effort to block coal shipments in Oakland. Parker's campaign is largely self-financed, according to the most recent campaign finance disclosures. Ferran, meanwhile, recently received help from the National Association of Realtors. An independent committee backed by the group plunked down $105,000 in support of Ferran earlier this month, including $82,000 for online advertisement, according to finance reports.