Four History-Making Bay Area Races


Election day is here at last! Of course much of the attention has been given to the struggle for Congress, whether the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate. But a significant amount of national attention over the past year and this election season has been given to northern California in the Bay Area.

The San Francisco Bay Area is certainly notable for several reasons. It is currently the fastest growing region in the state. It also as a region experienced a far less dramatic economic downturn, remaining fairly prosperous during the Great Recession and experiencing a relatively low level of unemployment.

This of course has much to do with the booming tech industry. Hugely consequential firms have their headquarters in the Bay Area, as do a countless number of smaller start-ups. While this has helped make the region’s economy strong, it has also brought with it fissures, such as can be seen with the housing protests. Indeed, housing costs show no sign of abating their upward trend, causing this to be focal issue in many races.

All the more, one of the defining features of the Bay Area is its culture around food. And to that end we have also seen food and health issues take center stage this election season.

Given all this, here are four history-making races to keep your eye on this election day:

The San Francisco and Berkeley Sugary Beverage Tax

On election day both San Francisco and Berkeley voters will decide on whether to place a tax on sugar sweetened beverages. Berkeley’s (Measure D) would be 1-cent-per-ounce tax that would go to the city’s general fund and San Francisco’s (Proposition E) is a 2-cent-per-ounce special tax in which all the money would fund youth health programs.

The 500 pound gorilla in the room is, of course, the beverage industry, and specifically the American Beverage Association. Industry groups have flooded these races with money, spending $2.3 million in Berkeley and nearly $8 million in San Francisco to defeat the measures. Attempts to pass similar legislation in more than 30 other cities have all wilted in the face of such strong industry influence. But a star-studded cast of supporters have lined up to advocate for the measures, including author Michael Pollan, economist Robert Reich, and the former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg (who has spent $370,000 in support favor of Measure D). It will be interesting to see if the tax can pass in either of these cities, the consensus among pundits being if they can’t pass here, a tax on soda probably can’t pass anywhere.

The Oakland Mayor Race

A crowded field of over a dozen candidates have lined up to challenge the incumbent, Jean Quan. Quan won the mayorship in 2010, benefiting from the city’s ranked choice voting process in which she surged to win with an abundance of 2nd and 3rd choice votes. She experienced an early challenge and heavy criticism for her handling of the 2011 Occupy protests. Frequent turn-over in city hall has lead to doubts about her leadership, and her approval ratings are now below 20%.

Among the candidates running, six have pulled ahead as the strongest challengers. They include council-member Rebecca Kaplan, council-member Libby Schaaf, San Francisco State communications professor Joe Tuman, Oakland Port Commissioner Bryan Parker, civil rights attorney Dan Seigal, and Oakland city auditor Courtney Ruby. Kaplan has been leading in the polls, while Shaaf has raised the most money with $400,000.


Many who have followed the campaign have noted how difficult it has been to discern how any one of them would govern if elected. And while Quan and the city council’s approval ratings are low, at the same time polls also suggest that Oaklanders feel their is on the right track for the first time in nearly a decade. This makes it difficult to predict if they will prefer an outsider or someone they are familiar with to stay the course.

Whoever wins the mayorship will be leading Oakland during a pivotal time. The city in recent years has experienced a dramatic comeback. Its reputation as a metro beset with major crime has now received praise for its art economy, as well as dining and entertainment venues. The city has been heralded as the new Brooklyn, and the New York Times recently placed it in its top 10 cities to visit in the world. The next mayor will likely have an unprecedented opportunity to play steward over the city’s renaissance while also tackling urgent issues in education, public safety, and gentrification.

San Francisco’s State Assembly Representative: David Chiu vs David Campos

Vying to represent San Francisco in the State Assembly are two household names in the city’s politics, David Chiu and David Campos. Both longstanding supervisors, both Democrats (both Harvard educated lawyers, both 44 years old…), one of the focal issue defining the campaign has been how to deal with the city’s affordable housing crisis and rampant evictions.

The candidates have taken proactive stances on the issue but from different angles. Campos has been seen as the more populist candidate, recently sponsoring legislation that dramatically raised relocation fees paid to Ellis Act evicted tenants. (The legislation, however, was recently struck down by a federal court). Chiu has become seen as the more centrist, coalition-building candidate who aligns with businesses to address affordable housing, recently sponsoring legislation to permit and regulate Airbnb rentals in the city.

It’ll be a photo finish with the candidates polling nearly even. Both have been working hard to differentiate themselves, resulting in a campaign that has seen its fair share of smeers. Chiu has raised $1.4 million, compared to Campos’s $864,000. 16 percent of voters are still undecided. The general concensus is that they would pursue similar policies in the state legislature, but that voters will have to decide whether they prefer a more outspoken and ideologically driven representative (Campos) or one whose style is more moderate and coalition focused (Chiu).

U.S. House Representative For Santa Clara: Mike Honda vs Ro Khanna

The race to represent the heart of Silicon Valley, and the only Asian-majority district outside of Hawaii, has been one that’s received a lot of national attention. Seven-term congressman Mike Honda is fighting to keep his seat against challenger Ro Khanna in a race that is neck and neck. Honda is seen as one of Congress’s most liberal members and has received support from First Lady Michelle Obama. Khanna is a former Obama administration official and has received strong support from many parts of the technology industry.

Both are Democrats, and yet the campaign has been hard hitting. Khanna has worked to portray Honda as a stagnant representative who doesn’t have much to show for his time in Congress. Honda has been working to highlight Khanna’s ties to conservative forces such as Ernie Konnyu, a former Republican congressman from Silicon Valley, as well as energy hedge fund billionaire and former Enron official John Arnold.

The race has featured blatant misrepresentations of the other’s positions – Mike Honda claims that Khanna has yet to rule out cuts to social security, which he has – and heavy spending from shadowy sources, with a Khanna-supporting super PAC Californians for Innovation dumping more than $812,000 into the campaign.

Honda hopes that his traditional liberal base will carry him to re-election, while Khanna has been working to convince a swath of moderate Democrats and liberal Republicans to turn out for him. A few observers have lamented the low bar that has been set during this campaign, attributing it to insecurity on the part of the both candidates.

As is so often the case, the deciding factor in most of these races will be turnout: who can get their supporters to show up and vote? Just how many people will actually be motivated to vote in an election year that features neither a presidential race nor a compelling race for governor? That is of course the question, and unfortunately experts are predicting that, state-wide, turnout may be as low as 50%.

So let this be a call to action! Get excited about this year’s election! Go out and get that “I voted” sticker! And in the words of news anchor Bob Schieffer, “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.” Happy election day everybody!


1 Comment

  1. […] for my attention: the proposed soda tax, Measure D. I’ve been writing about this one in a couple blogs, and it’s a race that received a decent amount of national attention, too. Could Berkeley pull […]

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