Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 8, 2012

Hill, Lieber, Gordon, Yang and Simitian win local primaries

Simitian clinches seat, others face November runoffs

by Chris Kenrick, Renee Batti and Gennady Sheyner

In a primary election Tuesday, June 5, that saw voter turnout hover around 30 percent in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, four political veterans and one newcomer sewed up victories in the state Senate and Assembly and Santa Clara County supervisor races.

Santa Clara County supervisor

State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), seeking a return to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, easily prevailed in the three-way race to represent north county.

With more than 50 percent of the vote, he avoids a runoff in November.

Simitian, a Palo Alto resident, won 28,307 votes — 57 percent. His closest challenger, former Cupertino Mayor Kris Huyilan Wang, won 23 percent, followed by Cupertino City Councilman Barry Chang with 19 percent.

"From my standpoint, it's a happy result on two counts: a 35-point margin between me and my closest competitor, and a first-round victory, which means I don't have to go back to my supporters and ask for their help again in November," Simitian said.

"I think they'll be happy about that."

This will be Simitian's second stint on the county board, on which he served from 1997 to 2000 before moving on to the California Assembly and later the state Senate. He returns to the county level after being termed out of the Senate. He began his political career in the 1980s as a member of the Palo Alto Board of Education and also served on the Palo Alto City Council.

State Assembly

The only question regarding the District 24 state Assembly election Tuesday was which of the three political novices in the race would run in November against first-term Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), a former San Mateo County supervisor. That person will be Republican Chengzhi "George" Yang.

Gordon garnered 56 percent of the vote. Yang finished second with 29 percent of the vote.

Because of California's new primary rules, the top two vote-getters automatically advance to the general election in November.

Yang, 35, of Menlo Park, is a software engineer.

Asked why, as a political novice running against an incumbent, he was able to garner 29 percent of the vote, Yang said Gordon "has not been listening to the district, especially on topics such as high-speed rail. People are voting their frustration."

Yang predicted high-speed rail would be a key distinguishing issue in the November race. He supports another vote on whether to build the rail system, now estimated to cost around $68.4 billion, saying that much new, critical information has come out about the plan since voters first approved nearly $10 billion of its funding in 2008.

"I really don't think we can afford it at this point," he said. "I believe it's honest and democratic to give people a chance to vote, so ... they can ask, do we really want to do this?"

Gordon responded that he has "listened very closely to my constituents" and cites as an example his plan, developed in collaboration with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and state Sen. Joe Simitian, for a "blended" rail system. The plan would essentially link the high-speed rail route from Los Angeles with an improved and electrified Caltrain system running from San Jose to San Francisco.

Gordon noted that the blended rail plan has been "fully embraced" by the state High-Speed Rail Authority as a viable method for developing the rail system in the Bay Area and other regions of the state.

Yang said the other issues he will focus on between now and November are education, jobs, and pension reform, getting his message out in the heavily Democratic district.

Gordon said he also plans to wage an active campaign between now and the fall election, saying that campaigning is a "key part of our democracy." The campaign, he said, allows him to spend more time with voters and "learn what they want me to do when I get back to Sacramento."

Gordon now represents District 21, which includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and East Palo Alto. But because of redistricting, the same area will become part of District 24. The new district will also encompass Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and most of the San Mateo County coastside from El Granada south.

Also running were Joseph Antonelli Rosas, 22, of Sunnyvale, a network security adviser who has no party affiliation; and Geby Espinosa, 47, of Mountain View, a Democrat and a small business owner. They received about 4 percent and 10 percent of the vote, respectively.

State Senate

Assemblyman Jerry Hill and former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber cruised to victory Tuesday and will now square off in November for a chance to represent a newly formed Senate district in the heart of the Peninsula.

The two political veterans were widely expected to advance to the next round in a four-way race that also included Mountain View teacher Christopher Chiang and John Webster, a libertarian who has run several times in the past. Hill dominated the field with 51 percent of the votes. Lieber trailed in distant second with 22 percent.

Webster and Chiang earned 16 percent and 11 percent of the votes, respectively.

Hill, who has the biggest campaign chest and the longest list of supporters in the political establishment, trounced the competition largely on his strength among San Mateo County voters. Hill, who had served on the San Mateo City Council and on the county's Board of Supervisors before representing a large portion of the county in Sacramento, won 58 percent of the vote in his home county. Lieber picked up 18 percent of the vote in San Mateo County, which makes up the majority of the new District 13.

Hill also edged Lieber on her own turf of Santa Clara County, picking up 37 percent of the votes to Lieber's 30 percent.

District 13, formed last year during the redistricting process, includes most of San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County, including Palo Alto and Mountain View. Most of the district is currently represented by state Sen. Joe Simitian.

Hill's and Lieber's victories Tuesday were all but assured given their fundraising advantages, their name recognition and the relatively low profiles of their two opponents. Each has more than $200,000 on hand heading into November and lengthy legislative resumes.

Chiang and Webster were both running on a shoestring budget and had told the Weekly that they were planning to spend less than $1,000 for their campaigns.

The election results pave the way for a showdown between two experienced Democrats, one from the northern portion of the district and one from the southern.

Hill currently serves in the state Assembly and represents a district that includes most of San Mateo County. He has emerged over the past two years as a leading critic of PG&E. The former San Mateo County supervisor has also been instrumental in warding off a San Francisco proposal to institute highway tolls and to restrict hiring for public-works projects to city residents.

Lieber served in the Assembly between 2002 and 2008 and earned a reputation as a scrappy defender of some of her most disadvantaged constituents, including homeless people and women in state prisons. She had authored a bill that raised the state's minimum wage and fought to keep homeless shelters open during rainy days.

Lieber told the Weekly Tuesday her campaign has been saving most of its resources for the November election, she said.

A jubilant Hill said Tuesday he attributed the strong election results to his campaign's grassroots effort, his long list of endorsements and the messages of his campaign, which he said are resonating beyond his political base in San Mateo County.

"This shows that what we've been doing for the past five to six months is paying off," Hill told the Weekly.

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