Alison Cormack, who was elected to the Palo Alto City Council in 2018 and who has been a vocal advocate for building more housing and redeveloping Cubberley Community Center, announced Friday that she will not seek a second term.
Cormack, who was the top vote-getter in the 2018 election, is one of three council members concluding their terms at the end of this year and the only one who is eligible to run for another four-year term. Council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, who were both elected in 2014, will both be terming out.
Over her four years on the council, Cormack has served as chair of the Finance Committee and as member of the Sustainability/Climate Action Plan Committee. She has also represented the city on the board of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.
On policy issues, she has often clashed with members of the more slow-growth "residentialist" faction of the council, which gained ascendancy in 2020. She has been a persistent advocate for renovating Cubberley Community Center and expanding the city's shuttle program. She has also been the only member of the current council who has publicly supported instituting limits on campaign contributions for council races.
Her independence came at a cost as Cormack found herself on the losing end of several political tussles. In 2020, when the council deadlocked 3-3 over who would serve as vice mayor (with Greg Tanaka abstaining), she broke the stalemate by throwing her vote to Tom DuBois, a member of the residentialist group who would go on to serve as mayor the following year. And even though the council had initially designated Cormack to represent Palo Alto on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board of directors, it reversed course after the 2020 election and gave the seat to now-Mayor Pat Burt, a move for which DuBois and Filseth had advocated.
In an interview Friday, Cormack said she is concerned about the factionalism on the council. She also acknowledged, however, that working as a faction succeeds.
"That's the inherent paradox," Cormack said. "I don't want to do it but I see that that works."
She reiterated that point in a post that she published on Medium on Friday, explaining her decision not to run. She encouraged others to run for council and advised them to run "as a team."
"When you run as a team, you can govern as a team," she wrote. "So share your treasurer and donor lists and mailer expenses with other candidates who think like you — and consider that an investment in getting colleagues memos supported, and seconds to your motion, and votes to go the way you want. Running with others will make your campaign easier and lay the groundwork for allies on council who will already trust you."
Cormack said that she began to consider not running for a fresh term in August 2020, when the pandemic brought to the forefront the sharp socioeconomic differences between Palo Alto residents and residents in East Palo Alto and east San Jose. The pandemic, she wrote, "served as a catalyst for me to reflect on where the greatest needs are in our larger community." She has been volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank over the pandemic and she said that hunger and child care are among the issues that she plans to focus on after her council term expires.
She listed in her Medium post some of the accomplishments she is proud of, including the hiring of a new city auditor, city clerk and executive director of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority during her term; her votes to support the construction of Palo Alto's new bike bridge, which opened last November, and the new public-safety building, which is in the midst of construction on Sherman Avenue.
She also cited several disappointments, including her failure to sway her colleagues to adopt policies prohibiting council members from using electronic devices during meetings and pursuing campaign finance reform. She also lists as one of her failures "gracefully letting a colleague with more tenure take a leadership role," an apparent allusion to the vote for vice mayor in 2020.
"Let's just say it wasn't reciprocated," Cormack wrote.
Cormack said in an interview that she hopes some of the projects that she has championed, including the redevelopment of Cubberley and the expansion of the shuttle program that was shut down during the pandemic, will come to fruition after she is no longer on the council. Palo Alto, she noted, has plenty of precedents for that: Vic Ojakian championed the new public safety building; Karen Holman supported the new history museum; and LaDoris Cordell fought to drop Foothills Park's "residents-only" requirement.
Cormack said that her decision not to run is related to the "Great Resignation," a nationwide trend of people leaving their jobs during the pandemic. She emphasized that she will remain fully committed to her duties until her term ends. The reason she is announcing her decision now, she said, is because she wants other people to have time to mount campaigns.
She said has worked hard since winning the 2018 election to "maintain my own and the council's calm demeanor."
"I'll be sad if that changes when I'm no longer on the council," Cormack said. "I will look for candidates who can be graceful and thoughtful under pressure."