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Each of Palo Alto's seven candidates for City Council is officially running an independent campaign and is not a party to any slate.
A look at the recent campaign finance disclosures suggests, however, that even if there are no formal slates, there are strong affinities. With some exceptions, many donors tend to float into one of two camps: one dominated by housing advocates, executives and council members who tend to support more city growth-friendly policies and another that has traditionally supported slow-growth policies and candidates affiliated with the "residentialists."
One not-a-slate group consists of Lisa Forssell, Julie Lythcott-Haims and Vicki Veenker. The other not-a-slate is composed of Ed Lauing and Doria Summa.
Candidates within each given group have received endorsements from many of the same people, have advocated for similar policies and have many of the same donors. In some cases, they have even donated to others within their affinity group. Forsell and Lythcott-Haims gave $1,000 to each other; Summa gave $500 to Lauing.
Forssell, Lythcott-Haims and Veenker appeared, for example, at the same campaign event on Sept. 11 hosted by former Mayor Larry Klein. They rarely miss a chance to say something nice about each other, and their respective lists of campaign contributors contain some of the same names.
Council member Alison Cormack, for example, contributed $1,000 to each of them, as did local resident Susan Rosenberg. Larry Klein gave $1,038 to Lythcott-Haims and $1,000 to Veenker and Forssell. Economist Steven Levy gave $1,000 contributions to Lythcott-Haims and to Forssell and $500 to Veenker. Former Mayor Liz Kniss gave $500 contributions to Lythcott-Haims and Forssell.
Sheryl Klein, COO of Alta Housing, contributed $259 to Veenker and $250 to Forsell and to Lythcott-Haims. Resident and community activist Bruce Gee, who works as chief financial officer at Webster Financial, gave $1,000 contributions to Forssell and Veenker; former Mayor Betsy Bechtel donated $750 to Forsell and to Veenker and $779 to Lythcott-Haims. Current Mayor Pat Burt gave $500 to Veenker and to Forssell, while Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian gave $250 each to these two candidates.
When Forssell was asked during a recent interview with the Weekly whether the three candidates are running as a slate, she said they are not but noted that they share many of the same values.
"I have a lot of respect for all the candidates in the race," Forssell told the Weekly in an interview. "I really like Vicki and I really like Julie. We're not coordinating as a slate, but I think we often find that we're invited to the same things."
Each member of this candidate trio is also all supported by an independent group called "Committee to Support Lythcott-Haims, Forssell and Veenker for Palo Alto City Council 2022." The group is funded primarily by Larry Klein and John Kelley, a housing advocate and executive at OnRisk, and it counts as its supporters school board member Jennifer DiBrienza and economist Levy. The committee recently put out a newspaper ad with the headline "Three Great Candidates" above photos of Lythcott-Haims, Forssell and Veenker.
The partnership seems to be paying off, with each of the three raising more than $30,000 as of Sept. 24, newly released campaign disclosures show.
Lythcott-Haims reported the most cash raised, with contributions totaling $69,561 as of Sept. 24. The list of people who contributed at least $1,000 to her include Brooklyn-based consultant Amy Bender, Hawaii resident Roxanne Bozdog, Woodside resident Janice Brody, Mountain View resident Raven Malone and Palo Alto residents Warren Packard, Nana Chancellor and Hilary Somers, each of whom gave $1,038.83. Venture capitalist Marc Tarpenning gave $1,000, as did Palo Alto Unified school board candidate Nicole Chiu-Wang. She also received $500 from Redwood City Mayor Giselle Hale's recently discontinued Assembly campaign and $250 from Assembly member Evan Low.
Veenker's campaign, which was fueled by donations from attorneys, executives and public officials, reported receiving $45,197. In addition to the $1,000 contributions from Larry Klein and Cormack, Veenker received $1,000 campaign donations from attorneys Brian Cannon, Stephen Hubbard, Edward Reines and Kara Reiter, among others. She also got $1,000 from Gary Kremen, a board member at Valley Water who is running for reelection.
Forssell received $37,953 as of Sept. 24 and her list of donors include Chiu-Wang, the school board candidate and Google employee, longtime proponent of municipal fiber Jeff Hoel and the Plumbers, Steamfitters and Refrigeration Fitters, Local 393. Each gave $1,000.
In the other slate-like-entity, Lauing reported $30,541 in campaign contributions by Sept. 24, while Doria Summa reported $25,595. The two candidates are, respectively, the chair and vice chair of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and more often than not vote in a similar vein.
Both received contributions from neighborhood activists, members of Palo Alto Neighborhoods, an umbrella group of neighborhood associations, and residents associated with Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a political action committee that favors residentialist candidates. In past elections, PASZ supported council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, both of whom are terming out this year, as well as Vice Mayor Lydia Kou and council member Greer Stone.
Joe Hirsch, one of the leaders of a 2013 referendum that defeated a housing development on Maybell Avenue, donated $1,000 to Summa and $500 to Lauing. Filseth gave $999 to each of them, while former Mayor Karen Holman and former Vice Mayor Greg Schmid contributed $100 to each. PAN leaders Sherry Furman, Annette Glanckopf and Rebecca Sanders also supported both Lauing and Summa with donations.
In addition to contributions from community leaders, Lauing received $1,000 checks from G. Leonard Baker and Mary Anne Baker, top donors to residentialist-leaning candidates in past elections. Gabrielle Layton and former city commissioner Asher Waldfogel, also major donors in prior campaigns, gave him $900 and $690, respectively. Paula Rantz and Realtor William Reller each gave $1,000.
Summa, meanwhile, received $1,000 from Kou, as well as $1,030 from attorney William Ross and $1,001 from Realtor John St. Clair, Kou's husband. Her other donors include local residents Rita Vrhel, who gave $1,250, Jeanne Fleming, who contributed $515, and Andie Reed, who contributed $300. DuBois gave $250 to Summa's campaign.
Not everyone, however, is contributing along partisan lines. Holman, for example, supported Veenker in addition to Lauing and Summa. Layton gave a $900 contribution to Lauing and $990 to Veenker. Resident Andie Reed contributed to Veenker, Lauing and Summa. And Burt, who contributed $500 to Forssell and Veenker, gave the same amount to Lauing.
Notwithstanding the overlap in donors and their mutual support from Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, Summa said she and Lauing have not coordinated their campaigns. She did, however, consult him before joining the race. Lauing was the first person to formally enter the race while Summa was the last, filing her papers just before the deadline. She told the Weekly that before she formally entered the race, she checked with Lauing to make sure he didn't have any objections.
"That was the one person I had to check with," she said.
The only candidates who appear to be truly unaffiliated are Realtor Alex Comsa and software engineer Brian Hamachek. Each is his own biggest donor, with Comsa contributing $17,000 of his own cash to the campaign on Thursday after raising $4,200 by Sept. 24 (which includes a $2,900 loan to his own campaign).
Hamachek gave $1,500 to his campaign, campaign disclosures show, and did not report any other contributions as of Thursday afternoon.
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