News - November 3, 2010

Surreal moments from the campaign trail

• Theme songs, developer parties, and wandering e-mails.

by Sandy Brundage

Where will the candidates spend election night? The answer may depend on whether a candidate backs Measure T.

David Bohannon, the developer who hopes to see the ballot measure pass so he can build Menlo Gateway, a nearly 1-million-square-foot office-hotel complex, is hosting an election night party at the Oak City Bar and Grill in Menlo Park.

Expected to attend, according to Mr. Bohannon: incumbents Rich Cline, who confirmed his plans, and Heyward Robinson; along with candidate Kirsten Keith.

All three support the project, and all three received assistance from the Bohannon camp during the campaign, according to the party invite. Menlo Park residents reported spotting precinct walkers handing out fliers supporting the three candidates along with "Yes on Measure T" doorhangers. That assistance wasn't disclosed on the campaign finance reports, either as a monetary or a non-monetary donation.

Mr. Bohannon has thrown $475,000 at last report into funding the campaign to support Measure T, with at least $14,864 dedicated to a series of mailers attacking one candidate, Chuck Bernstein, a vocal opponent of Menlo Gateway.

No word yet on where Mr. Bernstein will be on Tuesday night, but the other candidate against the measure, stay-at-home dad and community volunteer Russell Peterson, said he plans to stay home.

"Final plans include getting to sleep at a reasonable hour and re-introducing myself to my family," Mr. Peterson said. "Perhaps I'll hold a private press conference and explain my position on the weighty issues; homework, chores, when do the kids get cell phones, how much Halloween candy can be consumed per day."

Campaign mode

vs. council mode

Incumbents running for re-election face several pitfalls during campaign season. Every decision of the past four years returns to haunt them, for example. Then there's the temptation to campaign during council meetings, which is not a sanctioned use of city time.

Competing candidate Chuck Bernstein addressed the City Council at its Oct. 19 meeting on Measure M, a countywide ballot measure that would raise vehicle registration fees $10, describing it as "a regressive tax" that falls more heavily on poor people.

Incumbent Heyward Robinson couldn't resist firing back. "I find it interesting that Mr. Bernstein, who is touting himself as a fiscal conservative, and Vice Mayor John Boyle, who is touting himself as a fiscal conservative, is not willing to take steps to address well-known subsidies."

Mr. Boyle has not endorsed Mr. Robinson's bid for re-election.

Later, Mr. Robinson told The Almanac he had realized the comment was inappropriate, and had apologized. "I realized 'I'm not in campaign mode here, I'm at a council meeting,' and I blurred the lines a little bit."

He said the issue "pushed one of his buttons."

Smoke, but no fire

A "Citizens' Brown Act Violation Fund" has sprung up in the wake of the Daily Post reporting that three Menlo Park City Council members used city e-mail accounts to conduct campaign business.

Founded by Peter Carpenter, a staunch defender of the public's right to know what the city's doing, the fund had $3,000 pledged as of Nov. 1.

The e-mails were shared between Councilmember Kelly Fergusson, and incumbents Heyward Robinson and Rich Cline, who are running for election

The city attorney, however, said no violation took place. Bill McClure explained the Brown Act applies to communication between a majority of members on items within the jurisdiction of the council.

The only e-mails between multiple council members related to campaign mailings, with no discussion of content or positions on issues, and attendance at a Felton Gables neighborhood event, according to Mr. McClure. "Neither topic being or relating to an item of business within the subject matter jurisdiction of the city council," he wrote in an e-mail to The Almanac.

Ms. Fergusson said a handful of e-mails, out of "thousands and thousands," were inadvertently sent from her city account.

Asked why she later sent a statement supporting Measure T, the Menlo Gateway project, to the City Council e-mail list, her answer blended both public and private reasons.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there. It was signed by five mayors and I'm one of them. I used my private e-mail address, as a private citizen," said Ms. Fergusson.

Another e-mail, sent to a Menlo Park resident from Ms. Fergusson's city account, made an argument for voting against Measure L, the pension reform initiative, claiming it would stop city employees from paying $100 per month towards medical expenses, an amount she estimated at $200,000 a year.

However, Measure L would only affect new hires, not current employees, and doesn't change any already-established agreement.

Every campaign needs a theme song

While you might expect challenger Chuck Bernstein to go for a feisty "Rocky"-type theme song, instead the candidate took a folksy route.

"Chuck, Chuck, save us a buck," goes the refrain of his campaign song. Mr. Bernstein said a music teacher who works with his childcare business composed and sang the tune, with the candidate himself contributing a few verses "to make them as relevant as possible to city politics." The song is posted on his campaign website.

He said the inspiration came from a student-designed fundraising billboard that read, "Give a buck to Chuck."


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