New leader in Menlo council campaign financing

Bernstein pulls ahead

The six Menlo Park City Council candidates again disclosed the state of their campaign finances this week, reporting donations and expenditures from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16.

Three seats are open, with incumbents Rich Cline and Heyward Robinson fighting for re-election. Two newcomers are still winning the money race, but the frontrunners swapped places.

At the time of the last filing, educator and businessman Chuck Bernstein slightly trailed Peter Ohtaki, board president of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District president. Now, despite a blistering series of attack ads against him that were funded by David Bohannon, Mr. Bernstein is in the lead, with $15,445 in donations.

The single largest contribution, $2,500, came from local accountant James Brenzel, who earlier made an identical donation to Mr. Ohtaki. Menlo Park Downtown Alliance founder Nancy Couperus returned to give another $250, as did Robert Ekedahl, who, like Mr. Bernstein, opposes the Menlo Gateway project. Business owner D.J. Brawner also came back, this time to add $500.

Mr. Ohtaki enriched his campaign by $3,075, giving him a total $14,865 in donations. The Lincoln Club of Northern California Political Action Committee, a Republican organization, contributed $500; Menlo Park Vice Mayor John Boyle chipped in $100

Mr. Ohtaki's list of expenditures suggests a more diverse strategy than that of the other candidates, who limited spending to promotional materials. Mr. Ohtaki spent $595 on a campaign consultant out of San Francisco, Philip Fabian, a college student at San Francisco State University; $156 on robocalls and $143 on phone service to make those calls -- and he made a $500 donation to the public affairs fellowship program run by the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.


The Almanac's last look at Mr. Robinson's war chest found $9,215. That rose to $11,934. Large donors include Menlo Business Park ($1,000); Palo Alto realtor Tod Spieker ($500); and the California Apartment Association Political Action Committee ($250).

Next comes Mayor Cline, in fourth place even though he collected more than his council colleague during the past two weeks -- $3,705. That brings his total to $10,344. The California Real Estate Political Action Committee provided nearly one-third of the new contributions, with $1,000. Another housing association, the CAA Tri-County, donated $250. Realtor Michael Stoner gave $350.

Keith, Peterson

Attorney and planning commissioner Kirsten Keith watched her campaign fund grow by $2,600, bringing total donations to $6,799. Intel's chief marketing officer, Deborah Conrad, gave $2,000. Vice Mayor Boyle also contributed $100 to her campaign.

"If you don't have it, don't spend it," candidate Russell Peterson often says, and he continues to run a barebones campaign. Raising $325 since the last finance filing, donations for his campaign stand at $3,975 total, with $500 in non-monetary contributions for campaign signs and graphics from Palo-Alto based Mike Cobb Creative.

The Almanac will have a more in-depth look at campaign financing in our next issue.

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Posted by Boohannon
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 21, 2010 at 9:32 pm

The Real Estate industry contributing to Mayor Cline; imagine that!

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Posted by if you say so
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Cline was endorsed by SILVAR as was Chuck, who took the sweaty money too. What else have you to add? Cline will be re-elected regardless of your misguided attempts to color him.

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Posted by wake up
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm

The real estate inductry has give a huge amount also to Ohtaki. Wake up!

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Posted by Big Picture and predictions
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 23, 2010 at 7:02 am

The old addage is that, for a challenger to beat an incumbent, they have to outspend and out organize the incumbent by a significant amount (50%) and there has to be significant dissatisfaction with the incumbent too. Here, the incumbents are hardworking and the Almanac looked hard at all of the candidates and endorsed the incumbents and Ohtaki (to replace the similar Republican councilmember - Boyle).

The 25 - 30% fundraising differential we are seeing here (and the organizing/precinct work) does not seem great enough to overcome Cline and Robinson's uncumbency advantage.

Kirsten Keith will likely do much better than her fundraising indicates because she is the only woman running, and she, like Cline and Robinson, is endorsed by the Dem Party and Sierra Club, which is more aligned with the vast majority of Menlo Park voters.

Prediction: Bernstein will probably come in 5th. Although he has a solid block of about 15% to at most 20% of Menlo Park voters behind him, he comes across as very extreme/harsh and not very likale, and therefore doesn't have much in the way of endorsements or potential for cross-over voting. Ohtaki and Keith (as well as Robinson and Cline) appeal to a much wider and more diverse swath of folks.

Probably about 1/3 of Menlo Park voters have already voted, so some campaigns are peaking too late. The ones that have been strongest from the start are Robinson, Cline, Ohtaki, followed by Keith and Bernstein.

The question is - what is Bernstein going to use his $10,000 in the bank for other than a final citywide mailer and final fliers to walk around with? Possibly a large ad in the Almanac and Daily News, and/or the conservative rag (Daily Post)...

The betting money is on Cline, Ohtaki, and Robinson to win -- but Keith could still pull an upset, though this currently seems unlikely especially since she doesn't have much money left to spend.

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Posted by Bets are on!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 24, 2010 at 1:08 am

I agree with a lot of "Big Picture's" analysis, but I think Kirsten will win a seat on the council. Her signs are everywhere and she's proven herself on the planning commission. I hope her seat will be along side Cline and Robinson.

I am worried that Bernstein, as [portion deleted - personal attack] and incompetent as he is, could win a spot for the sole reason that the anti-T vote will rally around him. That will be a huge problem for Menlo Park.

Count on 10 more years of blight on El Camino and no progress on anything if Bernstein were elected. He has opposed every major project in the city and will continue to. He opposed Rosewood and was wrong and now opposes Gateway. He's against the downtown El Camino plan and lead the referendum against the Derry project. He's against everything and very difficult to work with.

If the third spot does not go to Kirsten and instead goes to Ohtaki, I will be relieved. Anybody but Bernstein will be ok in my book.

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Posted by yes on Bernstein
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 24, 2010 at 10:41 am

Chuck is a successful businessman who understands how to balance budgets and who has been involved in a variety of Menlo Park issues (unlike Ohtaki) so Chuck can hit the ground running in office.
The Council sorely needs someone as astute as Chuck who isn't afraid to ask tough questions and who knows how to get things done - rather than just talk about it.
I am tired of nice and smart councilmembers talk on into the night and rarely make tough decisions - where is a climate change target after all this time? why did they cave into exorbitant union pension demands that they now must try to modify for the future? how did they let the El Camino planning process get hijacked by a consultant now focused on changing downtown and not working closely along the way with the affected businesses and property owners? why did they decide to embark on plans for the M-2 district the month after approving the one-off Bohannon project when they could have said (many times) we are going to plan first and then look at this?
Why would Keith say as a planning commissioner that she wanted from Bohannon a 50% reduction of traffic and a lot more money from the office buildings but "stands by my vote" despite not getting either?
Time for a change - and Bernstein is my choice. He has the smarts, the energy, and the know-how to get things done.

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Posted by chuckles
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Chuck cracks me up- he's spent the better part of the last couple decades criticizing 'outside influences', but as soon as Nancy Couperus and Mark Flegel's non-resident Pavement Preservation Alliance flashes the cash and offers to be his attack dogs, he gladly accepts. I actually don't think Chuck would ever change a position based on a donation - he knows he's always Right and everyone else is always Wrong - but it's just funny given how he makes grand statements from Mount Pious.

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Posted by downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I've had the experience of (trying to) working with Chuck Bernstein within B.P.O.E. in Palo Alto. I found him to be a difficult man with whom to communicate, because he didn't solicit input or ideas from others. He aggressively touted his own pre-determined positions on topics & was very antagonistic & divisive. He doesn't control his temper well.

If you could give the guy a specific job & limit his input & effort only to that task, it would get done. Within a group, he can't move off his point/position in order to move forward effectively. His intensity can be very off-putting, as his habit is to confront & argue while violating others "personal space", usually defined in this culture as 2 feet.

I learned to stay away from the guy who was always in somebody's face, literally, while very strongly trying to sell his views. Saw a couple of confrontations which nearly got physical.

Like this comment
Posted by Angelo Dundee
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Dear Downtowner,

If you saw a couple of confrontations which nearly got physical then chances are that Heyward Haymaker was involved.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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