Berman, Veenker lead state Assembly race

Menlo Park's Peter Ohtaki is a close third

By Almanac and Palo Alto Weekly staff

Palo Alto Councilman Marc Berman finished first in the eight-candidate race to succeed Rich Gordon in the 24th Assembly District, according to election night results with all precincts reporting.

Attorney Vicki Veenker came in second, followed closely by Menlo Park Councilman Peter Ohtaki.

The two top vote-getters will head into the November election to square off for Gordon's seat in the district, which includes Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, a part of Cupertino and the San Mateo County coastside — from El Granada to the Santa Cruz County border.

Berman and Veenker are Democrats and Ohtaki is a Republican.

With all precincts reporting in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, Berman received 19,817 votes (28.2 percent of the total), followed by Veenker with 15,294 (21.8 percent) and Ohtaki with 14,071 (20.0 percent).

In San Mateo County, Berman received 4,844 votes (31.2 percent of the total), Ohtaki, 4,090 (26.4 percent) and Veenker, 3,074 (19.8 percent).

In Santa Clara County, Berman received 14,973 (27.4 percent of the total), Veenker, 12,220 (22.3 percent) and Ohtaki, 9,981 (18.2 percent).

Ohtaki, the lone Republican candidate in the heavily Democratic district, spent his election night at Menlo Park City Hall, where the City Council was reviewing the budget for the coming fiscal year. He told the Almanac he was "very pleased" with the early results, "given that my budget was a fraction of the other candidates."

Ohtaki, who was one of the last candidates to join the race, raised about $25,000 for his bid, less than 10 percent of what was raised and spent by his two main rivals in the race for a November showdown.

In addition to the financial disadvantage, Ohtaki noted that the Republican turnout was probably lower than it would have been if there had been competition for the party's presidential nominee. Conversely, the Democratic turnout was probably stronger because of the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Ohtaki said he had expected the race to be tight between himself and Veenker, based on his own spreadsheet modeling. "I can't afford to do any polling," he said.

Instead of having an election party, he planned to celebrate his wife's and daughter's birthday after the council meeting.

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27 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 7, 2016 at 10:24 pm

Oh no, another recycle bin full of Berman flyers come Oct/Nov. I feel sorry for all the trees.

13 people like this
Posted by John T
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jun 8, 2016 at 2:44 pm

I voted against Berman simply because of the insane amount of direct mail he (and related PACs) sent out. I have nothing else against him, but that one issue raises questions about his judgement. So Mr. Berman, if you read this--you may want to ease up on the mailings for the general election. The constituency around here is not impressed by excess; it just looks foolish.

4 people like this
Posted by Woodsider Lifer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jun 8, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Woodsider Lifer is a registered user.

A brief fact check on the PAC involved with the ridiculous quantity of unwelcome daily junk mail leads back to a member of the Walton family of Walmart fame. This same PAC used a similar approach for a candidate in southern California who ultimately lost. Why the unfettered financial backing from a Walton family member? That's the million dollar question needing an answer.

8 people like this
Posted by Mountain View Voter
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2016 at 12:08 am

There's a very big story here, if only the MV Voice/PA Weekly/Almanac will cover it.

Berman received over a million dollars in outside support. This is unprecedented in a local Assembly primary, and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that this massive expenditure had a corrupting effect on the election.

Here are some questions that have not been addressed in any election coverage:

1) Who precisely are the funders behind the "Independent Expenditure Committees" that funded the Berman mailers, polling, internet ads, and anti-Veenker hit pieces? These IEC's were "EdVoice," "Cooperative of American Physicians," "Californians Allied for Patient Protection," and the California Apartment Association. A little internet followup indicated to me that EdVoice is a pro-charter school, anti-CTA entity funded by right-wingers, and the two medical-sounding groups are fronts for malpractice insurance companies.

The California Apartment Association, you may recall, sent $90,000 through the shell cynically named "Neighborhood Empowerment Coalition," in support of three pro-development candidates in the 2014 MV council election.

I'd really like to see a real reporter dig a lot deeper than I could. Who exactly are the individuals or corporations behind these IEC's?

2) Exactly why were these groups convinced it was worth a million plus to get Berman elected? I watched the candidate interviews that the MV Voice/PA Weekly provided; it seemed that their answers on questionnaires given to them by various interest groups determined whether they would be supported or attacked.

So, exactly what were the answers or issues that motivated support or attack?

3) Berman said that there was "no coordination" between his campaign and these special-interest groups. I see no reason to doubt that he followed the letter of the law. HOWEVER, was there coordination between the various interest groups? The timing of the mailers tells me that there may have been. If so, exactly who arranged it?

This was an infusion of dark money on a scale that we have not seen before. I sincerely hope that the MV Voice/PA Weekly/Almanac is willing to help drag some of this information into the light.

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 9, 2016 at 8:52 am

@Mountain View Voter

You're asking for investigative journalism, which is a lot to ask out of a community paper, especially as it requires election law expertise. You may have a better chance with The Chronicle or Mercury News. But then, you're going to be competing with other districts in the Bay Area for coverage. I've heard there is much more special interest money being spent in Jim Beall's state senate district, especially as it's being used to try to knock off an incumbent.

Like this comment
Posted by Top Two
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2016 at 10:49 am

It looks like Menlo Park Councilmember Peter Ohtaki wpuld have been in the top two as the lone registered Republican if Trump had not locked up the nomination and more Republucans had voted. But Ohtaki, as a Republican, could not have won in November. So the Veenker-Berman runoff is much better. It should be close. Word to Berman: there may be such a thing as too many mass mailers.

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

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