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Marc Berman edges out Vicki Veenker for Assembly seat

Palo Alto councilman on his way to Sacramento

In a tight race that split the region's Democratic establishment, Councilman Marc Berman has edged out attorney Vicki Veenker to represent Assembly District 24 in Sacramento.

The race pitted two moderate Democratic attorneys against each other and split Peninsula's political establishment. But Berman was on the verge of victory ever since the earliest results came out, showing him with a lead of 53 to 47 percent in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The percentages held up throughout the night as more results came in, effectively ensuring his election in a district that 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.

By 11 p.m., with most precincts reporting, Berman had 53 percent of the vote in Santa Clara County and 55 percent of the support in San Mateo County. Though both Berman and Veenker noted that the counting isn't over, each saw the writing on the wall. With the night drawing to a close, Veenker said she was proud of the results, given how much money outside interests contributed to Berman through independent expenditures.

"We had a huge number of really motivated, ardent, loyal supporters, and I couldn't be more heartened by that," Veenker told the Weekly. "What we've built has been tremendous."

The Tuesday vote was a culmination of a campaign that split the Peninsula's Democratic establishment and created tough choices for the region's progressive nonprofits and advocacy groups. Berman and Veenker had amassed more than than $500,000 in contributions to their respective campaigns, with Berman also receiving more than $1 million in independent expenditures from EdVoice, an organization that advocates for educational reform, and several other political action committees.

The districts two major labor groups -- the San Mateo Labor Council and the South Bay Labor Council -- issued dual endorsements, while Veenker earned the support of California Teachers Associations and several environmental groups, including Sierra Club and California League of Conservation Voters. Berman's supporters included Assemblyman Rich Gordon, the termed-out incumbent, and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, while Veenker was backed by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and U.S. Rep Anna Eshoo.

Though Berman's victory was essentially secured by 11 p.m, he held off on celebrating.

"I'm still waiting for more results to come in before I make any declaration of victory," Berman said.

Even so, he said he took comfort from the fact that there hadn't been any big swings since the early results in what has been an emotional, bittersweet night for all Democratic candidates who prevailed in Palo Alto on Tuesday. Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton cast a pall over his victory party, he said, creating a somewhat "subdued" atmosphere at his election gathering in Mountain View.

"How can you not think about?" Berman said late Tuesday night. "Obviously, all of my supporters and volunteers were definitely hoping for a different result in the presidential election, and I think we all saw that things have tightened over the last couple of days, but no one thought we'd have President Trump."

On Wednesday morning, as Berman's victory became assured, Veenker called him to congratulate him on the results and released a statement in which she said she looks forward to “working with Assemblymember Berman as an advocate for our community when it comes to protecting our environment, investing in education, improving access to affordable healthcare, and expanding economic opportunity and affordable housing. She also thanked her supporters.

“We may not have been victorious at the polls, but together we have built something tremendous, and tremendously special,” Veenker said.

Berman told the Weekly that he appreciated Veenker's call and said he has an “immense amount of respect for Vicki, the work she's done, the campaign she ran, and her remarkably strong team of supporters, which said a lot about the candidate.” He also said he is excited for “the challenge that lies ahead.”

“I think, given the national situation, California's importance to the county and the world has only increased,” Berman said. “We were already a leader on issues like climate change and now we'll have to double those efforts as the president elect says he'll pull the U.S. Out of the Paris Climate Accords and other things.

“It's that much more important for California to step up and continue its leadership role in the world on issues that are important to residents in Assembly District 24 and those across the state.”

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