Fighting for Gail Steele's Seat 

Four candidates are locked in a divisive campaign to replace the supervisor.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer is not running for Alameda County Supervisor, but he may be the most important person in the race to replace retiring Supervisor Gail Steele. Former state Senator Liz Figueroa, Hayward Councilman Kevin Dowling, and Union City Mayor Mark Green may have deeper roots in Alameda County's District 2, which encompasses Hayward, Union City, Sunol, and parts of Fremont, but it's the newcomer who has made the biggest imprint on the race. Nadia Lockyer is executive director of the county's Family Justice Center and is married to the long-time East Bay power broker. Their partnership has shaped this race.

An open seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is a rare occurrence, let alone two in the same year. In the battle for Steele's spot, Lockyer has attracted most attention thanks to her husband's connections and the statewide Democratic Party apparatus. She recently sent a mailer to residents featuring gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and has parlayed party support into a fund-raising advantage.

Opponents believe her coffers could easily swell to $500,000 or more if the race heads to a November runoff. According to sources who have seen internal polling from the campaign, Lockyer is running ahead of Figueroa, but not enough to avoid a runoff. Lockyer's campaign manager Katie Merrill did not deny the existence of the polling, but would not elaborate on it. "It's a four-person race," she said. "It's really hard for anybody to get 50 percent." Merrill also insisted that Figueroa is the one to beat. "I don't think anyone would dispute Liz Figueroa is the frontrunner in this race," she said. "She's represented this area for twenty-something years in the assembly and the state senate."

Figueroa, whose senate seat is nearly identical to the county's District 2, said she's not worried about the increasingly noticeable fund-raising disparity. "A lot of people know me," she said. "I've been around the community and she needs to spend that money just to catch up."

Because the candidates' positions are somewhat similar, the fight for Steele's seat has focused more on personalities. And as the primary campaign heads down the final stretch, the tenor of the race has soured. "There's a source of angst and anxiety that clearly is coming out and causing that behavior," Lockyer said, "because there is concern they are not going to win." Lockyer said she was taken aback by remarks allegedly made by Figueroa, which Lockyer declined to repeat, which allegedly referred to a romantic tryst between her husband and Figueroa back when both were single in the 1990s. Their relationship has long been an open secret around local political circles. "A few were saying Ms. Figueroa was saying some really disparaging comments about me and it was through that I actually learned her and my husband had a relationship in the past," Nadia Lockyer said. As for Figueroa, she denies making any untoward comments. Nadia Lockyer said she recently reached out to Figueroa with a phone call, but their relationship remains frosty.

The intriguing subplot between the Lockyers and Figueroa has only been heightened by Dowling, whose plucky campaign has raised more $90,000 to stay close to the two frontrunners. Dowling, one of the first openly gay politicians elected to office in the East Bay, has spent the last twelve years on the Hayward council after a decade-long stint as a staffer for both Steele and Lai-Bitker. He boasts that his experience makes him the most qualified candidate for the job, but said Bill Lockyer has pulled strings to procure major endorsements for his wife despite reports that she had not interviewed well. "She's getting it because Bill has broken arms in Sacramento," Dowling said. "We had a duel with the labor council and a week later he's calling the local guys and saying it's got to be Lockyer only and that really hurt us."

One of the main issues for District 2 residents around Union City and northern Fremont has been the perception that the board of supervisors routinely neglects the area in favor of Oakland and Hayward. Dowling said Oakland may have more people in need of county programs, but the southern portion of the district needs more attention. "We should get some, maybe not as much as Oakland, but definitely not zero," he said.

Of all the candidates, Green has been the least visible, but he has made the area his focus. At one candidate's forum in April, the affable, baritone-voiced Green underscored the lack of attention to his home turf when he joked while campaigning in Fremont, voters asked him, "Are you lost?"

Green may be the race's biggest long-shot. At the end of last year, he reported just over $1,000 in fund-raising. Recently, while campaigning door-to-door in Fremont, Dowling said he crossed paths with Green who was working the same block. The two exchanged pleasantries and parted. As June 8 approaches, that serendipitous sidewalk meeting may be the last cordial moment that these four candidates enjoy.

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