Power Struggle 

The Alameda City Council race will determine the influence of the mayor and her mentor.

State Senator Don Perata has strongly influenced Alameda city politics for much of the past twenty years. That's been especially true during the six-year reign of his disciple, Mayor Beverly Johnson. Now, Perata's sway over Alameda City Hall and Johnson's grip on it face a crucial test on November 4. Will they simply maintain their power, or will it expand?

The Alameda City Council race features four candidates vying for two seats. Incumbents Marie Gilmore and Doug deHaan are squaring off against challengers Tracy Jensen, a longtime Alameda school board member, and Justin Harrison, a political newcomer. The race is likely to be between just three of them, since Harrison is a neophyte with no experience and no serious backing. The top two vote getters win.

When it comes to the most pressing issues facing Alameda, the candidates are nearly indistinguishable. All four, for example, say that tackling the city's multimillion-dollar budget shortfall will be their top job priority. All four also support Measure P, a controversial ballot measure that would more than double the tax buyers and sellers pay when property changes hands. Real estate agents across the city staunchly oppose Measure P, but the candidates believe Alameda desperately needs the new tax revenue to avoid deeper budget cuts. "Either way we're going to have a shortfall," explained deHaan on the outcome of Measure P, adding that if it fails, the deficit will worsen.

All four candidates also have reservations about the massive development planned for Alameda Point, the former naval air station. The candidates agreed that transportation is the single biggest hurdle facing developer SunCal. SunCal recently announced that it wants to increase the number of homes on Alameda Point from 1,800 to 4,200 or more, but it has yet to come up with a viable plan for how to avoid nightmarish traffic. "Personally, I think they have to have a real good transportation solution nailed down," Gilmore said.

So what distinguishes them?

The primary difference among the four comes down to their political allegiances. For example, the council will ultimately decide the fate of a controversial plan by Perata's close friend Ron Cowan to build more than one hundred condos on Bay Farm Island. DeHaan is the most independent of the three front-runners; he has sometimes clashed with Johnson and has never been part of Perata's political machine. Gilmore also has an independent streak, though she is backed in this election by both the mayor and the state senator. Jensen, on the other hand, is a close friend of Johnson's, and a longtime admirer of Perata. In fact, he was her and Johnson's civics teacher back in the 1970s when he taught at Alameda High School before entering politics. Harrison also appears to be independent.

So the question is, can Jensen unseat either of the incumbents, thereby tilting the five-member council further toward Perata and Johnson?


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