This is an exciting season for local government with many open seats on councils and school boards and many contested elections with extremely qualified candidates. Local government is where the action is, where ordinary citizens can get involved. Don’t sit out this election. Learn about the candidates, attend election forums. Do your civic duty.
Even though Burlingame does not have term limits, the city’s elections usually promise some kind of change — a new face or the replacement of a once strong council majority with another. This year is no exception, especially since there is an open seat. Incumbent Cathy Baylock has chosen not to run again. The other two incumbents, Michael Brownrigg and Ann Keighran, seem destined for another term.
There are seven challengers. Four are lesser known and face stiff competition from the three who seem to have the best chance. The three are Planning Commissioner Nirmala Bandrapalli, former candidate Ricardo Ortiz and former councilman Russ Cohen. The four other hopefuls are Alex Kent, real estate broker; Steven Duncan, assistant manager at Rite-Aid; Robert Schinagl, store clerk; and Andrew Peceimer, real estate broker.
Unlike Ortiz and Cohen, this is Bandrapalli’s first run for public office. She was inspired to get involved in city government after taking the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership program. She has served on the Planning Commission since April. She continues to be an active school volunteer. Her children attend Burlingame High School, Lincoln Elementary School and Village Preschool. She left her home in India 25 years ago for a better life in the United States. Here she completed a master’s degree in biochemistry at UCSF and worked for Genentech for 11 years. Today she runs an online health fitness business. Bandrapalli has the support of Councilwoman Terry Nagel, former Burlingame school board member John Root, former Mills high school principal Frank Seebode, the San Mateo Central Labor Council and several planning commissioners.
Ortiz ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the council two years ago. He has the support of Councilman Jerry Deal; former mayor Joe Galligan; former council candidate Gene Condon; U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and several school board members. He worked for City National seven and one half years and now does financial consulting. He was treasurer of the Burlingame School Foundation and chair of the oversight committee for the past school district bond. He also coaches AYSO. His children attend local public schools.
Russ Cohen has run for council before and come up short by less than 100 votes. The first time he lost to Mike Coffey in 2003, but when Coffey left in mid-term, Cohen won the rest of his two-year seat. He ran again in 2007 and lost by 82 votes to Deal. He is supported by Baylock and several planning commission and school board members. He is vice chair of the Burlingame Historical society and was one of the founders of blog Burlingame Voice. His job is executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association.
In addition to Burlingame and San Mateo (last Monday’s column) there are noteworthy contests in Redwood City and San Carlos. In Redwood City — Diane Howard — and in San Carlos — Inge Tiegel Doherty — two former councilmembers hope to return to the dais. Howard has collected major endorsements from past and present councilmembers which raises the stakes for the other top competitor for the open seat ( Jeff Ira is termed out; the two incumbents seem secure), Ernie Schmidt. Planning Commissioner Schmidt ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Supervisors but has the support of Mayor Alicia Aguirre.
In San Carlos, the buzz is about Karen Clapper who, when appointed to the council, said she would not run but changed her mind. This has made some people who have admired her work happy but others not so. She has the support of supervisors Don Horsley and Warren Slocum; San Carlos Councilman Ron Collins; and past councilmembers Don Eaton, Mike King, Andy Klein and Sylvia Nelson.
Then there is newcomer Cameron Johnson who sits on the city’s Economic Development Advisory Commission and works for Netflix. He has the support of Collins and Councilman Mark Olbert; former mayor Tom Davids; many school board members; Supervisor Dave Pine; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
Incumbent Bob Grassilli may not feel the heat but incumbent Matt Grocott who will be running for a fourth term, has been a different voice (some say refreshing; some say divisive) and has a loyal following. This time, however, he faces a stiff challenge with Clapper and Johnson and to a lesser extent, Tiegel, on the ballot. There are three seats to be filled. Stay tuned.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.