There has not been a competitive election for a county Supervisor since a Special Election in 1997 in which Supervisor Rich Gordon beat six other candidates in a bruising race for an open seat on the county board. Thirteen years later, Gordon is terming out of office and is seeking to replace Assemblyman Ira Ruskin who is also terming out of his legislative seat. No less than five candidates have announced their intention to run for the seat now occupied by Gordon and one candidate, Jefferson Union High School District Trustee David Mineta, has already dropped out of the race.
Candidates running for the 3rd Supervisorial District Seat – although there are no actual districts as Supervisors run at large – include former San Mateo County Sheriff and Sequoia Healthcare District Director Don Horsley; environmental and Democratic Party activist April Vargas; three term San Carlos City Councilmember Matt Grocott; Libertarian Party activist and Sequoia Healthcare District Director Jack Hickey; and San Carlos activist and frequent critic of the county board Michael Stogner
Horsley is the San Mateo County political machine-backed candidate who has been lining up endorsements for the seat for three years in anticipation of his run. Horsley has garnered the endorsements of almost every elected official in the county at the city council level and above with only a few notable exceptions including State Senators Joe Simitian and Leland Yee and Supervisor Rich Gordon who now occupies the seat Horsley is seeking.
Horsley commands the most money in the race thus far and, when the reports are made public at the end of January, will likely have a commanding monetary advantage over his opponents .Horsley is considered the favorite in the race but as the field has become more crowded rather than less – and with many outspoken critics of the county’s government machine of which Horsley is a product – there may indeed be a race. Horsley’s south county voter base may also be split by the fact that all of the remaining candidates hail from either Redwood City or San Carlos.
Vargas, while not well financed, has been active in county and particularly coastal politics for decades and has many contacts on the Peninsula. While she is not a household name she is the only woman in the race and voters tend to warm to female candidates as evidenced by the fact that the Board of Supervisors is now more female than male.
Horsley’s colleague on the Sequoia Healthcare District Board, Jack Hickey, holds the same elective title and even lives in the same Emerald Hills neighborhood as Horsley. Hickey, while never holding countywide office, regularly appears on the ballot as he has run for just about every office for which he is eligible. In some elections he has run for two different offices and is frequently a signatory on ballot arguments opposing just about every tax measure in the county for the past decade or more.
While Hickey’s constant anti-tax positions have angered many in the city government and school district communities, he does command a following of sorts. When Hickey ran against Gordon in 2006 he garnered nearly a quarter of the vote with three candidates in the race. Not a bad showing for a candidate who spent really no money but knows how to generate some name recognition through the news media.
Stogner, who lives in San Carlos, will not be a major factor in the race but Stogner’s ability to raise concerns – and the occasional headline – may cause some additional headaches for Horsley. Two years ago, following the detention of San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks at a Las Vegas brothel – Horsley’s chosen successor – Stogner threatened to file recall papers against Munks and has lambasted the Sheriff’s office ever since. Horsley has a well-known and close relationship with Munks and may be compelled by Stogner to speak to the issue of his chosen successor’s leadership of Horsley’s former office. This will be particularly problematic for Horsley if he has taken large sums of campaign cash from Munks and Munk’s extended – and well known and wealthy – family. In the end, Stogner never followed through with his recall threat and will not likely impact the race beyond his ability to throw bombs.
But then there is the newest entrant in that of San Carlos Councilmember Matt Grocott. Grocott is coming in behind the eight ball with little in the way of a campaign infrastructure, endorsements or funding but Grocott does have several things going for him. He will carry the ballot designation of councilmember – a far better elective title than any of his opponents. Grocott is a fairly popular official in his own community and is considered to be somewhat of a leader in what is left of the Republican Party in San Mateo County.
Grocott has also made a name for himself in the local press as he frequently crosses swords with his council colleagues by opposing efforts to levy local taxes, a well the San Carlos Council has attempted to draw from several times over the past few years. Most recently Grocott publicly opposed Measure U on the San Carlos Ballot in the November 2009 General Election that would have levied a six-year ½-cent sales tax. Measure U was roundly defeated at the polls. While Grocott’s opposition was not welcomed by his colleagues it has helped to solidify Grocott’s base in San Carlos and has given Grocott the broader notoriety as a committed and successful fiscal conservative.
For county Republicans, Grocott may be the Great White Hope for recapturing a seat on the county board of supervisors on which no Republican has served since former supervisor and now Assemblyman Jerry Hill reregistered as a Democrat in 2003 in a public ceremony.
The June election for the coveted supervisor seat is, for all intents and purposes, a Primary Election. Unless a single candidate garner’s 50-percent plus one of the vote, the election will go to a November General Election runoff of the top two candidates. With as many as five candidates in the race – particularly the five candidates who have entered this race – it may be unlikely for one candidate to command an outright majority.
Thirteen years after the last competitive election for a county supervisor, voters may actually get a choice this time around.