CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Dec. 6, 2022) — Ken Carlson thought he was retired. The former police officer and Pleasant Hill City council member was going to settle back with his husband and kids and “take a breather.” But then he was convinced – perhaps a bit by himself – that he could do more, and he led a five-person race for District 4 Supervisor in June.
No one received 50% of the vote, so Carlson faced a stiff challenge last month from BART Director Debora Allen for the seat given up by longtime Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.
“An open supervisorial seat almost never comes up,” Allen says. “I knew it was now or never.”
Although Allen may not have had Carlson’s political experience, she was known as a fierce advocate for her beliefs. At BART, that was rider safety and a strong budget.
But Carlson, backed by an energetic grassroots effort, labor unions and strong name recognition, defeated Allen 54% to 46%.
His agenda mirrors many politicians these days: He wants to tackle homelessness, health care for an aging population, the challenging financial issues of high mortgage rates and high inflation, and inclusiveness.
Carlson is the first openly gay person to be elected to the Board of Supervisors, and he says that he’s part of a growing population statewide.
“The ranks are still small, but I’m proud and humbled to be a part of it,” he says.
Allen says she is “done” running for public office, although she still serves on the BART board and has made a name for herself with several controversial anti-labor stances. She again stressed fiscal responsibility for any governmental body. “I’m still fighting the good fight.”
She says one thing that led to her loss was that Carlson or groups he was affiliated with “played dirty” with negative literature about her.
“Something said I supported a BART strike in 2012-2013,” she says. “I wasn’t even elected until 2016.”
Allen says that Carlson’s campaign made misleading and false accusations about her, her record, her party affiliation (The literature said she was a Republican. She’s not, she says.) and her positions on various issues.
“I was painted as far-right, divisive and extreme,” she says.
Carlson is quick to point out that did not come from his own campaign.
“What (Debora) fails to mention is that the campaign she refers to was not my campaign. I was very explicit to my team that my goal and desire was to run a positive campaign focused on my work and experience,” he says.
“The campaign she is referring to is an ‘independent expenditure,’ a campaign which is created and funded outside of the candidate,” Carlson says. “This campaign was organized and funded by a coalition of labor. It is unlawful and unethical for a candidate to interact with or influence an independent expenditure campaign.”
Allen acknowledges that a lot of the smear literature did not come from Carlson, but it supported him and lied about her – hurting her chances.
After a bit, Allen rethought her stance on running for public office. “Never say never.”
In another closely watched county race, Kristin Braun Connelly beat Vicki Gordon 53% to 47% for the clerk-recorder position.
Peggy Spear is a journalist and frequent contributor to the Pioneer.