This story is part of the Concord Clayton Pioneer’s Election coverage for 2022.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Apr. 13, 2022) — The four contenders for Contra Costa County clerk-recorder share some of the same goals: to improve voter registration and outreach, to uphold transparency in office, and to maintain a non-partisan role as head of the county office that oversees elections, marriages and other business services for more than a million residents.
Kristin Connelly, Vicki Gordon, Devin Murphy and Nick Spinner are vying for the role that the county merged in 1957 to include duties of county clerk, recorder and registrar. One candidate must capture 50 percent of the vote plus one on June 7, or the top two vote getters will face a runoff on Nov. 4.
Historic year with no incumbent
This year’s election marks the first race without an incumbent. The county Board of Supervisors has appointed each of the previous five officials, who have held the position due to a predecessor’s resignation or death, thereby setting up the appointee for incumbency.
Clerk-Recorder Deborah Cooper is retiring when her term ends in December. She was appointed in 2019 after the resignation of Joe Canciamilla, who later pled guilty to felony perjury and misuse of campaign funds.
Cooper has served the county for 33 years while working her way from executive secretary to former Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir to a management position to deputy elections official. She describes accomplishments ranging from unprecedented county voter registration to managing elections during a two-year pandemic to a strengthened alliance with Bay Area election offices to combat election misinformation.
The clerk-recorder oversees 81.5 employees and a $26.5 million budget. Here’s a look at the candidates, in alphabetical order.
A career in public policy
Connelly has significant depth of involvement in voting, election, economic and policy issues. This includes helping register 18-year-olds to vote while she was a 16-year-old high school student, organizing busloads of student volunteers from New York to Cleveland to serve as non-partisan poll monitors during her law school years and being a finalist for the 2019 appointed clerk-recorder position.
With a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, a law degree from Fordham and a master’s in public policy from Georgetown, Connelly has focused her career on public policy and community advocacy. The Lafayette resident, 47, is president and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council, leading an 80-year-old public policy and advocacy organization with 70 directors since 2014. She is also executive director of the group’s sister organization, the Contra Costa Economic Partnership.
Connelly recently recalled her first insight into the elections office position nearly a decade ago. “I was chief of staff to a member of the Board of Supervisors and had the privilege of meeting with all of the department heads, including the clerk-recorder,” she said, adding that she was immediately impressed with the multi-faceted role of that department official. “It personally resonated with me that it was something I’d be very good at and would be very excited to do.”
When the position unexpectedly opened in 2019, Connelly assumed that supervisors would appoint Cooper, who was already doing the work since her predecessor’s resignation. Still, Connelly went forward to become a finalist.
Connelly, who has also been a trustee on the Acalanes Union High School District board for the past four years, said she is “100 percent” ready to serve Contra Costa.
“Ethics has always been important to me, fair elections and engagement have been important and specifically my background in non-partisan government, my training as an attorney and then my experience as a manager,” she said. “Those are all skills that make me uniquely qualified for this position.”
Variety of leadership roles
Gordon has a business administration and human resources background, management experience of businesses including her own, and education experience in the classroom and at the governing level.
The Martinez resident, 61, earned a business degree and later a teaching credential at Cal State East Bay and has worked professionally in both areas. Her stints in Pittsburg and Martinez elementary and junior high schools led to elected leadership roles with the Martinez School Board and then as a Contra Costa Community College District trustee.
When community members asked her to consider the Martinez School District board position, she said her initial inclination was to remain in the classroom. Acquaintances urged her to run for the school board, saying: “You can help 160 students a year as a middle school teacher, or you can help 4,000 students a year.” She served on the Martinez board for 15 years and later on the community college board for two terms.
Gordon points to her federal judge-appointed role on the West Contra Costa County Unified School District Redistricting Commission as a defining force in leading her to her present candidacy. “That was a wonderful experience where we got to really get out in the community making sure that voices were heard, that the district lines were drawn in a way that represents the constituents in that area, making sure that the elections were fair,” she said.
She credits her management experience, her educational leadership at several levels, her involvement on the redistricting committee, as well as her tenure in a statewide college diversity, equity and inclusion task force as valuable preparation for the office she is seeking.
“I’m a strong defender of our democracy, our elections, our voting rights and access. I’m a great community outreach and educator – I’m fair and impartial and transparent,” Gordon said. “Not only can I do this and do it well, this is my passion.”
Understanding the diverse landscape
Devin Murphy has been a member of the Pinole City Council since 2020 and is also a small business owner and civic technologist. He served as an appointee to the Pinole City Planning Commission and the West Contra Costa Unified School District to the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee.
Murphy, 28, points to his mother’s influence as a social worker and civic interest during his teen years split between Pinole and Vacaville going door-to-door getting neighbors registered to vote. “I always knew how important it was and that it’s people who make policy changes,” he said.
Murphy expresses pride with some of his “firsts,” including as a student at UCLA, where he became the first Black and openly gay student body president in 2014, and his 2020 council race, where he captured more votes than any other candidate in Pinole’s council history.
Murphy lists civic education, transparency and sustainability among his goals if elected, adding that he would work to create a “green economy” within the county-clerk’s office and to represent Contra Costa’s diversity.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say as an African-American and as an openly gay man that I am experienced in challenges people face,” Murphy said. “I’m young and smart and I’ve gone through a lot of barriers. It’s time for Contra Costa County to embrace the diverse landscape of our communities.”
Part of the community
Spinner, who earned his degree at Cal State East Bay, has been a Contra Costa County systems and software engineer for eight years. He says his knowledge of technology and his interest in government and elections prompted him to declare his candidacy. He cites transparency, expanded voter registration, fighting misinformation and ranked choice voting as some of his priorities should he be elected.
“I’m now 35 and I feel like I have a lot to contribute. I have a voice and I have something to say,” said Spinner, who grew up in Martinez and now lives in Crockett.
Spinner said his county technology post has given him a chance to work with nearly a dozen county departments, “fixing problems or supporting management goals.” He said he wants to “make things more efficient on the technology side to have more time for community outreach.”
Spinner said he wants to be “out in the community as one of the community. I’m not a politician; I’m just a regular person.”
Following the rules
For now, Cooper and her staff are preparing for an array of races in the June 7 primary.
Cooper is confident the elections office will be ready for its new clerk-recorder in January. She also praises the work of Chief Deputy Election Official Tommy Gong and the staff.
“I feel good about anyone coming in that they won’t have to do anything right away except learn this job,” Cooper said. “We are rule followers here – we don’t get to make much policy. We get a lot of laws thrown at us and we follow them.”
Karen Jenkins is pleased to be a correspondent with the Concord Clayton Pioneer News. She has worked as a community journalist on and off for three decades at publications including the Contra Costa Sun in Lamorinda; the Antioch Daily Ledger; the Avon-Beaver Creek Times in Colorado; Roll Call in Washington, D.C. and the Daily Nexus at UC-Santa Barbara. She is also the student advisor for The Sentinel, the student newspaper at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She may be reached at Karenjenkins241@gmail.com.