Simmering local elections may hit the boiling point

Peggy SpearCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Feb. 20, 2022) —  Most everyone knows how explosive the 2022 mid-year elections will be, with control of Congress up for grabs but leaning right.

However, the Diablo Valley may have its own sparks flying this year, especially when it comes to the Board of Supervisors District 4 open seat. With Karen Mitchoff retiring, some of the most qualified – and ambitious – local politicians are jumping into the race.

“The Board of Supervisors does not have term limits, so the opportunity to run for an open seat is rare,” says Carlyn Obringer, a Concord City Council member who is one of six who threw their hats into the ring. “So, it’s understandable there’s a lot of interest from many candidates to participate in this unique opportunity to serve on the governing body that is the social safety net for our county.”

If you want to be part of that safety net, there’s still time. The filing deadline for the June election is March 11. Unless one of the candidates bags a majority, the two top vote-getters will face off in November’s general election.

A star-studded battle

So far, the roster reads like the MLB All Star Game.

Popular Concord Councilmember Edi Birsan, a familiar face at community activities, told the Pioneer in July that he ran for council with an eye toward this supervisor’s seat. However, Birsan’s support of Seeno Companies and Discovery Homes as the master developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station did not go over well with many in the city.

Obringer initially opposed Seeno but later voted yes as the council unanimously approved the controversial developer.

In Pleasant Hill, one of the most respected local politicians, Ken Carlson, is vying for the seat. A 29-year veteran of the Pleasant Hill Police Department, Carlson was elected to the Pleasant Hill City Council in 2012. Like Obringer and Birsan, he has served as mayor of his city, and has an impressive record, helping build the new library and park, upgrading roads and working on economic development.

If elected, Carlson would be one of only a few openly gay lawmakers in the Bay Area, something he told the Recorder he would like to see change. “We are underrepresented,” he said of the LGBQT+ community.

When a line is more than a line

Another big-name politician, BART District 1 Director Debora Allen, also recently announced her candidacy to replace Mitchoff. Before the county moved its district lines for supervisors, her residence near Clayton was included in East County’s District 3.

Now BART is redistricting, and one of the maps being bounced around would move Clayton to East County’s BART district. If she loses the supervisor race, Allen would be in the wrong district to run again for her old job.

Allen, a small business owner and strong supporter of public safety, says she wants to see a unified effort between law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the fire department and mental health services. And, she is an advocate for BART police service.

But she is also one to kick the tires and look under the hood, and some of her policies at BART have made her unpopular with some of her colleagues – including pushing for job cuts and conservative spending during the pandemic.
Two with health focuses

Another familiar name floating out there is mental health professional Dr. Harmesh Kumar who has run unsuccessfully in many local, regional and state contests.

The clinical psychologist’s focus is affordable health care and housing, especially for front-line workers like teachers, police and firefighters. He is also a vocal advocate for stronger mental health facilities.

The final candidate – so far – is Roxanne Garza, a strong community activist who works as a senior director at Healthy Richmond. She is known for organizing community activities on inequity issues, especially public health. Supervisor John Gioia appointed her to a committee that makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on how to spend sales tax revenue.

Other key county races

The supervisor race is extremely hot, but it’s not the only one worth watching.

In the district attorney contest, incumbent Diana Becton faces a challenge from within. Lead prosecutor Mary Knox has been highly critical of Becton, who recently came under fire from five local mayors citing her lack of leadership. If no one else enters the race by March 11, the winner will be decided in June.

In the race for sheriff, Richmond Police Officers Association leader Benjamin Therriault will run against incumbent David Livingston.

Watch the Pioneer for more developments in these potentially highly contested races, as well as news on Congressional primaries – although it’s hard to see anyone taking on Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, except Green Party candidate Michael Kerr.

Cities quiet, for now

There are eight City Council seats up for grabs locally in the November election. The filing deadline isn’t until mid-summer, but it’s bound to get interesting.

In Clayton, it may be open season as the seats held by CW Wolfe and Jeff Wan are up. Both candidates are holding their intentions close to their chests. The council frenemies have very different support bases.

In Concord, there will be three seats available, including District 1, held by longtime Councilmember Laura Hoffmeister. It would be quite a surprise and an institutional loss if she decided to peel herself away from the dais. It’s hard to see Mayor Dominic Aliano give up his District 3 post after only one term, and Tim McGallian, in District 5, seems to have no opposition except for some rumblings from Laura Nakamura’s camp. That and the Clayton election should get Nextdoor in a frenzy.

Also, should Obringer or Birsan win the supe’s race, the council will have another open seat. The council could appoint a successor or opt for a special election.

In Pleasant Hill, the spots held by mayor Michael Harris and council member Sue Noack will be up. It’s too soon to speculate; check back next month or April.

New school district rules

There are three spots open on the Mt. Diablo Unified School District board, those held by longtime trustees Linda Mayo and Debra Mason, who is the current board president, as well as immediate past president Cherise Khaund. This election may be thrown into a frenzy with the development of “trustee areas,” or districts, for school board members. With fewer voters to sway, it may be much more appealing for candidates to throw their names in the pot.

Next month, we’ll check out judiciary races, BART and other regional activities. And, of course, update the Board of Supervisor’s race. As Clayton’s Wolfe says, “They’re gonna have to duke it out.”

Peggy Spear is a journalist and frequent contributor to the Pioneer. Email questions and comments to