The 2013 elections in San Mateo County are unusually competitive and the race for the Burlingame City Council is ground zero, having attracted nine candidates vying for three seats.
The political Pandora’s Box was opened this year by sitting councilmember Cathy Baylock, who declined to run for a fourth term offering new aspirants an open seat without an incumbent running. Two incumbents are, however, running including two-term councilmember and sitting Mayor Ann Keighran.
Keighran is a popular incumbent and has sewed up virtually every endorsement possible including that of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, the state legislative delegation representing her community, every county supervisor, every local school board member, perhaps every city commissioner and all the major stakeholder groups that play a role in local elections from business to labor and beyond. With so much support, Keighran is an easy win and will likely be returned to the council.
Also running as an incumbent is first-term councilmember and Vice Mayor Michael Brownrigg. Brownrigg’s endorsements and spread of support are like that of Keighran’s and, as the top vote-getter four years ago, Brownrigg has demonstrated that he has a solid base of support and will also likely be returned to the council.
That leaves seven vying for the open seat vacated by Baylock. Among the seven candidates, there are a variety of constituencies represented and a mix of support.
Former councilmember Russ Cohen served on the council from 2005-2007 in an abridged term and, prior to his council service, on Burlingame's Traffic, Safety and Parking Commission. Cohen is seen as the inheritor of Baylock’s mantle, advocating for preservation of the city’s character and historic assets. Cohen has garnered a great deal of support from the city’s commissioners and many former leaders who still reside in the community, but less from local officeholders and larger institutional actors. But again, with so many candidates, many voters may want to replace Baylock’s voice on the council, providing Cohen with a built-in base.
To win, Cohen must get past a slew of candidates including Ricardo Ortiz who, like the incumbents, has the backing of major endorsers such as Congresswoman Speier, Senator Hill and the local school board as well as other community leaders. Ortiz, a commercial banker, has strong community ties having served on a variety of local service organization boards and in youth activities. Ortiz ran unsuccessfully two years ago against sitting councilmembers Terry Nagel and Jerry Deal and has Deal’s endorsement - but not Nagel’s.
Instead, Nagel has backed sitting planning commissioner Nirmala Bandrapalli, who has garnered some support from institutional actors such as labor, but lacks any other endorsement from local elected leaders or business groups. With Nagel’s support however, Bandrapalli can’t be counted out of the mix though, from appearances, Cohen and Ortiz have a bigger share of community support.
Another familiar face is Andrew Pecemeier, a local business owner who touts several endorsements from prominent elected officials in other communities, who are also outspoken conservatives. Pecemeier is campaigning on a platform of eliminating waste and in the past has championed opposition to local tax measures such as for the school district.
Another local businessman, Alexander England Kent, is also running for the first time. Kent lists no endorsements and is running in part on a platform of stopping perceived conflicts of interest by sitting councilmembers as well as restoring “fiscal balance”.
Rounding out the list are local store clerk Robert Schinagl and retail manager Steve Duncan, neither of whom have mounted easily discernable campaigns.
While the field is large, the real race is in the middle between Ortiz, Cohen and Bandrapalli. With so few votes likely to be cast for each, this election will be a game of inches and the candidate who works the hardest will likely get the win.