Voters bring political veterans back to council
Palo Alto race goes to Kniss, Schmid, Burt and Berman
Palo Alto voters gave the city's political establishment an enthusiastic vote of confidence on Election Tuesday when they re-elected Pat Burt and Greg Schmid to the City Council and restored former Mayor Liz Kniss to her familiar position behind the dais.
Joining the three political veterans will be Marc Berman, a local attorney whose campaign benefited from a sea of endorsements and contributions from local and state leaders. Berman beat out financial consultant Tim Gray for the fourth seat on the council by more than 4,000 votes. He received 9,557 votes, compared to Gray's 5,519.
Gray, who loaned $30,000 to his campaign, ran as the "outsider" candidate and did not accept contributions. He received the support of 23 percent of the voters.
The only other candidate, concert promoter Mark Weiss, finished in distant sixth place with 4,316 votes (18 percent).
Kniss, a former two-time mayor, had the strongest showing with 12,737 votes (54 percent of ballots cast) — the most cast for a council candidate in at least the past five elections.
Schmid came in second with 9,984 votes or 42 percent of the total vote count. Burt and Berman finished in a near dead heat for the final two seats on the nine-member council, with 9,651 and 9,577 votes, respectively.
Though this will be Berman's first elected position in Palo Alto, he is no stranger to local issues. Berman had served on the city's Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force last year and had helped steer the school district's successful bond campaign in 2010. He said Tuesday night that he was "excited" about getting elected to the council and said he expects finances and future developments to take up much of his first year on the council.
Kniss, who is about to conclude her final term on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, is a seasoned veteran of local politics, having sat on the council between 1990 and 2000. She served as mayor in 1994 and 1999.
Kniss said she had been aggressively campaigning throughout the week, all the way until late Sunday night.
"I ran to win," Kniss told the Weekly at the election-night party at the all-candidate Garden Court Hotel in downtown Palo Alto. "I ran because I'd like to serve again."
Burt, who is preparing to start his second council term next year, was more subdued as he saw early results come in. He received 40.9 percent of the ballots cast, just ahead of Berman, who received 40.6 percent.
"I'm pleased to just have support for the second term," Burt said shortly after 8 p.m. "The truth is, I recognized a while ago that I didn't have the time to aggressively campaign, with a day job and a night job."
Though the results weren't surprising, the Tuesday election was remarkable in one respect — it marked the first time that Palo Alto residents elected their local leaders while also voting for the president. The city decided to make the switch from odd to even years for local elections in 2010 to save money and to spur more interest among the electorate. Voters approved the switch when they approved Measure E.
Despite the novelty of having local elections in an even year, Palo Alto's council elections were in some ways underwhelming. The six-candidate pool was the city's smallest since 1985 and the only one since 1999 with fewer than 10 candidates. Palo Alto's last council election, in 2009, attracted 14 candidates, including Gray and Weiss.
The results also offered few surprises. Gray has run unsuccessfully twice before, in 2007 and in 2009, and fared no better this year despite an infusion of cash. Weiss, who frequently laments the influence of local developers, ran in 2009 and finished in 13th place, just ahead of panhandler Victor Frost. Despite the defeat, Weiss was cheerful as he mingled at the election party. Finishing sixth is better than finishing 13th, he noted.
The election results ensure that local council watchers will see plenty of familiar faces next year. Even though Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilman Sid Espinosa will conclude their council tenures this year (each declined to seek a second term), the learning curve for their replacements won't be as steep as it was for the four newcomers who joined the council in 2009.
Schmid, who is recovering from a heart surgery that he underwent last month, said he was "delighted" with the election, particularly since he had spent the least amount of campaign funds per vote among the winning candidates.
The political party at the Garden Court Hotel remained in full force until well after the election results were obvious. At about 10:30 p.m., Mayor Yiaway Yeh addressed the crowd and called Tuesday a "special night in Palo Alto."
"In Palo Alto, we're so fortunate that all candidates can come together to see what the results are," Yeh said, calling these gatherings the city's "special tradition."
Minutes after Yeh's address, the crowd of about 50 turned its attention to the TV screen, where President Barack Obama was giving his victory speech.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.