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Ohtaki, Keith, Cline win in Menlo council race

Robinson and Bernstein reflect on outcome

Incumbent Heyward Robinson and educator Chuck Bernstein are reflecting on their unsuccessful bids for Menlo Park City Council, as the three incoming councilmembers appear to be Peter Ohtaki, Kirsten Keith and incumbent Rich Cline, who edged out his colleague after polls closed on Nov. 2.

While that result could change when all ballots -- including "absentee" ballots dropped off at the polls Tuesday -- are counted, Cline held the third spot all night and is likely to keep it.

Incumbent Heyward Robinson ran a close fourth, with 3,485 votes to Cline's 3,747.

"I don't believe the order will change," Robinson said.

He thought an anti-incumbent vibe and a targeted smear campaign contributed to his loss. "It didn't help that two of my council colleagues campaigned against me. I don't think there's any one thing, but it all kind of added up," he said.

"Voters took us took us for granted a bit, not appreciating what we're doing. One of my concerns with the two new people coming is our ability to be effective advocates on high-speed rail, and the Dumbarton Rail project. It's frustrating for me because we get no press overage; no reporter ever comes to those meetings."

Still, Robinson, who doesn't think he'll run again, was pleased with his strategy, describing it as a very positive, issues-oriented campaign.

So was challenger Chuck Bernstein. "I ran the campaign I wanted to run, and I felt like I said the things that needed to be said, and I don't have regrets about any of it."

Don't expect him to retire from the political arena any time soon. "I'm going to have a response to the letter (city manager) Glen Rojas wrote about the budget. I'm still on the case," he said, laughing. "I've always been involved, and yes, I'm disappointed, but I'm not going anywhere."

There were a total of six candidates running for three seats on the council. Cline and Robinson were vying for second terms against Ohtaki, Keith, Russell Peterson and Chuck Bernstein.

The count Tuesday was: Ohtaki, 4,328; Keith, 4,042; Cline, 3,747; Robinson, 3,485; Bernstein, 2,744; and Peterson, 1,390.

Keith appeared ebullient as she monitored the polls first at the 'Yes on Measure L' election night party, then over at David Bohannon's Measure T gathering at the Oak City Bar and Grill.

The mayor, on the other hand, found Zen. "However it turns out, I will accept it," Cline said under the din of the party.

Outgoing council member John Boyle was spotted at the 'Yes on Measure L' party watching the polls with Keith, whom he endorsed.

Asked whether he felt nostalgic at not seeing his name appear among the candidates, Boyle laughed. "I thought I might be a little sad... but no."

As of the Oct. 21 campaign finance reports, educator and business owner Chuck Bernstein was leading the money race, barely ahead of Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board President Peter Ohtaki.

Robinson and Cline were running at third and fourth, respectively, in monetary contributions, with Planning Commissioner and attorney Kirsten Keith next, and stay-at-home dad and community volunteer Russell Peterson in last place.

Perhaps more important than dollars are the positions taken by each candidate on issues currently facing the city -- pension reform, high-speed rail, the downtown specific plan, Menlo Gateway, and the budget deficit.

Distinguishing between the candidates' positions, however, requires a fine-toothed comb. Bernstein and Peterson don't support Measure T, a ballot initiative which would allow developer David Bohannon to build Menlo Gateway.

No one among the candidates likes the current elevated-track design proposed by the state rail authority board for high-speed rail though the Peninsula.

Measure L, the pension reform initiative, counts everyone except the incumbents as supporters. Bernstein helped get the measure on the ballot by collecting signatures.

As for the downtown specific plan, everyone likes the concept of having a detailed plan for developing downtown Menlo Park. It's the details that divide opinions -- Ohtaki wanted to first focus on filling the empty lots on El Camino Real and Bernstein suggested implementing the plan in phases.

Keith reiterated the need for a plan, and pointed out there's still time to influence the specific design since it has yet to come before the council.

Experience also sets the candidates apart. The incumbents have long histories of public service, as commissioners and now council members; so does Keith, with six years on the planning commission and volunteer work on numerous county-wide issues.

Bernstein has served on committees shaping education, childcare, and budget policy. Now president of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board, Ohtaki previously volunteered with the Mid-Peninsula Water District.

And Russell Peterson, with no political experience, still serves the community as president of the Felton Gables Homeowners Association and founder of the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail.

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