The founder of Match.com, Gary Kremen, has won a seat on the Santa Clara Valley Water District board, with 50.57 percent of the vote to incumbent Brian Schmidt's 49.43 percent, with all 212 precincts reporting as of Monday, Nov. 10. The seat represents the cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Gatos.
While provisional ballots are yet to be counted, Kremen led all Tuesday night as votes were tallied. He had garnered 19,339 votes as of Wednesday afternoon to Schmidt's 18,361. But Schmidt has shrunken that lead as mail-in ballots were counted over the weekend. As of Monday morning, he was 649 votes behind Kremen, or 1.14 percent.
Santa Clara County officials have said they don't expect to have provisional ballots counted until Dec. 2. Provisional ballots are those that have some sort of problem that must be reviewed before they can be counted or discarded.
Schmidt has not been ready to concede the election. He said he was hoping the percentage would shift as more returns were counted. On Wednesday morning, he had provisionally congratulated Kremen, he said.
"It's highly likely he's won. But 20 percent of absentee ballots have not been counted," he said. Theoretically, something could change, but it's unlikely, he said.
Schmidt said he does not have any plans to run again.
"It's a very different campaign from the one I ran four years ago. And quite frankly, I need to earn more than $32,000 a year. This was a significant pay cut from doing environmental nonprofit work," he said.
In a race that no one would have predicted to be so contentious, both candidates said the personal nature of the attacks was wounding and detracted from the issues.
"It's been brutal," Kremen said on Tuesday night. "I guess I'm an idiot do this. All I wanted was to do something about the drought and about water. I didn't think it would get so personal with all of the campaign finance stuff. I got pummeled."
He reiterated on Wednesday that it wasn't the kind of campaign he expected, and its negative nature dissuades people from public service, he said.
"That makes me sad. Water is too important," he said.
The huge discrepancy in campaign funding between the two candidates made headlines.
Kremen, a serial entrepreneur, outspent Schmidt 22 to 1 during the race. As of Oct. 18, Kremen had spent $397,993 to Schmidt's $17,229.
Schmidt predicted that big money will play an increasing role in special-district races.
"I think it's a significant problem," he said. That amount of money detracts from voters getting a fair representation of the issues and amplifies the impact of misleading messages, he added.
"It's not going to be the last time, especially as we see an increase in (economic) inequality," he said.
Campaign spending is particularly bad for special districts because they don't have the spending limits seen in some other races, such as for county supervisor, he said. A month ago, Schmidt submitted a request for the board to look at spending limits and at the best models it could implement.
Schmidt said he is proud of the campaign he ran and of his wife, who was his campaign manager, and of his volunteers.
"I'm proud of what I did, running it to a near draw while being outspent 22-to-1," he said.
But he didn't entirely blame losing the election on money. Low voter turnout meant that about half as many people cast ballots for the race as when he ran four years ago. And he would not choose to put a maximum cap of $500 on legal contributions to his campaign. He could have done another mailing with the extra money, he said.
"I wish I had more time to do more outreach," he added.
Schmidt, an environmental attorney, served on the board since 2010 and is its current vice president.
Kremen, board president of the Purissima Hills Water District in Los Altos Hills, said on Wednesday that he will focus on four main issues: making sure the water district is fully supportive of getting San Francisquito Creek fixed in a way that serves all constituents; creating a short, medium and long-term plan for the drought and securing a stable water supply; working to make the California State Water Project tax fair to districts that don't get any benefits and receive equity; and bringing business sense and innovation to the board's $4 million budget.
"I want to thank my opponent for his service," Kremen said.