Assembly race splits Democratic establishment

Candidates Marc Berman and Vicki Veenker prepare for final push in Assembly District 24

When Peninsula voters go to the polls in November to select their new Assembly representative, it's a safe bet that they'll go for a moderate Democratic attorney who lives in Palo Alto and who has the backing of regional party leaders.

Still, the question remains: Who will they choose?

Unlike in recent years, where the district's anointed Democrat rolled to a comfortable Election Day victory, this year's race has split the Democratic establishment into two camps. One candidate, Palo Alto Councilman Marc Berman, has the support of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, termed-out incumbent Rich Gordon, and a laundry list of county supervisors, mayors and local elected officials. His opponent, patent attorney Vicki Veenker, has her own army of Democratic backers, led by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren.

Each has raised more than half million dollars for the campaign, with Berman's campaign receiving $690,000 in contributions so far this year and Veenker bringing in $559,208, according to campaign-finance documents filed this week. Each also enjoys the backing of various traditional Democratic-leaning organizations. Berman has earned the endorsements of both California Professional Firefighters and Equality California; Veenker has the Sierra Club of California and the California League of Conservation Voters on her side.

Despite their similarities, the race between Berman and Veenker is shaping up to be the most suspenseful in the Assembly District since 2004, when Ira Ruskin edged out his Republican challenger, Steve Poizner, in what was then District 21. Today, District 24 includes Palo Alto, Mountain View, Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Woodside, Portola Valley, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, a portion of Cupertino and the coastal section of San Mateo County, from El Granada to the Santa Cruz County border.

With seemingly no clear favorite in the race, the California Democratic Party (which has an opinion on nearly every contest, including the council elections in Palo Alto and Mountain View), decided not to endorse anyone in District 24 this year. Even the Palo Alto council on which Berman serves is split, with four of its nine members endorsing Veenker and four supporting Berman (including the candidate himself).

In some ways, the Assembly race feels less like a choice between competing visions and more like a family scuffle (the fact that Berman worked at Eshoo's office after his freshman year in college helps perpetuate that feeling). On major issues, Berman and Veenker agree more often than not. They both call for more education spending, talk about environmental stewardship, support the modernization of Caltrain and view California's high-speed rail project, as it currently stands, with great skepticism.

Yet there are key differences when it comes to their backgrounds. And with two weeks to go until Election Day, Berman and Veenker are both trying to emphasize these differences, in some cases by taking shots at the opponent.

The most recent example happened last weekend, when Veenker released a TV ad touting her as an "independent voice" and a leader who would "fight to protect our environment and water supply." The ad also features an image of Berman and alludes to the fact that in 2013, when Palo Alto was passing its ban on single-use plastic bags, Berman recused himself because of his investment in a manufacturer of plastic bags.

Veenker's campaign emphasized that point further with an email to supporters, which stated that voters "should be aware that her opponent has a conflict of interest and could not vote on the plastic bag ban while on the Palo Alto City Council due to his investment in a plastic bag manufacturer."

The email also asserts that Veenker "won't back off from tough environmental issues because of special issues and big donors," a point underscored by the image of a plastic bag fluttering on a tree branch.

Berman thought the ad crossed the line. While it's true that he recused himself from the council discussion in 2013, the recusal happened because he had an investment in Roplast Industries, a company co-founded by his father that makes reusable plastic bags. The company, Berman told the Weekly, "has never produced single-use bags and is one of only two plastic-bag manufacturers in California to stand up to the plastics industry to support Prop. 67 on the November ballot."

Berman also fought back against Veenker's assertion that she is the greener candidate and pointed to his support for Palo Alto's carbon-neutral electricity plan and for the city's aggressive move toward solar energy in recent years. His plan, if elected, includes reducing petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030 and spending $1.5 billion to restore 54,000 acres of wetlands.

In his public response to Veenker's ad, Berman went for what passes as a nuclear option in the heavily Democratic district: He compared her tactics to those of Donald Trump. In an email to supporters, he characterized the plastic-bag ad as a "misleading attack against me and my family."

"If we can't trust my opponent to tell the truth now, we certainly can't trust her in office," Berman's email stated. "Contribute today and tell her enough of these Trump tactics!"

It was Veenker's turn to be offended. The ad, she told the Weekly, simply stated a publicly known fact: that he recused himself from participating on plastic bags because of a conflict of interest. The underlying issue, she said, is about Berman's conflict, not his family or his company.

"When I entered the race, I knew that people wouldn't always agree with me and would criticize me, but I didn't expect to be chastised by Marc for sharing a true and relevant fact with voters let alone be compared to Trump!" Veenker said in an email.

The two have other differences. Veenker is supported by the state's biggest teachers union, California Teachers Association, while Berman has received more than $800,000 in independent expenditures from EdVoice, an advocacy group that supports education reform. In discussing the differences between himself and his opponent, Berman pointed to his support for the recent legislative proposal to increase the duration before teachers are granted tenure at public schools from two to three years. Veenker, he said, hasn't been as clear about her position.

"My opponent doesn't have that level of detail out there," Berman told the Weekly. "It's hard for me to tell the distinctions because it's hard to tell what her positions are."

But Veenker told the Weekly that she considers debate between two and three years a "red herring" and a distraction from the real issue: the difficulties schools have in firing ineffective teachers. State officials should be discussing ways to simplify the process while still ensuring that teachers have protection from capricious termination, not debating whether two or three (or five or 10, for that matter) is the right number of years for setting tenure, she said.

"We need to have due process for teachers," Veenker said. "But if there's a problem and school districts feel like it's way too expensive and will take way too long and they won't win anyway and be able to dismiss a teacher, it seems to me that's what we fix."

The recent spats notwithstanding, both candidates have denounced negative campaigning and have largely focused on their own virtues, rather than the opponent's vices. The organizations supporting each candidate with independent expenditures also have taken notice. A recent mailer from the group Silicon Valley Progressive Women for Equity and Oportunidad, which supports Veenker, includes a cartoon of Yogi Berra on its cover with his famous adage: "No one goes there nowadays. It's too crowded" (it goes on to talk about Veenker's commitment to tackling the region's traffic and housing problems).

Meanwhile, the California Association of Realtors (one of several political groups that have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures to the Berman campaign), sponsored a series of ads likening Berman to good-for-you vegetables, including broccoli and beets. One ad features a picture of cooked Brussels sprouts.

"Eating your Brussels sprouts can seem dull, but fresh Brussels sprouts with a twist like roasted peppers are really tasty," the ad states. "Democrat Marc Berman's knows that fiscal responsibility and budget transparency are like eating your veggies: They may not seem exciting, but they're important."

Not exactly fighting words.


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20 people like this
Posted by Granny Grifter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 28, 2016 at 8:16 am

Too bad they both can't lose.

13 people like this
Posted by Marc's great
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 28, 2016 at 8:23 am

Marc is the real deal. He is committed to several causes, including education, housing, and infrastructure improvements. He works hard to build coalitions and consensus, and is the kind of man that we Palo Altans should be proud of as a local school product. He is going to represent us well!

32 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 28, 2016 at 8:42 am

Marc's a political hack with no meaningful accomplishments, and probably no real convictions aside self-promotion, though it is hard to tell. On the other hand, I have no idea if Vicki would be effective at all - State Assembly in middle age is not a great starting point to figure out how you like the law-making sausage factory - but I do think she is intelligent, accomplished, and has good values.

13 people like this
Posted by Just Vote Marc
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 8:46 am

If folks were being honest with themselves about who is the most prepared candidate for Sacramento, they would be voting for Marc Berman. He's actually represented constituents before and has stood up to special interests.

I also find Veenker's single use bag attack to be bizarre...Berman chose to recuse himself. That means he specifically went out of his way to avoid a conflict of interest that could have affected the ban or made it susceptible to a legal challenge or attacks from opposition. Isn't that a good thing? Doesn't that show strategic foresight and good judgment? I think it speaks to his character and is admirable.

Veenker just doesn't know what she's talking about, which makes me think she'll be unprepared and ineffective in Sacramento. The last thing we need is another do-nothing legislator in the Capitol.

34 people like this
Posted by Holding my nose
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:12 am

Veenker doesn't impress me: the plastic bag as was cynical as can be.

That said, Berman's condescension during and defiance after the Maybell debacle mean I could never vote for him. He's struck me, during his time on the PACC as vapid, long winded, and ruthlessly self promoting.

Holding nose. Voting Veenker.

11 people like this
Posted by Vote Berman!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:15 am

Marc Berman will make a fantastic assemblymember. His background in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors prepares him well and his priorities of education, infrastructure, the environment, and housing reflects the needs of our community. I have found Marc to be a pragmatic voice on the City Council who is well-prepared and seeks consensus - all qualities that we desperately need more of in Sacramento. He's also always out in the community and accessible to his constituents.

I'm struck by the hypocrisy of Veenker claiming negative campaigning in Berman's accurate portrayal of her campaign tactics when she was the first candidate to go negative in the race and did so with a terribly misleading ad. She also conveniently glosses over the hundreds of thousands of dollars in support she's received from special interest groups like the trial lawyers and chiropractors when condemning the education reform group backing Berman. Veenker claims she'll be an independent voice, but she sure is acting like a typical politician.

9 people like this
Posted by Alexandra Acker-Lyons
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:46 am

Marc is exactly the kind of person we need in office. He is smart, thinking long-term about issues like education, transportation, and development. And he is kind and trsutworthy -- rare qualities these days. Both candidates are qualified and we're lucky to have great choices. But Marc is the leader we need.

11 people like this
Posted by Jared Jame
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 10:08 am

Supporting Marc because he's shown spine when others haven't: supporting affordable housing, helping the homeless, advocating for tech education, and saying we need to pay up for our own infrastructure needs. I don't always like what I hear, but at least I know it's unvarnished and he is fighting for the best deal possible.

73 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2016 at 10:22 am

I'm voting for Vicki. I've been watching Marc Berman at Palo Alto City Council meetings for years and have seen no significant contributions, intellect or in depth understanding of complex issues when compared to other council members. To me it appears he is just using his City Council seat as a jumping off post to higher office. I'm excited to see what Vicki Veenker will contribute. Let's elect her along with Hillary and make 2016 a great year for electing women.

52 people like this
Posted by Vote for Vicki
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2016 at 10:33 am

Vicki Veenker is the smartest, most accomplished candidate to represent us in the Assembly. A successful attorney, an advocate for the environment and for low income families and children, Vicki has a proven record of initiative, hard work and accomplishment.

Marc Berman's last position was as a development director, a fundraiser. Marc touts this as an example of his initiative in education. Development directors don't influence policy. They raise money for the policies that others have developed. Marc is clearly not considered an effective council member, which is why the majority of the rest of them endorsed Vicki.

Send the best person, send a woman, to Sacramento. Vote for Vick Veenker. EQqjo

4 people like this
Posted by CP Voter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 10:39 am

As the Democrats are divided on this it looks like the Republican voters will be the ones to choose the winner. What an old state of affairs!

13 people like this
Posted by A Woman who is sick of voting for women because they're women
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:23 am

Can we stop with the "Women" part of the election. You make it sound like the USA is the first place to have women leaders... 1966 Indira Ghandi (India) 1979, Margaret Thatcher UK; 2005 Angela Merkel (Ger) and the list goes on.... and let's not forget the great leaders, Elizabeth I in 16th century and Queen Victoria too!

I'm all for equality, so let the best PERSON win....forget the gender crap. Equality means let's look BEYOND their sex.

38 people like this
Posted by an independent voice
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:53 am

I think that Vicki is the only candidate that can bring an independent voice to Sacramento. Marc has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interest groups. I respect the fact that he has been a foot soldier for many Dem and that they are returning the favor by endorsing him, but that doesn't make him as a leader. Vicki has deep experience in Tech and Bio Tech and will lead the way in economic decisions in Sacramento. Vicki has deep experience in representing the underserved through her leadership of the Silicon Valley Law Foundation that represents every foster child in our County and defended the residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. Vicki has earned the support of the Sierra Club and every other endorsing environmental group and she is backed my Anna Eshoo and Joe Simitian. I'm voting for Vicki, and independent and experienced leader!

34 people like this
Posted by Environmentalisst
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:56 am

After listening to the statements posted by the PA Weekly, I chose Vicky. She has the better instincts of the 2, and can expxress herself concisely ——important when you are in the legislature . Also she is stronger on the environment which is important to me in this threatened earth.

32 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Who said anything about voting for Ms. Veenker b/c she is a woman? I've met Ms. Veenker only recently while volunteering on her campaign - despite the fact that I am not a Democrat. She's smart, accomplished, well-spoken, and a good listener. I am certain she is also hard working and thorough; partnership at well-respected law firms is earned, not gifted. And importantly, SHE put herself in the race and is not a pre-selected successor to the incumbent. I like that and find it much more compelling than a candidate known primarily b/c of name recognition thanks to the dozens of glossy fliers that have filled all our mailboxes (how green is that?) - many courtesy of special interest groups. Ms. Veenker stands out as a much more independent candidate than her opponent. That she is a woman is a bonus; our Assembly could use more smart and capable women.

50 people like this
Posted by Vote Vicki
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:08 pm

To read Berman and his supporters argue that he is the better candidate based on his experience is both laughable and sexist. Vote Berman because "he's actually represented constituents before . . ." Really? That's the best you've got? Vicki Veenker has been a successful litigator, mediator, and leader of an important non-profit organization advocating on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens, not to mention a founder of Professional Women's Soccer, and a working mom. She's showed staying power in her jobs. Berman is serving his first term on the Palo Alto City Council. It's unclear from his resume, at least to me, that he has any professional staying-power; his primary interest appears to be being “promoted” to state-wide elected office.

As to the negative ads, does anyone remember the attack ads against Veenker in the primary by independent expenditures supporting Berman? Where was the outrage then? Did Berman ever disavow those ads or tactics? I never saw or heard anything from Berman disavowing those tactics – and nothing he did stopped the second, third or fourth attack ad against her. Regardless of what you think about Veenker's latest ad, it's undeniable that she is supported by ALL of the environmental organizations, and her mention of Berman's conflict is undeniably true. He simply will be unable to vote on certain important environmental matters - including one on the ballot now.

While I have no doubt that Berman has a sincere interest in public service, he strikes me as immature and entitled. I'd like to see him prove himself more on the local level before going on to Sacramento.

I'm not voting for Vicki Veenker because she's a woman. I'm voting for her because I find her to be the more thoughtful candidate, and someone whose life's work and experience are significantly more impressive and inspiring. I urge you to join me in voting for Vicki Veenker to represent our Assembly District in Sacramento.

8 people like this
Posted by A Woman who is sick of voting for women because they're women
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

@Vote Vicki. Glad to hear that. I was referring (but forgot to @ them) Anne. Why does it matter if we have Hilary anfd Vicki...(To make it a great year for electing women). I want the best candidate out there even if they're from Mars! Let's just vote for who will do the best for us not to make it a woman's year. I'm sick of hearing it everywhere.... Woman this, Woman that. Talk about equality?? UGH

Sorry if that confused you. I will vote with whoever will support our community the best (IMHO).

30 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm

I've been hoping Palo Alto voters have been putting Berman's mailers in the big blue container instead of the grey one because otherwise our landfill would be way over capacity by now. Every day I have to recycle one of those oversized mailers.

10 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@A Woman Who is Sick . . . completely agree; thanks for making the equality point. Voting based on qualifications is the only approach that will yield good results.

43 people like this
Posted by Lynn Brown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Vicki Veenker is clearly the best person to represent us in Sacramento!!

Veenker is smart, very accomplished, and will make a terrific Assembly member!! Just ask those who truly know: Anna Eshoo and Joe Simitian. (I discount Gordon and Newsom because they endorsed before Veenker was even in the race.)

Veenker is insightful on every issue, articulating smart approaches and solutions. The teacher tenure issue is a good example, Veenker has EXACTLY nailed the issue - dismissal procedures are a real problem.

Veenker has the experience to back up her thinking with real, effective, actual progress.

I was originally optimistic about him, but Berman has not been effective on City Council. It's VERY TELLING that a majority of Berman's colleagues have endorsed Veenker. Additionally, I've found the Berman ads and literature to be indecent, in quantity and quality. Comparing Veenker to Trump? In no way shape or form is that legitimate. [Portion removed.]

I'm supporting Vicki Veenker because she is exceptional in every respect, and the better candidate.

36 people like this
Posted by Lynn Gibbons
a resident of Portola Valley
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm

I support Vicki Veenker because she has a unique combination of experience. She combines professional experience as a Silicon Valley patent attorney and mediator, successfully winning cases involving enormous financial outcomes, with 12 years of pro bona work with the Silicon Valley Law Foundation. The Foundation represents people who could not otherwise afford legal help, such as foster children, victims of predatory lending and discriminatory housing practices.

For years, this principled woman has brought her professional expertise to help the underserved. Her record of proven experience and service means that she is uniquely qualified to serve us in our 24th Assembly district!

39 people like this
Posted by Duchesse
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Duchesse is a registered user.

I have attended many city council meetings in which Berman's ONLY contribution the whole night was to glare at speakers and whisper to his neighbor(s) secretively. Very off-putting, even offensive-- like the audience and speakers are being left out somehow!

I am voting for Ms Veenker because she is more active in the community and more involved-- by far the better choice!

6 people like this
Posted by Jules Brouillet
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 2:13 pm

Marc opposed the car-dwelling ban. He shepherded $8 million in city funds to repair city infrastructure. Every day I drive/bike down Los Robles I am reminded of that. His hard work, idealism, and pragmatism will serve us well in Sacramento

I am upset that people opposed to Berman use their experiences watching him talk on Council meetings use that as negative "evidence" against him. The council members speak so much, and their countenances can be read so many different ways, that one can cherrypick impressions / statements by them to misleadingly paint any of them as enlightened leaders or as incompetent and condescending.

Both candidates have accepted $100,000's in contributions from a variety of interest groups. That's what they need to do to stay competitive until our campaign finance system is reformed.

No candidate is not allowed to coordinate in any way, including saying "stop", to the independent expenditure groups. This applies to the anti-Vicki ads independent expenditures by interest groups supporting Berman. These ads sicken Berman as much as anyone else; they only steel his resolve to close the floodgates of money into politics by becoming a leading advocate for campaign finance reform in the assembly. Even if these expenditures ostensibly benefited him at one point, though I think if anything, they had the opposite effect by leaving people disgusted with Marc and sympathetic towards Vicki. I don't know about the anti-Berman ads, so I can't speak to those.

6 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Typical Democrat/Liberal hypocrisy from Berman. "If we can't trust her to tell the truth now, we certainly can't trust her in office." He then equates her tactics to Donald Trump. It's what liberals do, but I think he got it backwards. Hillary Clinton is the candidate best known for her penchant to bend the truth.

2 people like this
Posted by Berman and Jet Noise
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 28, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Does PA Councilmember Berman support or endorse the letter from Palo Alto to the Select Committee proposing to shift noise from Palo Alto to Moutain View?

1 person likes this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Vicki fits well for advocating for 24th district. She is more experienced and non political or less political.

Marc fits well for Washington DC congressman stature. When Anna Eshoo retires he can seek that job and he would have a bit more maturity

It's one thing to talk about early childhood education when you have had raised children versus just come up with proposals without whole hearted experience.

Experience counts.

Vicki will represent us well without being too political.

Marc Bergman could shine well in 2018 with his Georgetown education connections in the congress in DC.


8 people like this
Posted by Best
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Pretty simple

Hillary -> Anna -> Vicki -> Lydia

Vote the Ticket!

I did

17 people like this
Posted by goes to recycling
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:24 pm

Berman is a hypocrite. He claims to be green, but he blasts the communities with one or two flyers EVERY DAY. Completely unnecessary consumption of resources. I.e. a hypocrite.

6 people like this
Posted by Undecided in Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:04 am

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Nicole
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2016 at 9:51 am

I've served with Marc on a few boards, and he has been a friend for years. Marc is exactly with the 24th AD needs. He is regionally-minded, and has a history of service to the city of Palo Alto and Santa Clara County. He's thoughtful, considerate and intelligent. He will always be my champion regarding the car-dwelling ban in Palo Alto, but is not afraid of admitting when he's wrong and listening to reason. That's exactly the kind of representative we need in Sacramento. Not to take anything away from Vicki as she is exceptionally accomplished, but Marc is the more experienced of the two, and will be able to get a running start once we send him to Sacramento.

18 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Yesterday's Berman mailer claims that he is "the only candidate for State Assembly who is independent of the powerful Sacramento special interests . . ." Oh, really? This one was paid for by California Apartment Association Independent Expenditure Committee. But for the fact that the outcome of this election matters I'd find all the claims to the moral high ground amusing.

4 people like this
Posted by pay attention
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Actually, "Undecided in Palo Alto", the FBI not reopening the case. Comey said something else entirely, and it's nothing resembling what you claim. Very easy to check if you go somewhere besides CNN and Fox. Your posting says more about your character than anyone else's.

16 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 30, 2016 at 3:51 am

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by High Moral Standards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2016 at 6:43 am

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Vote Marc!
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 31, 2016 at 7:24 am

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by my view
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2016 at 7:58 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Vote Berman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 9:41 am

Marc is thoughtful, experienced, and deeply cares for his constituents and the community. I've been impressed at his commitment to improving education. What motivates Marc are strength of character and integrity - excited to see him represent us in Sacramento!

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