Alison Cormack scored an emphatic victory in the race for the Palo Alto City Council on Tuesday, while incumbent Palo Alto council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth were comfortably re-elected to fresh four-year terms.
With all precincts reporting, Cormack was in the lead with 8,750 votes, which represented 28.16 percent of all votes cast. DuBois and Filseth had 23.65 and 23.13 percent of the votes, respectively. DuBois had received 7,347 votes, while Filseth received 7,187 votes.
Councilman Cory Wolbach, meanwhile, failed in his bid for a second term, receiving 17.86 percent of the votes -- a total of 5,548, while challenger Pat Boone, a former TV anchor who waged a low-budget campaign, trailed in fifth place with 7.21 percent, having picked up 2,239 votes.
In addition to resulting in one seat turning over, the Tuesday election represents a more long-term shift for Palo Alto, which is switching from a nine-member council to a seven-member one. The departure of Council members Greg Scharff and Karen Holman, who are both terming out, means that the council will lose the two members that are most closely associated with, respectively, its pro-growth and slow-growth wings. Their seats will effectively disappear.
And while Cormack's victory ensures that the council will see one new member, it is unlikely to see the kind of political pivot that had characterized the last two elections.
The 2014 election saw "residentialist" candidates (DuBois, Filseth and Holman, who was the top vote-getter) win, creating a 5-4 edge on the council. Then, in 2016, the balance shifted in the direction of the faction favoring greater city growth when Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka joined the council.
The early results suggest that the residentialists will remain in the minority by a single vote in January, when the council new council is sworn in, with Lydia Kou, DuBois and Filseth comprising the slow-growth group. The more pro-growth members -- Mayor Liz Kniss, Tanaka and Fine -- could continue to enjoy a slight edge.
Cormack has said during the campaign she is not running as part of any group, though her list of donors includes both Kniss and Scharff. As someone who had not been aligned with any of the city's political factions, she could thus represent a swing vote on the council.
Wolbach, meanwhile, has been one of the council's most strident housing advocates and the leader of city's recent efforts to encourage more accessory-dwelling units and to amend the zoning code to encourage construction of more housing (the city is now in the process of implementing these revisions). His supporters included housing advocates and prominent local Democrats, including his former boss, state Senator Jerry Hill.
Cormack, who was enjoying the results at a party in south Palo Alto, said she was "thrilled" but not surprised with the results. She said that in the weeks leading up to the campaign, as she spoke to residents, many had recognized her and offered her positive feedback.
The Tuesday victory comes 10 years after she celebrated another election triumph. In November 2008, she saw the passage of Measure N, the campaign that she spearheaded to rebuild local libraries.
When asked what her first order of business will be, Cormack said she would like to "rebuild public trust."
"To have a challenger beat all the incumbents, it just shows that there's plenty of work to be done when it comes to rebuilding trust," Cormack said.
DuBois, Filseth and Holman were all watching the results in the home of Janet Dafoe and Ron Davis. Shortly after 8 p.m., with 15 percent of the vote counted, both DuBois and Filseth were cautiously optimistic but not ready to celebrate.
Despite the early setback, Wolbach held out hope that the early results could still swing in his direction.
"It took me two weeks to find out whether I won or lost last time," Wolbach said. "I'm patient."
But by 10 p.m., most ballots were counted and his chances of catching DuBois and Filseth had evaporated. With 93 percent of the votes in, Wolbach was trailing Filseth by more than 1,500 votes for the third space.
With his re-election certain, Filseth said he plans to continue working in the next year on the pressing issues of housing, traffic and parking. At the same time, he said, the next council will have to work to "get our financial house in order." All these goals will have to be pursued concurrently, which will be a challenge, he said.
"You'll need to have some really good work from the next council," Filseth said.
DuBois said he wasn't particularly surprised by Cormack's victory and noted that she began campaigning early, laid "a lot of good groundwork" and had received several important endorsements. The fact that he and Filseth also got re-elected is "a good indication that voters are for sensible growth and not high urbanization," DuBois said.
Among the most important tasks for the next council will be to "look at restructuring the budget and executing on our infrastructure plan and our Comprehensive Plan," he said.
"I also think we really really need to focus on traffic congestion and make some progress in that area," DuBois said.
Boone said he was proud of his grassroots campaign, which received less than $1,000 in donations (The other candidates all raised more than $30,000). He said he will "continue to fight for the rights of everyone in Palo Alto - residents and our business owners".
"I plan to head back to the communities, I’ll get more involved in our town and even consider a city appointed position," Boone said in a statement.