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November 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Our Town: After the election Our Town: After the election (November 16, 2005)

by Don Kazak

It was one of those moments that, in retrospect, seems significant. I was hurrying into Piazza's market a couple of Saturdays ago when a young woman tried to stop me, handing out literature for Peter Drekmeier, a Palo Alto City Council candidate.

Flash forward to election night.

When former Mayor Larry Klein was well on the way to finishing second, I asked him if he was surprised that Drekmeier, finishing third, was doing so well.

"No," Klein replied. "He had people campaigning for him in Piazza's parking lot."

The story of last week's City Council election wasn't just the return of Klein to the council, but the election of Drekmeier, once mainly known as Stanford University's harshest critic over its development and trail-alignment plans.

Drekmeier's election may make the people at the end of Palm Drive squirm a little, but he is one of their own, the son of two faculty members. But he seems to have mellowed a bit since he turned 40 recently.

"He ran a very strong campaign," former Mayor Gary Fazzino said. "He did not come across as the '90s nemesis of Stanford. He came across as a thoughtful moderate."

"When Peter learned to work both sides, he was in," Liz Kniss, former mayor and current Santa Clara County supervisor, said on election night.

Drekmeier was a co-founder of Bay Area Action, which later merged with the Peninsula Conservation Center to become Acterra. And he was a persistent watchdog of Stanford during the year and a half of public hearings that eventually resulted in the university winning a new general use permit (GUP) for its campus development plans in 2000.

No wonder Stanford officials may be uneasy.

Yoriko Kishimoto was the top vote-getter after finishing second four years ago. As a former neighborhood activist who ran as an ally of Drekmeier, Kishimoto's strong showing portends an eventual leadership role for her on the council.

Some see Drekmeier's election and Kishimoto's re-election as the ascendancy of Midpeninsula Action for Tomorrow (MPACT), which formed during the Sand Hill Road battle of 1997. Both Kishimoto and Drekmeier were active in MPACT.

MPACT has been dormant, although its values live on.

There was some talk that Councilman Jack Morton might not win re-election, although he finished in the fifth and final spot.

Morton seemed girding himself for defeat on election night when the early returns placed him in a tight race with School Board President John Barton, who finished fourth, and Planning Commissioner Karen Holman, who finished a close sixth.

"I thought it would be close because people are unhappy with elected officials," Morton said. "People seem to be dissatisfied. They don't think anything is working."

Morton was thought to be vulnerable because of a couple of blow-ups with Councilwoman Hillary Freeman, who did not seek re-election. His short temper worked against him.

"Jack, more than Yoriko, thought he needed to defend everything the council did in the last four years," Klein said on election night.

With three new members in Klein, Drekmeier and Barton, the election becomes a makeover of the City Council -- which will lose Councilman Vic Ojakian and Mayor Jim Burch, two of its more reasonable and moderate voices, in January.

Klein's election places huge expectations on his return to the council. A two-time mayor during the 1980s, Klein was a founder of Palo Altans for Government Effectiveness (PAGE) -- a group formed to counter what Klein and others felt was a breakdown in civic discourse (and as a balance to MPACT). PAGE held four well-attended forums in 2004, but has faded a bit now, too.

Klein will now have a chance to put that group's values into practice.

Klein was also a surprisingly strong critic of the current council, arguing that it didn't exhibit enough leadership and ceded too much power to City Manager Frank Benest and other top city staff.

Both Burch and Councilman Bern Beecham seemed to stiffen when they heard Klein's comments at his coming-out campaign event in the summer.

A school district leader, a former mayor and a Stanford critic will be part of the new council. They may find that doing isn't as easy as saying.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at dkazak@paweekly.com.


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