Glazer wins easy victory over Bonilla in state Senate runoff

San Francisco Chronicle
May 19, 2015
By John Wildermuth

Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer won a surprisingly easy victory over fellow Democrat Concord Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla on Tuesday night in what had been a nasty, hard-fought contest for an East Bay state Senate seat.

Although he was reluctant to declare victory before all the votes were in, Glazer expressed little doubt about the outcome.

“It looks very positive,” he said from his election night party in Orinda. “I’m gratified for the voters and volunteers who embraced my message of putting problem-solving ahead of partisan interests.”

While Bonilla didn’t concede the election when she came out to thank supporters at her Concord headquarters shortly after 10 p.m., she and her campaign staff knew they had come up short.

“Everything we see tonight is a victory for the Republican Party,” said Josh Pulliam, Bonilla’s campaign consultant. “Republican voters turned out, and they voted for Glazer.”

In a special election where the final turnout is likely to be around 25 percent, “it would have been a different outcome if this was a regular election in 2016 with Hillary Clinton on the ballot,” he added. Bonilla “would have won by 10 points.”

With all but a handful of votes counted, Glazer led 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent in the special election to fill the less than two years left in the term of Mark DeSaulnier, who was elected to Congress in November.

Glazer took an eight-percentage-point lead almost as soon as the polls closed at 8 p.m., and Bonilla could never gain ground.

The election showed that as more and more people cast their ballots by mail, it becomes increasingly difficult to catch the early leader on election night. In the March 17 state Senate primary, for example, mail ballots accounted for nearly 85 percent of the votes cast in an election where fewer than 24 percent of the voters turned out.

While Bonilla and Glazer are members of the same party, they are very different Democrats, and the endorsements and millions of dollars in independent expenditures that poured into the race highlighted those contrasts.

Glazer is a political consultant who for years was a close aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not endorsed anyone in the race. But in recent years Glazer has worked for the California Chamber of Commerce and other business-oriented groups often at odds with the unions that have long been a base of support for the Democratic Party. Most of his endorsements came from local political leaders.

Bonilla, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2010, is a former teacher and Contra Costa County supervisor with overwhelming support from labor and Democratic Party leaders. Her backers included the California Labor Federation and the California Democratic Party.

While Glazer won the primary with nearly 34 percent of the vote, well ahead of Bonilla’s 25 percent, third-place finisher Joan Buchanan of Alamo, a former Democratic assemblywoman, immediately endorsed Bonilla. The lone Republican in the race,Michaela Hertle, finished with 16 percent, although she already had dropped out of the race and endorsed Glazer.

In a late April television debate, Glazer described the race as a contest between “a centrist and a partisan,” saying Bonilla was too closely tied to the state’s unions to be an independent voice in Sacramento.

But Bonilla and her supporters argued throughout the campaign that Glazer was little more than a business-oriented Republican with a “D” after his name on the ballot. Campaign mailers sent out by her backers described the assemblywoman as “the only real Democrat” running for state Senate, charging that Glazer’s campaign was bankrolled by Bill Bloomfield, a wealthy Southern California Republican-turned-independent, and anticonsumer business interests.

That’s not the stop-the-conversation argument it would be elsewhere in the Bay Area. While Democrats make up more than 43 percent of the registered voters in the district — which includes Walnut Creek, Concord, Lafayette and Brentwood in Contra Costa County and the Alameda County cities of Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin — it’s anything but a liberal bastion like San Francisco or Oakland.