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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

FREMONT MAYOR PREVIEW: Councilmember mounts a mayoral challenge to the status quo

Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison is facing a challenge from first-term Councilmember Lily Mei.
MEET THE CANDIDATES
Fremont Mayor BILL HARRISON was elected four years ago in a tough three-way race with Republican Steve Cho and his then-City Council colleague Anu Natarajan. The choices fractured the electorate in three-ways with Harrison coming out on top. Economic growth over the past four years has been Harrison's top reason for re-election, including the remaking of Fremont's downtown. The Warm Spring BART station is also due to open soon giving the city's further opportunities to improve its transit-oriented developments. LILY MEI, a current councilmember elected in 2014, said "I believe Fremont needs a change." Her platform has raised quality of life issues that persist in Fremont, including the claim that traffic has never been "as bad as it is now." Her platform has struck a chord. Previously, as a former Fremont school board member, Mei controversially rejected the book "Bastard Out of Carolina" from the school district's curriculum, citing the novel's explicit content.

WHAT'S THE BEEF? The regional housing crisis is hitting Fremont hard. "I'm a champion for all types of affordable housing," said Harrison, during a forum in September. He supports Measure A1, the Alameda County $580 million affordable housing bond initiative. Mei does not, but only because she believes Fremont's portion of the bond's benefits was not sufficient and "wanted to ensure Fremont gets the best deal possible," said Mei. But during the same forum, Harrison pushed back, saying the city's portion of the housing bond can be leveraged for additional state and federal grants for affordable housing. An offshoot of the housing crisis is rising rents. Both said they support rent stabilization legislation in Fremont, but offer few specifics. Borne out of the housing discussion has been a focus on campaign contributions from developers, an issue primarily raised by Mei against Harrison.

THE NUMBERS
2012 GENERAL ELECTION.....................VOTES....PCT
Bill Harrison.............................22121   34.0%
Steve Cho.................................20709   31.9%
Anu Natarajan.............................16995   26.1%
Aziz Akbari............................... 3677    5.7%
Linda Susoev.............................. 1408    2.2%

MONEYBALL
         ----JULY-SEPT 24----     ----2016----
FRE MAYOR     IN      OUT         IN     OUT       CASH
HARRISON  49,814   22,831     82,419  24,213    $71,905
MEI       38,098   23,933     38,098  23,933    $14,165

OUTLOOK Aside from Harrison's somewhat controversial snagging of the Alameda County Democratic Party endorsement four years ago, the biggest factor in his 2012 victory was the mayoral candidacy of Cho, Fremont's Republican standard-bearer. Cho seriously split Fremont's minority-majority of voters and handed the mayor's office to Harrison. This time around Harrison is facing a more conventional one-on-one matchup with Mei. However, her campaign naturally skews toward the constituency that favored Cho four years ago (Cho endorsed Mei for mayor) and may not be able to attract Natarajan's base of Democrats, along with those satisfied with the economic gains made in Fremont. If this race is tight on Election Day, it might be due to the shrewd argument being made by Mei that links Harrison's stance on growth to his campaign contributions from developers. Mei's basic stump speech always includes her opposition to receiving campaign money from developers. The issue appeared to knock Harrison on his heels during the September forum, when in response to a question, he refused a pledge against accepting developer's contributions. The large audience snickered and guffawed and the scene appeared to greatly bothered Harrison, while revealing a highly vulnerable spot in his argument for re-election. Alameda County Democratic Party insiders from south county say this race has been bitter and envision a close victory for Harrison. Keep in mind, Harrison's politics are on the moderate side of the East Bay progressive spectrum. But so is Fremont, in general. A Mei victory, however, will likely shift the City Council in a rightward direction. And then there's the always contentious search to appoint a replacement for the rest of her council term.

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