Cash may be king, but Tuesday night’s Cupertino Council election results proved that sometimes good old fashioned grassroots organizing trumps even a big campaign chest.
The results have yet to be certified by the Registrar of Voters, but initial results indicate that newcomer Rod Sinks won his first bid for election over both long-time Fremont Union School Board Trustee Homer Tong and three-time council candidate Marty Miller, despite raising less money than Mayor Gilbert Wong and Miller, and garnering less big-time political endorsements. Even heavy campaigning by first place winner Wong wasn’t enough to bring Miller onto council.
Initially Miller was right behind Sinks in the results, but on Wednesday updated results showed that Tong pulled ahead of Miller, who fell to fourth out of a field six. Donna Austin finished fifth, and Chris Zhang came in sixth.
What Sinks, a long-time scoutmaster and successful businessman, had was careful preparation, a broad base of volunteers and supporters, and a systematic approach to courting voters and key Cupertino leaders such as Councilmember Orrin Mahoney and former mayor Richard Lowenthal (Mahoney also backed Wong, but broke ranks with Wong and Vice Mayor Mark Santoro who were backing Miller).
It didn’t hurt that Sinks started the campaign with the support from possibly hundreds of members of the Bay Area Clean Environment (BACE) group, which he helped found.
His focus on environmental issues, especially possible pollution from the Lehigh Southwest Cement Permanente Plant, (which also endorsed Wong) and the League of Conservation Voters (which could have endorsed two candidates, but only endorsed Sinks).
Although that link to BACE and its primary founder Councilmember Barry Chang was at times a double edged sword. For example, the San Jose Mercury News dismissed Sinks as being “in league” with fellow candidate Tong, also backed by Chang, and the editorial board theorized that the two would “obsess” on the Lehigh issue to the exclusion of other city issues.
Earlier in the year for being abrasive, and it probably wasn’t a mistake that the editorial board and others tried to link Sinks and Tong to Chang as being a negative.
Voters didn't seem swayed by the attempts, giving Sinks and Tong enough votes to come in second and third. What worked against Tong was most likely the fact that he maintained a busy schedule as a De Anza instructor and a school board trustee while running for office. He did not build a broad grassroots group as Sinks did. Had Tong done that, Sinks and Tong might have been able to edge Wong out.
—he raised two to three times what other candidates raised—but he apparently lacked the influence with voters to convince them to bring Miller with him.
He campaigned hard for Miller, sending out a letter to voters, “From the desk of Mayor Gilbert Wong”, and donating $3,500 to Miller’s campaign from his own campaign fund. Miller had nearly every key endorsement from South Bay politicians that Wong had. Many of the same developers who donated large amounts to Wong in turn gave to Miller. Some developers had as much as $10,000 invested in the two men.
In addition, Santoro also pounded the pavement for both Miller and Wong, and sent a letter to the Cupertino Courier two weeks before the election urging voters to elect the two. At the same time his letter subtly attempted to characterize Sinks and Tong as “Barry’s boys”, linking them to Chang.
In the end, all their arguments in favor of Miller were not enough to convince voters to propel him to the council.
Yet it wasn’t the only failed attempt to influence voters. They were also not completely swayed by negative campaigning against Wong for numerous contributions from developers and landowners. Tong sent out thousands of flyers in the final week depicting shadowy figures backing Wong and Miller.
An unidentified source distributed unflattering political cartoons about Wong on the Internet, hammering him for his large developer contributions, and claiming he favored helping Lehigh, among other issues.
As Wong himself pointed out, a 2008 citywide survey showed that 93 percent of residents are satisfied with city services. Perhaps enough voters decided Wong had contributed to that high level of satisfaction and thus had earned another term.
So what’s ahead for the council in 2012?
Sinks will be sworn in Dec. 6 for his first four-year term, and Wong will be sworn in for his second term, and will step aside as mayor for the next council member to take over the post. Kris Wang will step down, having termed out of her time on council.
Vice Mayor Santoro is expected to be elected by the council to the position of mayor. Stranger things have been known to happen, however, like when the council blocked Chang from becoming vice mayor last year.
If he does win, Santoro will find himself leading Sinks, who he actively campaigned against, and Chang, who he has clashed with in the past.
Mahoney is in the last two years of his final term on council. He’s an independent thinker who is not afraid to speak his mind. He could be the deciding vote in issues where Santoro and Wong side on an issue verses Chang and Sinks, particularly when it comes to Lehigh.
Although despite what some feared during the campaign, don’t expect Sinks to vote in lockstep with Chang. Sinks distanced himself during the campaign from Chang at times. That flyer depicting the shadowy developers? Chang helped distribute the flyer. Sinks probably could have been included on the flyer, but wasn’t.
As to who will be elected vice mayor, it most likely won't be Chang again, since Mahoney and Wong didn't support him last year over Santoro. Patch is guessing Mahoney, if he wants it.