Capitol Alert

Steve Glazer wins high-stakes East Bay special election

Steve Glazer won the 7th Senate District special election on Tuesday night by more than 9 percentage points
Steve Glazer won the 7th Senate District special election on Tuesday night by more than 9 percentage points Sacramento Bee file

Democratic political strategist and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer overcame fierce opposition from organized labor – and even his own party – to win the East Bay’s hotly contested 7th Senate District special election on Tuesday.

He’ll arrive at the Capitol this week focused on creating relationships with his new colleagues.

“I look forward to building bridges with members of my own party, as well as Republicans, in the weeks ahead,” Glazer said in an interview Wednesday.

While the deadline for new bills has passed, and several of his legislative priorities – banning BART strikes and reversing a recent cap on school district reserves – have already been killed in committee, budget talks are in their final stages. A California State University trustee, Glazer will be among the lawmakers pushing for CSU to receive a larger funding increase this year, following the major deal the University of California recently negotiated.

“I’m very strongly in favor of enhancing the state allocation, so we’re not turning qualified students away,” he said.

Glazer cruised to victory Tuesday night over fellow Democrat Susan Bonilla, an assemblywoman from Concord. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Glazer led Bonilla by more than 9 percentage points in unofficial returns, 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent.

“Our campaign struck a chord with voters frustrated by the gridlock and dysfunction in Sacramento,” Glazer wrote on his Facebook page late Tuesday. “One new state senator can’t change California government on his own, but I hope to work with my colleagues to restore confidence in public policymaking and advance progressive ideals in ways that are financially responsible.”

In an email Wednesday, Bonilla thanked her supporters for their hard work and dedication, “even in the face of nasty personal attacks and historic spending from outside special interests.”

“There is much more work to be done,” she said. “Now is the time for our community to heal, to reconcile, and to re-focus our energy to achieve a future that in which everyone has access to quality schools, good jobs, a safe home, affordable healthcare, and the opportunity to succeed.”

Spokesman Josh Pulliam said Bonilla lost because the electorate skewed more conservative than usual in the off-cycle election.

“In a presidential year, Susan Bonilla wins by 9 points, she doesn’t lose by 9 points,” Pulliam said.

The race attracted unprecedented levels of outside spending, with more than $7 million streaming into the district during the two-month runoff alone, more than three times what the candidates were able to raise.

Labor unions backed Bonilla, while the business community, charter schools and Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield supported Glazer.

With an eye toward influencing forthcoming issues at the Capitol, including new taxes and efforts to overhaul teacher tenure and dismissal laws, powerful political interests engaged in a nasty battle, painting Bonilla as a union puppet and Glazer as an enemy of organized labor who would work to dismantle their benefits.

The intraparty bitterness looks likely to continue, and Glazer could face a Democratic challenge when he is up for re-election next year.

Within minutes of his victory, Shawnda Westly, the executive director of the California Democratic Party, which endorsed Bonilla, issued a statement saying Glazer “claimed to be a Democrat but ran a cynical campaign to appeal to Republican voters.”

“We will not back down from races like this in the future,” Westly said.

Both candidates attempted to transcend the labels, even as they spouted similar rhetoric during contentious public debates. Bonilla argued that she was a moderate Democrat caught in the middle of a personal rivalry. Glazer, who helped defeat two union-backed lawmakers in the 2012 election, said organized labor was taking its revenge.

But their messages may have been drowned out by the barrage of negative mailers that flooded voters’ homes for months. Frustrated and disgusted, some sat out the election. Voter turnout stood at about 23 percent.

Alexei Koseff: (916) 321-5236, @akoseff