Political Notebook: Out East Bay leaders announce city council bids

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday June 20, 2024
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Outgoing BART board member Rebecca Saltzman announced June 20 that she will run for an open seat on the El Cerrito City Council in November. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Outgoing BART board member Rebecca Saltzman announced June 20 that she will run for an open seat on the El Cerrito City Council in November. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

A trio of out East Bay leaders used Pride Month to announce their bids for city council seats in El Cerrito, Berkeley, and Concord.

Last fall, lesbian BART director Rebecca Saltzman announced she would not seek a fourth term this year. At the time, she said she had no plans to run for another office.

Then El Cerrito City Councilmember Paul Fadelli, a retired BART employee, informed her this spring that he would not run for reelection on the November 5 ballot. It meant one of the three City Council seats up this year would be open, as Councilmembers Lisa Motoyama and Tessa Rudnick, currently serving as mayor, are running for reelection.

"I was not going to run against him," Saltzman, a married mom, told the Bay Area Reporter in a brief phone interview June 20 after officially launching her council campaign that morning.

The Contra Costa County city elects its five council members citywide and not by district due to its small size. It has a population of roughly 26,000 and includes two BART stations that are part of Saltzman's District 3 board seat for the regional public transit agency.

"That was originally the plan, not to run for anything this year when I decided not to run for BART board. Almost immediately people asked if I would run for City Council," said Saltzman, who is the development director for Bike East Bay.

One factor in her decision to mount a council bid is the city's ongoing fiscal woes. The council is dealing with a budget deficit this year and in past years paid down its reserves to balance budgets, said Saltzman.

"The current council has been doing a really great job navigating that but still is not out of it," said Saltzman, noting she has experience dealing with budget deficits on the BART board. "It is important there be a person with a lot of experience in how to deal with budget crises and deal with government, and that is something I bring to the table."

Should she be elected, Saltzman would join the council's two other out members, Gabe Quinto and Carolyn Wysinger, whose terms are not up until 2026 and have both endorsed Saltzman's candidacy. It is believed the trio would comprise the first LGBTQ majority on a city council in the Bay Area.

Most certainly in the East Bay, noted Saltzman. In Southern California, West Hollywood and Palm Springs have seen queer majorities on their city councils.

Locally, "I think El Cerrito would be the first," Saltzman told the B.A.R.


In nearby Berkeley, the university town could also see three out councilmembers following this year's general election. Along with the mayor, there are eight council people elected by district in the Alameda County city.

Recently elected District 7 City Councilmember Cecilia Lunaparra, the first queer woman of color on the council, isn't up for reelection until 2026. Gay District 2 City Councilmember Terry Taplin is seeking a second four-year term in November.

Two out men are vying for the council's open District 6 seat, as City Councilmember Susan Wengraf announced last summer she wouldn't stand for another term. Married dad Brent Blackaby was the first candidate to launch a campaign account for the seat.

A member of the Berkeley Police Accountability Board, Blackaby moved to North Berkeley in 2005 with his partner, Larry Huynh. They have two children enrolled in their local public elementary school.

"Our campaign is already off to a strong start. Over the past weeks, I've already personally knocked on 1200+ doors across the district, hosted meet & greets, and talked to hundreds of voters," wrote Blackaby in a June 11 email to supporters. "We've raised more than $40,000 to fuel our outreach efforts. And we're just getting started."

It came as bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz announced his own campaign for the council seat. Katz, who lost a state Assembly bid in 2013, has served on the EBMUD board since first winning election to it in 2006 and was not opposed when he sought his third and fourth terms.

His Ward 4 seat covers the cities of Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville, plus a portion of Oakland, in Alameda County, and the cities of El Cerrito and Kensington in Contra Costa County. Katz's current term isn't up until 2026.

"I don't take this decision lightly, but now more than ever, with so many Councilmembers and senior staff leaving, Berkeley needs the experience I bring to the City Council," wrote Katz, an environmental and workers' rights attorney, in a June 13 email announcing his candidacy.

Taplin and Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett have endorsed both Katz and Blackaby. Among Blackaby's other endorsers are former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer (D), former state controller Betty Yee (D), state Treasurer Fiona Ma (D), and termed out Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). In 2026, Yee is running for governor and Ma is seeking the lieutenant governor's office.

"With all the critical challenges facing our city, we need new leadership, fresh perspectives, and renewed enthusiasm to tackle our biggest problems," wrote Blackaby. "Especially at this time of transition for Berkeley — with a new mayor and 4 new councilmembers taking office this year — it's more important than ever to bring stability, trust, and accountability to local government."

Katz enters the race with endorsements also from outgoing Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, and Councilmember-elect Igor Tregub. Like Lunaparra, Tregub recently won a special election to fill the vacant District 4 seat.

"My priorities are District 6 priorities: better resilience for fire prevention, more affordable housing, smart approaches to public safety, bold climate leadership, repairing our aging infrastructure, and saving our hospital services," noted Katz, who has served on a number of city commissions over the years.


Lastly, in Concord, Pablo Benavente is running for the District 4 seat on his city's council. He previously came up short when he first ran for a council seat in the Contra Costa County city in 2016.

Since then, Benavente has served as a member of the Concord Parks and Open Space Commission. He also chaired the city's Measure V Committee that now brings in about $30 million annually for road repairs in Concord.

And he married his husband, Simon Woods, with whom he has a newborn daughter and a puppy named Melvin. He went official with his 2024 council bid June 6.

"Having lived here for many years, I have seen firsthand the challenges and opportunities our city faces," wrote Benavente, a government relations professional in the tech industry, in a Facebook post that Thursday. "I believe that with strong leadership, transparent governance, and active community involvement, we can create a future where every resident feels heard, valued, and empowered. I am eager to hear your thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Together, we can make Concord an even better place to live, work, and raise a family."

He is hosting a campaign kick-off from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 22. The location will be provided to those who RSVP for the event via his campaign website.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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