Gay Emeryville councilmember Bauters seeks open Alameda supe seat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 11, 2023
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Emeryville City Councilmember John Bauters on Monday filed papers to seek an open seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Photo: From Substack
Emeryville City Councilmember John Bauters on Monday filed papers to seek an open seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Photo: From Substack

In a post on X December 4 gay Emeryville City Councilmember John Bauters had touted he had filed his intent to run for reelection on the 2024 November ballot. As it was also his 44th birthday, he had asked people to donate to his campaign account.

Then came the surprise news December 8 that Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson would not seek reelection next year. His District 5 seat covers Berkeley, parts of Oakland, Emeryville, and Albany in the East Bay.

"This decision was not made lightly, but I believe it is the right time for a new chapter for both myself and the district," Carson wrote in an email to constituents sent after the filing deadline had closed Friday. "While I am physically ready for another term, I believe it is time for new energy that reflects the evolving needs of District 5. The rich diversity of our district, with its blend of urban, suburban, and rural communities, world-class institutions, and thriving industries, deserves fresh perspectives and innovative ideas."

On Monday, Bauters filed to seek to succeed Carson on the countywide governing body. He told the Bay Area Reporter he was surprised by Carson's decision to retire at the end of his current term and had spent the weekend talking to supporters about his entering the race.

Calling it an "incredible opportunity" and a position he had long eyed running for, Bauters said, "I made this decision after consulting with many people and giving a lot of thought to my desire to continue serving at the local level and serving the people of Alameda County."

Should Bauters win, he would be the first out gay man elected as a supervisor in Alameda County. First winning his City Council seat in 2016, he has served as his city's mayor, is a vocal bicycle advocate, and also is a strong proponent of infill development in his city and others in the Bay Area. Known for his bow ties, Bauters for the past three years has worked as the Arizona state director for the Alliance for Safety and Justice.

"I feel privileged to live in a place where I may be an openly gay candidate for public office and my community affords me the same opportunity as any other person," said Bauters. "That opportunity has been shaped by more than 40 years of local leaders before me, LGBTQ and allied, and I am indebted to them for the sacrifices they made to make this race possible."

Also pulling papers Monday to seek Carson's seat, according to the Alameda County elections office, were Republican Gerald Pechenuk and Lorrel Plimier, an attorney and computer scientist who co-founded Step Forward Tech and serves as president of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont, California. Also named on the county registrar's candidate list is Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, who like Bauters was first elected to his council seat in 2016.

Tuesday Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas joined the fray. Speculation has also swirled that termed out state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) may also seek the seat, but she had yet to pull papers.

The race will be on the March 5 primary ballot, and if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in order to win outright then the top two vote-getters will square off again on the November 5 ballot. Because it is an open seat, candidates have until Wednesday, December 13, to file.

No matter who else files to seek the supervisor seat, Bauters told the B.A.R. he intends to remain in the race.

"I am running. I am in no matter what," he said.

Vying to also become one of the first LGBTQ people to serve on the Alameda County board is gay nurse Jennifer Esteen. She is running to oust from office longtime Supervisor Nate Miley from his District 4 seat that includes East Oakland, Montclair, Castro Valley, Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, El Portal Ridge, and Pleasanton.

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, endorsed Esteen in November. It also early endorsed gay former Vallejo city councilmember Michael Wilson in his bid to be the first out supervisor in Solano County.

His race to succeed his boss, District 1 Supervisor Erin Hannigan, who opted not to seek reelection, will also be on the March primary ballot. Also seeking the seat is Vallejo Housing and Community Development Commissioner Cassandra James, who grew up in San Francisco and now works for the city's mayoral office of housing and community development as a senior community development specialist.

Bauters hasn't faced a contested election since he first won his council seat seven years ago. He told the B.A.R. he is prepared for what is sure to be a tough campaign for the supervisor seat, which the winner could hold for years to come since there aren't any limits on how many terms Alameda County supervisors can serve.

"In 2016, I had five opponents," recalled Bauters. "It is part of the assessment you make when you decide to run. I understand what is required of it. It will take a lot of time and energy. When you want the privilege of serving people that is the work you have to do."

As for taking a leave of absence from his job with the Arizona nonprofit, which for the most part he can do remotely, in order to focus on his supervisor bid, Bauters told the B.A.R. he would make such decisions once he qualifies for the ballot. He opted to enter the race due to his desire to address at the county level the various issues he has been working on as a city and regional leader.

"Alameda County is currently facing a number of challenges similar to other places in the Bay Area. We need to address housing, homelessness, unmet mental health service needs and public safety," said Bauters, who chairs the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board and serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission. "Those are the primary functions and responsibilities of county government. I have more than 20 years of experience working in direct services and advocacy leadership roles on those topics."

Formerly director of government relations for the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice, Bauters demurred when asked if he supported the recall effort underway against Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price. He told the B.A.R. he is more focused on his role as an elected official.

"I am focused on accountability for myself and the office I am pursuing, and I trust the public will hold me to the same level of accountability as any other elected official," said Bauters.

Currently dating someone who prefers to remain out of the public spotlight, Bauters has two dogs, 4-year-old German Shepherd Husky mix Miss Reyna and 7-month-old Sir Nugget, a mixed breed. Despite being a resident of a city with a population of less than 13,000 people, compared to Berkeley's more than 117,145, Bauters told the B.A.R. he doesn't see it as being disadvantageous for his supervisorial bid.

"Voters in Alameda County are smart people. I trust that their number one priority is the qualifications and competency of the candidates they will have to choose from and not be limited or separated by their city of residence," he said. "What I would say is I do not believe the size of my city inherently creates a disadvantage for my candidacy. I believe the work I have done as a regional leader on transportation, air quality, and housing issues has already shown I am a capable and competent leader for people across Alameda County."

Of the nine counties that make up the Bay Area region, just Contra Costa and San Francisco counties have LGBTQ representation on their boards of supervisors. With the various issues facing LGBTQ people in Alameda County, whether it be trauma, mental health challenges, suicidal ideation, homelessness or income inequality, Bauters told the B.A.R. it is important to have LGBTQ community representation on his county's board due to it overseeing many programs and services that address the myriad concerns.

"County government is imperative to meeting those service needs and creating a space that holistically cares for all people, including LGBTQ people," he said. "County level representation establishes visibility that reassures those receiving our services that people who understand or can otherwise relate to their own lived experiences are making decisions that will best reflect their needs."

Updated 12/11/2023 and 12/12/2023 with comments from Bauters.

Updated 12/12/23: This article has been updated to indicate Oakland City council President Nikki Fortunato Bas has joined the race.

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