Note: The views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and are not intended to reflect those of MCBA nor is this column an endorsement of any candidate.


Marin has 11 cities, and two of them (Mill Valley and Ross) held their city council elections in June, leaving nine cities with potential elections. Usually about two-thirds of the races are contested, while the remaining candidates get a “free ride” because there aren’t more candidates than there are seats.

In most cities with more than one seat open, the races are like musical chairs, with all candidates competing for all seats cumulatively, with the top vote-getters for the number of seats available declared winners. In cities with district elections, two or more candidates compete for one specific district seat, which may or may not have an incumbent running for reelection.

This year, if all incumbents filed for reelection in a particular race, that race’s filing closed August 12. If not, election rules require that race’s filing to be held open for an additional five days for new (non-incumbent) candidates to file. The theory is that some candidates may not have wanted to run against an incumbent but would run for an open seat.

As recently as the night before what is referred to as the incumbent filing deadline (even though non-incumbents have the same deadline unless they plan to run only if there is an open seat), I would have predicted fewer contested races than usual. But with a flurry of last-day filings, plus more during the additional five filing days for non-incumbents, we actually ended up with contests in every city council race except one. This translates to a total of 41 candidates—15 incumbents and 26 new candidates .

BELVEDERE: Only appointed incumbent Peter Mark filed for reelection to a regular four-year seat, and will be joined in the race for two seats by Richard Snyder, Jane Cooper, and Brian Davis. Only Mark and Snyder made the wise choice to include optional ballot statements, which usually cost a few hundred dollars, but are over a thousand dollars for countywide races. Belvedere also has a two-year seat up, matching appointed incumbent Sally Wilkinson against new candidate Carolyn Lund, with only Wilkinson including a ballot statement.

CORTE MADERA: Eli Beckman was the only incumbent who filed. He’ll be joined in the race for three seats by Robert Lucarini, Pat Ravasio, James Andrews, and Rosa Thomas, all five of whom have ballot statements.

FAIRFAX will see only incumbent, Stephanie Hellman, running for reelection, joined by new candidates Lynnette Shaw, Cindy Swift, Holly Baade, and Lisel Blash in the race for two seats, and all five have ballot statements. Shaw is the “famous” long-time medical marijuana businesswoman and could well win based on her name recognition and general high support for her business. Cindy Swift has been on the Town Planning Commission for some years and was beaten by Hellman four years ago, but Swift has run twice now and could well win this time. Blash is a sustainability activist, and I don’t know anything about the final candidate.

LARKSPUR features incumbents Kevin Haroff and Catherine Way running for reelection, competing against new candidates Jay Holland and Kevin Carroll for three seats; only Holland lacks a ballot statement.

NOVATO is one of two cities that has gone to district city council elections in recent years (San Rafael is the other), and there are contested races in two of the three districts up this year. District 2 does not have an incumbent running for reelection, but new candidates Rachel Farac and Andy Podshadley are running, both with ballot statements. In the 4th district, longtime incumbent Pat Eklund is running for reelection, but is being challenged by Chris Carpiniello and Nicole Gardner, again all with ballot statements. Eklund is a friend, more conservative than most Democrats, and often frustrates her colleagues (and residents) with process issues, but she’s smart and has three decades’ experience on the council, and a loyal following among voters. Novato’s 5th district has the only uncontested city council race in Marin: appointed incumbent Mark Millberg was unopposed to complete the rest of the term.

SAN ANSELMO has both incumbents, Steve Burdo and Ford Greene, running for reelection for the two (of five) seats up this year, but they are being challenged by new candidates Tarrell Kullaway and Guy Meyer, all with ballot statements. Two years ago, three incumbents ran for reelection, and one of them was beaten by a challenger, and it could happen again this year, although I’d sure hope it would be the quirky Greene (who’s had numerous well-publicized battles with the city and his colleagues), rather than Burdo, who’s a good friend and superb councilman.

SAN RAFAEL’s 2nd district will have appointed incumbent Eli Hill running for reelection, challenged by Gerrod Herndon, with Herndon lacking a ballot statement. In the 3rd district, incumbent Maribeth Bushey is being challenged by Jonathan Frieman, both with ballot statements. This could be a premier race this fall, as the quirky Frieman ran a number of independent expenditure campaigns a decade or more ago (for various races, including this one, and including mine 15 years ago) to demonstrate the evils and dangers of independent expenditures, and why we need publicly-financed elections instead. He succeeded at least as to the former, as the public indeed disliked the mailers and considered them mostly “hit pieces.” (He then started calling them “comparison pieces.”) But he probably hadn’t bargained on the fact that many voters also became turned off to him in the process.

SAUSALITO’s only incumbent running for reelection is Jill Hoffman, but recent former councilwoman Joan Cox is running, along with new candidates Timothy McCloud and Jeffrey Chase, all with ballot statements, for a total of two seats.

TIBURON features all three incumbents running for reelection: Alice Fredericks, Jack Ryan, and Jon Welner. But they are being challenged by Isaac Nikfar, and all have ballot statements. Fredericks is a decades-long institution on the council, but the other two have joined more recently, and one always wonders what motivates a challenger in any given race to challenge one or more incumbents.

In San Anselmo, Tiburon, and one each of Novato’s and San Rafael’s one-seat districts, I call the new candidates “challengers” because they are running against all the incumbents in that race, which is a different kind of race than running for an open seat. Candidates may not challenge one or two incumbents running in the same race (or serving on that body but not up for reelection that year) as assertively if there is an open seat they feel is easier to win. But of course they’re all trying to demonstrate that they’re the best qualified, will be the best official, and their views are shared most broadly. But while some criticism of incumbents is common even from new candidates running for an open seat, it’s usually much stronger if a candidate is running against all the incumbents, and they have to beat one, where the odds may well be against that.

No doubt you have noticed my comments about who has a ballot statement, which I point out because ballot statements are almost a prerequisite to being a serious candidate, which is why most candidates have them, although it’s still too early to know which new candidates will actually turn out to be “serious.” Sometimes incumbents apparently get complacent and overconfident, which is not surprising because incumbents usually win, but sometimes they lose, as happened two years ago in San Anselmo and Fairfax (and also on the College of Marin board and the County Board of Education).

Immediately upon the close of filing last month, all candidates in contested races were bombarded with emails, questionnaires, and invitations to candidates’ forums, the first two (and most important) of which are put on by the Marin Democratic Party (DCCM) (Democrats only) and the Marin Women’s Political Action Committee (MWPAC) (only if candidates agree with their threshold issues, which nearly always means Democrats), both of which hold their (public) endorsement forums in early September. If you get those two endorsements, you’ll very likely win, and if not, well…it’s a lot less likely. One of them requires a 60% vote, and both groups usually have only about two to three dozen people voting, and sometimes they endorse fewer people than there are seats available either because some candidates weren’t interested, weren’t qualified, or weren’t liked well enough by the voters before or during their participation in the forum.


Of the 18 school districts in Marin (with 27 possible races up for election) and 50 seats, there will be 10 contested races on the ballot for 19 seats with 35 candidates, including incumbents and new candidates.

The MARIN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION has long had district seats, and although challenges to the many longtime incumbents are rare, two years ago one was defeated, as just noted above. This year, two of the three seats up are contested, with incumbent Curtis Robinson being challenged by Lori Dali, and appointed incumbent Phillip Wyatt being challenged by Li Delpan.

SAN RAFAEL, with relatively new districts, will have Area 2 appointed incumbent Lucia Dow challenged by Lisa Longnecker, and in Area 4, appointed incumbent Carolina Martin challenged by Faye Bourret. I met Bourret at a local public event the other day, and she seems like a nice elderly lady (no kids in the schools, which is unusual), and apparently has over a hundred yard signs throughout the new district (eastern San Rafael), which is remarkable this early. It turns out she’s with the Marin Republican Women’s Federation, has an extensive network of volunteers who accompany her to events, and subscribes to too many Republican philosophies that scare Democrats to win. This is especially true against an appointed incumbent who has a professional campaign consultant, and who could potentially cash in on donations given her opponent’s political party, even in nonpartisan races like all of these are.

NOVATO has two uncontested races in relatively new districts, including one with an incumbent and one a new candidate. The one contested race has no incumbent running, but has two new candidates: Tief Jensen and Abbey Picus.

TAMALPAIS UNION has two of the three incumbents running for reelection in the three seats up—Cynthia Roenisch and Kevin Saavedra. Of the four new challengers, one is a trustee from the Mill Valley district (Emily Uhlhorn) and the other three are Renee Marcelle, Barbara McVeigh, and Damian Morgan.

MILL VALLEY has no incumbents running for reelection, but has five new candidates for two seats: Carol Morganstern, Sharon Nakatani, George Rosenfield, Yunhee Yoo, and Natalie Katz.

REED has two incumbents, Sherry Wangenheim and Afsaneh Zolfaghari, facing new challengers Shelby Tsai and Sarah Buck-Gerber for the two seats of the incumbents.

ROSS VALLEY has incumbent Ryan O’Neil facing new candidates Valerie Hood and Chris Landles-Cobb, both with ballot statements, in a race for two seats.

LARKSPUR-CORTE MADERA has a race for a vacant two-year seat between Beth Blair and Emily Charley, the latter of whom is an MCBA board member terming out this year.

SHORELINE has two incumbents, Timothy Kehoe and Heidi Koenig, facing challenger Buddy Faure in a race for two seats in Area 1.

BOLINAS-STINSON has incumbents Nathan Siedman and Arianne Dar facing two new candidates, Doug Lee and Jacob Tonski, in a race for three seats.

Once again, most of the candidates are probably unknown to most voters, unless the voter is very active in that school district. But based on experience in office and campaigning, the incumbents are likely to win (unless one or more has developed a bad reputation, which I haven’t heard to be the case with the current ones), unless they lose because they foolishly neglected to include a candidate’s ballot statement (“Statement of Qualifications”) in the sample ballot, which quite a few did indeed neglect: incumbents Sherry Wangenheim in Reed, Ryan O’Neil in Ross Valley, Tim Kehoe in Shoreline, and Arianne Dar in Bolinas, and new candidates Damian Morgan in Tamalpais Union, Lisa Longnecker in San Rafael, and Buddy Faure in Shoreline.


This is the largest of the three categories (compared to city councils and school boards), with Community Services Districts (CSDs), Fire Protection Districts (FPDs), Public Utilities Districts (PUD), and Water Districts making up the bulks of special districts but there are others.
These districts tend to have a lower turnover and fewer challengers than city councils and school boards. Incumbents often stay in office for two or three decades, are rarely opposed on the ballot, and are usually replaced by one candidate when they retire, so they’re rarely even on the ballot (and are usually pretty low-key when they are).

Nonetheless, a few of the districts routinely attract controversy and it’s notable that in this election, some of the biggest, most controversial offices have incumbents unchallenged, even in districts that have nearly always had challengers, and have just split into divisions (the equivalent of district elections) to make running easier, theoretically, for new challengers.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at this year’s uncontested races for all three College of Marin incumbents in their new separate districts, and similarly all three Marin Healthcare District seats, two of which have incumbents seeking reelection.

Although the percentage of contested races on the ballot among the special districts may be small compared to city councils and school boards, there are still more contested races than usual, including two CSDs, two FPDs, one SD, two PUDs, and all three (of five) divisions up for election this year of the more-controversial-than-usual-this-year Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD).

BEL MARIN KEYES COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT: Incumbents Vince Lattanzio and Daniel Retz are being challenged by Steven Nash. Interestingly, Retz chose not to pay for a ballot statement.

MUIR BEACH COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT: Incumbents Leighton Hills, Steven Shaffer, and appointed incumbent Christine Murray are being challenged by Pamela Swarts. Only Murray has a ballot statement but this may be one of the few districts in which democracy is so “pure,” (because the district is so small), that a ballot statement is unnecessary: a few years ago, the district had a public forum that over half the voters attended, so maybe a higher percentage of people know something about the candidates anyway.

SOUTHERN MARIN FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT: The four incumbents, Kurt Chun, Christine DeBerry, Peter Fleming, and Thomas Perazzo, all with ballot statements, are being challenged by Lisa Wells, Sandra Bushmaker, and Amber Isakson, with only Isakson having a ballot statement. Special Districts generally are more male-dominated than school boards or city councils, and maybe FPDs in particular, but this board already has several women on it, and it is interesting that all three of the challengers are women.

TIBURON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT: Incumbent Cheryl Woodford and appointed incumbents Richard Jones and Emmett O’Donnell (the latter a former councilman and mayor) are being challenged by Brette Daniels and John Hamilton, all with ballot statements, for three seats.

BOLINAS COMMUNITY PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT: Incumbents Jack Siedman and Grace Godino are facing new candidates Genie McNaughton and Andrew Green for three seats, but of the four, only McNaughton has a ballot statement.

MESA PARK RECREATION DISTRICT: In this relatively new district in West Marin, incumbent Alex Razma is running for reelection, along with three new candidates, Walter Tom, Mark Lucanic, and J. Maalis, for three seats, and none of them have ballot statements. Strangely, none of them even have ballot designations, where you can list your profession—I would think most candidates would at least want to do that.

NOVATO SANITARY DISTRICT, Div. 2: Two new candidates are running for this “vacant” (i.e., no incumbent) seat in a newly districted sanitary district: Dennis Bentley and Gary Butler, both with ballot statements.

MARIN MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT (MMWD), Div. I: These races have long been conducted by district (referred to as “divisions”) and have often been controversial. In fact, every decade or so it seems like challengers wage ferocious battles and oust incumbents, and this could be one of those years. In this race, longtime incumbent Jack Gibson, the senior member of the board (and an attorney, who has also run and lost races for Assembly and for judge), faces challenger Matthew Samson.

MMWD, Div. III: Incumbent Larry Bragman is facing two challengers for his seat: Jack Kenney and Ranjiv Khush. Bragman was elected eight years ago after serving as a popular long-time Fairfax councilman, but he still seems youngish, and also practices law, and is considered a strong environmentalist and strong campaigner. It seems unfair to me that if the consensus has long been to have a two-year water supply as a hedge against drought, and you want to change that to two-to-three or even four years (which we can do, at considerable expense), to blame the current MMWD board members for following what’s long been the consensus.

MMWD, Div. IV: This open seat has two new candidates competing for it: Shana Katzman and Jed Smith.