Voters remove union-backed Council members

Nine months of bitter campaigning came to a climax today as Pinole (CA) voters appeared to be leaning toward recalling City Councilwoman Maria Alegria and Councilman Stephen Tilton.

With 25 percent of precincts reporting, a large majority of voters answered "yes" to the recall question for both targets. "I'm thrilled that the people have the moxie and the intelligence to stand up against usurpers of power," said Anne Prescott, a Pinole resident and voter who was among about 60 recall supporters who gathered this evening at the San Pablo Avenue home of Viktor Manrique and Richard White to monitor results. Resident Bob Marieiro described the mood there as being "on the verge of euphoric."

Alegria did not immediately return a call for comment; Tilton is out of town.

In the race to replace Alegria in the event she is recalled, Roy Swearingen holds a large lead over Steve Denlis; Virginia Fujita is the lone candidate to replace Tilton if he is recalled.

The night's third race in Pinole, for the seat vacated by the resignation of David Cole, appeared to be going to Debbie Long, who holds a large lead over Ivette Ricco.

Turnout in Pinole was high, according to Contra Costa elections official Steve Weir, who said that as of Tuesday morning, the county had credited 2,944 of 4,575 vote-by-mail ballots in the city, a return rate of 64.4 percent -- the highest return rate of any city in Contra Costa.

"We hope this can be a blueprint for all people to realize that government of the people, by the people and for the people is alive and well in Pinole," said Joel Gannotti, a Pinole resident who joined the pro-recall celebration.

A newly formed group, Concerned Citizens of Pinole, began the recall drive shortly after the council majority of Alegria, Tilton and Cole prevailed in a 3-2 vote in May to dismiss former City Manager Belinda Espinosa. That vote came after months of public debate over the delinquent city loans of a restaurateur who is a friend of the trio and from whom the sponsors said Espinosa was trying to collect. Over the ensuing months, during which Cole resigned to join the U.S. Army, the recall drive evolved into a referendum on the overall performance of the remaining duo, including their responsiveness to the needs of ordinary residents and their relationship with developers and unions having business with the city.

The involvement of the Democratic Party of Contra Costa, several state legislators and the Contra Costa Central Labor Council on the side of Alegria and Tilton played to the recall sponsors' portrayal of their drive as a rising-up of ordinary residents against special interests and a political machine.

Firefighters Local 1230, which will negotiate a new contract with the city in the coming months, invested heavily in Alegria's campaign in the form of money, polling and lobbying voters.

Alegria and Tilton sought to cast the recall drive as a costly and divisive tantrum by a present and a former council member, Mary Horton and Betty Boyle, who they said were angry over the results of the November 2006 council election, in which incumbent Cole finished first, newcomer Tilton second and incumbent Horton third just ahead of incumbent Boyle, in a race for three seats.

The duo and Alegria's campaign consultant stayed on that message throughout the campaign, characterizing their opponents as bitter, vicious liars and likening their drive to a McCarthyite witch hunt. Alegria and Tilton cast themselves as conscientious public servants who made a difficult decision to let go Espinosa and refused to be intimidated by what they described as political thugs and bullies.

The labor council produced several fliers trashing Espinosa.

The last days of the campaign were marred by allegations of cheating and tampering as each side accused the other of trashing its signs. One man was arrested two weeks ago after he admitted removing pro-recall signs from a shopping center and tossing them into a garbage bin

On Monday, Alegria said her daughter filed a complaint with police against a so-far-unidentified person who she said cut up an anti-recall sign and threw it in a garbage bin behind a restaurant Saturday.

On Tuesday morning, members of Concerned Citizens of Pinole stood near the westbound Interstate 80 on-ramp at Pinole Valley Road, and near the eastbound off-ramp in the evening, brandishing placards promoting the recall and the candidacy of Long, who had publicly declared her support for the recall. Long was with the group in the afternoon.

"I think it's going to go 2-1 (in favor of recall)," Concerned Citizens member Dave Vida predicted. He said he made a $5 bet with another member of the group who bet the recall would win by 3-1. "I have to pay her."

As the results started coming in late this evening, Vida suggested the firefighters union needed new leadership.

"They've lost a lot of their political capital by opposing the vote of the people," he said.

A large white pickup truck with two "No Recall" signs stood at the corner of Pinole Valley Road at the entrance to the parking area of Collins Elementary School, one of several polling places in the city. That prompted cries of foul from recall supporters, who said the sign-bearing truck, apparently the same one that stood outside the downtown Pinole fire station on previous days, violated the spirit if not the letter of the law that bars electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.

Election inspector Ed Allen said the truck was there legally because the 100-foot exclusion radius begins at the door to the building, not the school premises. Polling took place in a multipurpose room about 200 feet from the street entrance to the school grounds.

Alegria, who happened by with a supporter, Jerrold Parsons, said, "I'm very conscientious about where my signs are."

Earlier in the day, she told the Times she was "humbled" by the outpouring of support for her that she saw from residents.

"We've run a very good campaign," she said before the polls closed Tuesday. "I'm very hopeful, but you don't know the results until you see the numbers coming in."

On Tuesday, in a late-in-the-campaign filing, Alegria reported receiving another $3,284 from the Central Labor Council's PAC and $600 from the firefighters union. Last week the two groups gave her $10,322 and $4,806, respectively; the late-in-the-campaign filings do not specify whether the donations are cash or in-kind (nonmonetary).

Both groups are conducting separate but parallel campaigns as well.

As of late last month, Alegria reported she had paid her campaign consultant, Media and Associates, more than $54,000 for the campaign.


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