In a shake-up, a trio of challengers appear to have edged out the incumbents in the Mountain View City Council race. As of the vote tally Wednesday morning, Ellen Kamei, Alison Hicks and Lucas Ramirez emerged as the top vote recipients for three seats, with Councilwoman Pat Showalter close behind.
Mayor Lenny Siegel, in fifth place, lost his bid for a second term, as did former council member John Inks, seeking to return after term limits forced him out two years ago.
It was a stunning result for a fiercely competitive City Council race. Through the night, election results were too close to call in a three-way standoff between Showalter (17.2 percent), Hicks (17.8 percent) and Ramirez (17.7 percent) for the other two seats, while Kamei maintained the top spot. As the returns came in, Ramirez trailed Showalter by just a few dozen voters and he managed to close that gap as the night went on.
"I don't know what to say. It seemed like there was a strong anti-incumbent sentiment," Ramirez said. "We can say with a high degree of certainty that the voters were not supportive of the direction we were headed; there's an expectation now that we'll do something differently."
Other candidates echoed similar thoughts. If the two incumbents lose, the 2018 election could be interpreted as a mandate from voters for a change of course for Mountain View. Showalter and Siegel were both elected in 2014 with a promise to aggressively tackle a regional housing shortage, a problem with no easy or quick solution. As the incumbents, they likely are seen as responsible for voters' frustration.
"Perhaps as mayor, I became the target for people's anger," Siegel said. "While I view this election as a personal defeat, it does not stand out as a refutation of my vision of a more balanced Mountain View."
But it remains hard to discern a specific demand from Mountain View voters. Aside from Inks, the other five candidates campaigned on strikingly similar platforms. To varying degrees, the top five candidates each voiced support for rent control, developing housing in North Bayshore and taking a compassionate stance toward the city's homeless population.
"I was never sure what the deciding issue was in this race," Showalter admitted. "It's been hard in this campaign to distinguish yourself."
In contrast, Hicks was more confident about the message voters were relaying to their elected officials. Residents were supportive of Mountain View's direction and its push to address regional problems, as long as it didn't mean sacrifices to their own lifestyle, she said.
"These results show that you shouldn't have to make a compromise between your quality of life and your compassion," she said. "Some candidates seem to be saying we have to choose one or the other; I feel we can do both."
The deciding factor may have come down to organization and endorsements. Through the Tuesday night election, Kamei emerged as the clear victor in the six-way race, pulling ahead early by a wide margin. Through the race, she had raised among the most in donations, and gained the support of influential local groups, such as the firefighters union.
Kamei had struggled in her 2014 run for a council seat, but she believed her message this time around resonated with voters. Speaking to the Voice, Kamei attributed her success to the nationwide appetite for more women and diverse candidates in political office. Additionally, she said her campaign's push for housing solutions targeting middle-class households was something that voters wanted to hear.
"We have young families that can't afford to live here, or parents with kids in high school or college, and they fear they won't be able to live near their families," she said. "Mountain View used to be a middle-class city."
Siegel struggled in his bid for re-election with 16 percent of the vote, and he was unable to maintain a lead in any single precinct in the city. Looking somewhat crestfallen, he said he was worried what the voters' decision would mean for the city's long-term goals, particularly bringing housing to North Bayshore.
Former Councilman John Inks came in last with 12.5 percent of the vote, despite a rush of campaign donations in the final weeks of the race. It remained an open question during the race if Inks' competitors would end up splitting the vote and create an opening for him. He maintained the appearance of a strong following on social media, particularly for his unsympathetic stance on the city's growing homeless problem. But his online support did not translate to a large enough voting base.
While most of the votes have been tallied, additional ballots being tallied by Santa Clara County elections officials could still change the outcome of the Mountain View City Council race.