Tag Archives: Steve Young

Here We Go Again – Benicia candidates and voters must reject Valero’s big money

Here We Go Again

On social media, by Steve Young, Benicia

Steve Young, Benicia resident (and Mayor)

I want to emphasize that I am writing today not as the Mayor, but rather an interested Benicia resident and voter. I also want to state that I understand the importance of Valero to our local economy as a major employer and taxpayer and an important contributor to local causes. Since the last election, I have initiated meetings with the Valero General Manager on a monthly basis, and feel that we have developed a respectful relationship. I have also told him directly that I will be writing this article.

Last week, it was revealed [here on the Benicia Independent] that Valero, through the oddly named Working Families for a Strong Benicia Political Action Committee (PAC), had deposited another $200,000 in anticipation of this year’s City Council elections. They are currently sitting on $235,000.

There is only one purpose in making such a huge expenditure nine months before the election: to scare off any potential City Council candidate who would consider running without first getting Valero’s stamp of approval. What candidate is willing to go up against that kind of war chest?

In 2018, Valero and their construction trade union allies, ran a big-dollar, negative campaign against Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye (“Birdseye Bad for Benicia”) and in favor of Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada. The PAC attack was successful, and Strawbridge and Largaespada were elected. The presumed reason for opposing Ms. Birdseye is that she (and I) had led the Planning Commission denial of Valero’s Crude by Rail proposal (a denial that ultimately was upheld by the City Council).

In 2020, the same Valero-funded PAC decided to run the same type of negative campaign against me in my race for Mayor. Over $250,000 was spent attacking me, and in favor of Ms. Strawbridge. Unlike in 2018, however, Benicia voters saw through this effort and I was elected by a 20 point margin.

The argument has been made that, as Benicia’s largest employer and a significant taxpayer, Valero should have a say in the selection of Council candidates and the Mayor. And I agree. They should have the same right as any other company or individual to support the candidate(s) of their choice.

But they should also play by the same rules that apply to everyone else under Benicia’s campaign finance regulations. They, and any of their employees, are able to donate $540 to the candidate of their choice. But, in Benicia, candidates are limited by our campaign finance ordinance to spending no more than $35,000 on a campaign (assuming they can raise that much). By contrast, the PAC spending more than $250,000 on our local campaigns shows how uneven (and undemocratic) their influence buying campaign has become.

[Editor – see Benicia Municipal Code…
Chapter 1.36: Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices
Chapter 1.40:  Disclosure Of Contributions and Expenditures
Chapter 1.42: Contribution and Voluntary Spending Limits]

The disastrous “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision opened the door for this by declaring that “money is speech”, and allowing for unlimited spending by corporations and unions. Usually, this level of over the top spending is confined to national and statewide elections, not in small towns like Benicia. But Valero’s size and wealth gives them the belief that they can pick and choose who should be our elected representatives.

What they are doing is legal, but it is wrong-and extremely harmful to our community. This is what is truly “Bad for Benicia”.

The only way to stop it is if EVERY candidate for City Council publicly, vociferously, and repeatedly rejects support from the Valero PAC, and denounces this type of negative campaigning and excessive spending. In addition, voters should demand that any candidate take a public and ongoing stand that Valero should not support their campaign in any way. I call on all prospective candidates in the November election to make this pledge. If no candidate is willing to be supported by this PAC, where will they spend all of their money?

Leave Benicia elections to Benicia voters.

Benicia election results – details and analysis

By Roger Straw, November 5, 2020
Outstanding votes

The Solano County Registrar of Voters have completed the count of Election Day ballots, and added those results to previously received mail-in ballots.  The result is still unofficial.  As of 9am on Thurs. Nov. 5, The County reports an estimate of 18,000-25,000 additional County-wide vote-by-mail ballots to be received and processed, and 4,000-6,000 additional provisional ballots to be processed.  Benicia’s share of those 22,000-31,000 ballots has not been reported and remains unknown.  However, Benicia’s population is 7% of Solano population, and our voter turnout percentage of 71% is slightly higher than countywide 68% – so we might count for 8% of the 22,000-31,000, or 1,760-2,800 votes.  The County will update its results at close of business and I will report here on any significant changes in outcome.

Benicia races for Mayor and City Council – winners and losers…
Details and analysis…
  • 14,528 Benicia ballots were received, 71% of 20,393 registered voters.  Wow!
  • MAYOR results as of Thurs. Nov 5, 9am:
    7,266 51.93%
    4,287 30.64%
    2,409 17.22%
  • Steve Young won vote-by-mail by a huge margin with 55% to Christina Strawbridge’s 31% and Jason Diavatis’ 15%.
  • Jason Diavatis (surprise!) won election-day voting with 36% (then Young at 34% and Strawbridge at 30%).  Close!
  • There were relatively few election-day votes, 1,746, compared to a whopping 12,216 vote-by-mail ballots.  Thus Steve Young’s incredible overall margin of 21 points.
  • CITY COUNCIL results as of Thurs. Nov. 5, 9am:
    7,245 36.56%
    6,269 31.63%
    6,177 31.17%
  • Tom Campbell won re-election to City Council with the highest vote total among candidates and a margin of just under 1,000 votes.  By tradition, as top vote-getter, Campbell will be named Benicia’s Vice Mayor, replacing Christina Strawbridge in that role.
  • Terry Scott won the second seat on City Council by 135 votes in election-day voting, but lost to Trevor Macenski by 43 votes in vote-by-mail.  Scott’s narrow final (unofficial) margin of 92 votes is subject to counting of more mail-in ballots and provisional ballots.  Keep your fingers crossed!
Cannabis results:

7,175 51.44%
6,772 48.56%

Those voting YES won in vote-by-mail ballots by a margin of 526 votes.  Those voting NO won in election-day voting by a margin of 123 votes.  Again, mail-in voting far outnumbered election-day voters.  Voters cast 12,182 mail-in ballots and only 1,765 election-day ballots.  I expect that the final (unofficial) margin of 403 votes, or 2.88% is likely to hold as the County counts additional mail-in ballots and provisional ballots.

Valero spends another $5,000 for last minute live calls in effort to buy Benicia Mayor race

Total now over $214,000 to buy Benicia’s 2020 Mayor’s race

On Saturday, October 31, The Valero PAC reported another payment of $5,000 to the Washington, D.C. based company Winning Connections for scripted live phone calls to Benicia residents to get out the vote for Valero’s chosen candidate.

The report, filed according to law with the City of Benicia and posted on the City’s website, shows the $5,000 expenditure and a 3-page script.  The script includes proper pronunciation of “Benicia” for the out-of -state callers, (ben-ee-sh-a).

Benicia  residents have largely been outraged and outspoken about the huge influx of outside money from the massive Texas-based corporation and a local labor union that is considered to be in the pocket of it’s primary employer, Valero.

All local candidates have expressed disapproval of Valero’s attempt to influence our election, including the candidate Valero hopes to buy.

Valero’s primary purpose is to defeat current City Council member and Mayoral candidate Steve Young.  Young has been endorsed by the Benicia Independent and many other local individuals and groups.  See SteveYoungForMayor.org.

Benicia campaigns get colorful boost from local artists

Local Campaigns take on Colorful Look

By Vicki Byrum Dennis, November 1, 2020
Campaign signs in Benicia – Steve Young for Mayor, Terry Scott for Council

Local artist Toby Tover is proving that election campaigns don’t have to all look alike. The colorful and creative yard signs supporting Steve Young for Mayor and Terry Scott for City Council that have popped up all over town in recent weeks are the proof.  The idea behind the signs was a simple one: ask local artists to create original campaign posters and signs for candidates who have always supported the arts.

Toby Tover, Benicia

It originated with Tover, and it was something new for this long-time Benicia artist. “I’ve never gotten involved in a local election before this one,” she said. “But I really felt strongly about helping Steve.”

“Steve’s support of local artists has been so strong for so many years,” she said.  “He’s been at all the Arts Benicia events. He and his wife Marty visit our studios and galleries, and buy art from local artists. I felt it was time to step up and give back.”

It helped that Tover also spent more than 30 years in marketing and could visualize how the look of a campaign could be unique, how the branding could stand out. “I’d been thinking how boring signs can be, how repetitious,” she said. “They get lost because they are all basically the same, usually the same color, design, font. There had to be a way to make it different.”

Like with many of her best ideas, Tover found the solution in the middle of the night. “I have insomnia and often use the time to work out some of the problems or challenges with my art,” she said. “That’s when it struck me how the artists in town could help the campaign. How about making unusual and eye-popping signs which could be sold as a fundraiser?”

She texted Young the next day and ran the idea by him. He loved it but had two suggestions.  He thought that the signs potentially could be auctioned off and suggested the sign campaign include Terry Scott who is running for City Council.

As chair of the Benicia Arts and Culture Commission and Public Art Committee since 2017, Scott too has worked closely with the artist community, especially in creating public art projects throughout the city. Young and Scott worked together to help bring artist’s Lisa Reinertson’s iconic statue, “Neptune’s Daughter,” to the Benicia waterfront.

With both candidates on board, the campaign project was a go, but to pull it off, Tover needed help. Young reached out to his friends and supporters Benicia artists, Larnie and Bodil Fox and Jenn Hanley, who agreed immediately. Other friends jumped in, and the team quickly organized a plan.

“When I heard about Toby’s idea from Steve I knew it could make a great project, and I volunteered to coordinate with the artists,” Larnie Fox said. “The project did raise money, but more importantly we created colorful campaign materials that spread a positive message.”

Hanley created and facilitated the two auctions. She also designed the digital graphics for the events, oversaw all the financials and handled much of the promotion. Jack Ruszel of Ruszel Woodworks donated the sign materials.

Ultimately, 35 artists created more than 70 signs including two by the internationally-known Reinertson. The response was so great that the team decided to hold two online auctions, two weeks apart in September. After the auctions, the Foxes distributed the signs and installed many in the yards of lucky winners.

The project raised more than $3,500 for the campaigns. Both Young and Scott are delighted with the results and grateful for the support of the community artists. “This is so different from your typical campaign effort,” Young said. “But it certainly reflects how our campaigns have tried to connect not only to the artist community, but to the larger community who could see and appreciate how unique this effort truly was.”

“I loved this project the first time I heard about it,” Scott said. “Isn’t it great to see political support expressed not in anger and violence in us vs. them tones— but expressed as positive statements with hope and color?  Each sign is an individual message of political support, but it’s also a message of how many of us Benicians view our world with positivity and hope.”