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By Tim Hunt

Friends controlling Livermore politics

Uploaded: Nov 13, 2014

In stark contrast to the heated 2011 election, the City Council and mayoral races were quite uneventful in Livermore.
Mayor John Marchand, who pulled out just a 2-point win over Barbara Hickman in 2011, won re-election unopposed, while the Friends of Livermore favored candidates, incumbent Bob Woerner and Planning Commissioner Steve Spedowfski, cruised to easy wins in the council.
The election demonstrated that the political action group has regained its control where the last time around, given the plans for the 2,000-seat performing arts center downtown and BART running into downtown, it nearly lost the balance of power. The election showed just how out-of-touch the Friends were with the regular Livermore citizens.
The road was much easier this year. BART will go along I-580 and the issues with the big theater have been resolved. The city and the performing arts organization backing the theater and operating the Bankhead Theater originally planned to use redevelopment funds for the key financing. When the state Legislature, at the request of Gov. Brown, eliminated redevelopment agencies, that source dried up. After several debates with the state and an unsuccessful legal action, the matter was resolved with the big theater plans formally dying and the Bankhead being refinanced and ownership going to the city.
That didn't leave much in the way of contentious issues, but Friends of Livermore still collected more than $44,000 as of the Oct. 18 reporting period and spent $58,000 to support Woerner and Spedowfski. Livermore, in contrast to other Tri-Valley cities, has had stringent limits on individual gifts to candidates. For decades it was $100 and then was increased to $250.
There are no such limits for political action groups such as the Friends of Livermore, as is the case with the national groups that poured money in key partisan campaigns. The Livermore group, as long as it stays of one-mind about candidates, launders money very efficiently. Lynn Seppala, husband of Independent publisher Joan Kinney Seppala, gave $5,000, while Jean King and Denise Watkins gave $6,000. Jeff Kaskey pitched in $5,000.
By contrast, the individual campaigns were all in the $5,000-7,000 range in the same reporting period.
The irony of the political action group spending tens of thousands of dollars to back its candidates is that the spending limits for individuals came right out of the concern of their members 30 years ago that developer money would buy elections. The roles have been reversed.