BREAKING: JOHNSON DROPS OUT OF COUNCIL RACE, ENDING 18-YEAR POLITICAL CAREER

BREAKING: JOHNSON DROPS OUT OF COUNCIL RACE, ENDING 18-YEAR POLITICAL CAREER

Michele Ellson

Updated at 1:35 p.m. Tuesday, August 28

City Councilwoman Beverly Johnson officially announced Tuesday that she’s ending her bid for a fresh term on Alameda’s City Council. Her announcement follows an 18-year career in local politics marked by a bevy of fresh development and revitalization of the downtown core.

In an interview with The Alamedan, Johnson, 53, said that she’s quitting the race in order to focus on a new state leadership post that will likely see her spending a lot of her time in Sacramento. The attorney, fourth generation Alamedan and mother of two grown children said she thinks that voters have some good candidates to choose from when they select new council members in November – she's endorsing Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft.

“I’ve taken a look at the people who are running, and I think there are some really good candidates,” she said.

Johnson began her local political career in 1995, when then-Mayor Ralph Appezzato appointed her to the Planning Board. She joined the City Council in 1998 and became mayor in 2002, serving for two terms before losing a bid to join Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors but winning the unexpired portion of Mayor Marie Gilmore’s council term when Gilmore won the 2010 mayoral race – despite a flurry of withering attack mailers directed at Johnson and then-mayoral candidates Doug deHaan and Frank Matarrese for their decision to oppose development plans proffered by SunCal, the city’s most recent potential Alameda Point developer (Johnson had at one point supported the plans).

During her tenure as mayor, the city developed the Bayport housing project and undertook a dramatic revitalization of Park Street, approving a controversial – but now well-loved – renovation of the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex and the construction of a downtown parking garage. Alameda South Shore Center was also revitalized and the new Bridgeside shopping center built under her watch.

“Fortunately, we went forward with those, because they wouldn’t happen now. Because redevelopment is gone,” Johnson said, referring to an old state program that allowed cities to use future property tax dollars to fund revitalization efforts. “The likelihood of the private sector taking this on its own – it was very, very remote.”

But the redevelopment of Alameda Point has remained elusive, with the city’s last attempt capped by a 2010 decision not to continue with SunCal.

In addition to the theater and garage project, Alameda’s new Main Library was also built while Johnson sat on the council and as mayor – and it, too, was a source of controversy.

“I remember saying to someone when I first ran, ‘You would think we were talking about putting a nuclear waste dump in Alameda,’” she recalled.

Toward the end of her mayoral term Johnson earned plaudits from residents – and criticism from unions – for seeking fixes for the city’s employee pension and benefit costs, which grew dramatically as the economy collapsed. While a freshman councilwoman, she was a member of the body that approved a dramatic increase in pension benefits for public safety workers, something she said she did to help the city compete for public safety workers in what was then a hot market and after receiving assurances the cost of the increased benefit would be balanced by other public safety cuts.

Johnson also took criticism for earning the strong, early support of developers and of former State Senator Don Perata, though then-Assemblywoman Wilma Chan and other leaders of the East Bay’s political establishment also backed the Democrat in her mayoral bids.

Johnson’s exit from the council race ends speculation about her run and provides a fresh opening for the remaining seven candidates, who faced the uphill battle of winning the same voter recognition her long incumbency on Alameda’s City Council provides. It may also increase the chances that a third-place finisher obtains the 10 percent or more of the votes they’d need to win Vice Mayor Rob Bonta’s seat should he succeed in his bid for outgoing Assemblyman Sandré Swanson’s job in November.

In addition to Johnson’s seat – and possibly Bonta’s – candidates are vying for the seat now held by outgoing Councilman Doug deHaan, who is termed out.

In her new post as deputy director at the state Office of Administrative Law, which she will start October 1, Johnson will earn $124,236 a year. And she said she doesn’t expect she’ll return to local politics once her current council term is up.

“I view it as public service, and I think I’ve done my share,” Johnson said.

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