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What a Week: Primary takeaways

Editorial: Jeremy Walsh shares a few gleanings from the June 7 primary election
Jeremy Walsh_2022
Jeremy Walsh, editor.

With results finally being certified during the past week or so in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the tale of the June 7 primary election for the Tri-Valley can now be written.

Ours is a business of headlines, and without question the biggest headline across the entire Tri-Valley was the stunning defeat of Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner Greg Ahern.

Yesenia Sanchez, a Livermore resident and commander within the sheriff's office, earned 52.84% of the vote to win the seat outright -- an unexpected outcome with three candidates, including an incumbent, on the ballot and more than 50% support needed to avoid a runoff. You really just don't see it in public safety position elections. Jaw-dropping.

Sheriff-elect Sanchez ran an effective campaign at a time when there was an apparent groundswell to oust Ahern after 15-plus years. Ahern garnered just 31.22% of the vote, while the third candidate JoAnn Walker got 15.94%.

Alameda County voters clearly wanted change. And it had to mean something that Sanchez was already a leader within the department.

Meanwhile, lack of a qualified challenger likely saved Contra Costa County Sheriff-Coroner David Livingston, who had come under fire in the past year for his steadfast defense of now-former sheriff's deputy Andrew Hall, who was convicted of felony assault for a fatal shooting in Danville.

But Livingston only saw one opponent come forward, Richmond police officer and union president Ben Therriault, who had no sheriff's office or police management experience. That proved to be his doom. Livingston won 58.82% to 41.18%.

Credit to Livingston for keeping his house tight, so to speak. I can't help but wonder what the outcome might have been had a sheriff's office manager or city police chief stood up to challenge this obviously vulnerable incumbent.

I, for one, hope Livingston and Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton -- who have been at odds for well over a year, largely in the Hall fallout -- find a way to reconcile. The stability of criminal justice in Contra Costa County depends on it.

Becton too was re-elected for another four years in June, beating lone challenger Mary Knox, an experienced prosecutor in Becton's office, 56.41% to 43.59%.

Those splits aren't terribly different from the sheriff's race, despite both incumbents being seen as political opponents.

The DA's contest in Alameda County, on the other hand, is anything but decided.

With DA Nancy O'Malley opting not to seek another term, Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price led the primary with 43.23% but couldn't clear the majority threshold. As a result, Price faces chief deputy DA Terry Wiley (27.13%) in a runoff in November.

It will be interesting to see how the support for the other two candidates -- deputy DA Jimmie Wilson (19.57%) and former San Francisco prosecutor turned Oakland city political adviser Seth Steward (10.07%) -- are redistributed in the general election. There could be enough votes there for Wiley to pull ahead of Price; of course it also depends how each finalist performs among newly participating voters in November.

Voter turnout was a big talking point locally and statewide in the aftermath of Election Day on June 7. The final numbers are poor, but not as dismal as they were looking several weeks ago.

Alameda County saw 32.88% of registered voters cast ballots in the primary. Now the overall number is low, but nowhere near as dire as it looked on Election Night when the registrar reported participation was just 10.94% to that point. As more eligible vote-by-mail ballots arrived and provisional/conditional ballots processed, the number crept closer to respectable.

Respectable in comparison, that is. Turnout was also below 40% in Alameda County in the last primary election in a non-presidential year, at 39.73% in June 2018.

Over in Contra Costa County, election participation was better at 35.05% of registered voters, but nearly 5% worse than June 2018 (39.97%).

Here's hoping the voter apathy wanes come November.

Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division since February 2017. His "What a Week" column publishes on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.