HERCULES -- Challenger Sherry McCoy took over the lead, followed by incumbent Dan Romero and challenger Bill Kelly, in a tight race for three seats on the Hercules City Council, with all precincts reporting early Wednesday.
Three incumbents contended with four challengers in a contest marked by anger, personal attacks, and in the month before the election, allegations of racism by the husband of a councilwoman who will face re-election in 2014.
Incumbent William Wilkins, challengers Hector Rubio and Phil Simmons, and incumbent Gerard Boulanger trailed.
With 13 of 13 precincts reporting, the vote count, in terms of the percentage of total votes for each candidate, was: McCoy, 17.37 percent; Romero, 17.19 percent; Kelly, 16.81 percent; Wilkins, 15.49 percent; Rubio, 13.11 percent; Simmons, 11.41 percent; and Boulanger, 8.32 percent.
"It's humbling to be elected," Kelly said. "I recognize there's a great deal of hard work ahead of us. I just hope that the animosities that came up during the campaign can be put aside, and that we can work together in the best interests of the citizens of Hercules."
Arguably the incumbents' most strident opposition came from the quarter of Councilwoman Myrna de Vera, who has been feuding with Romero, the current mayor, for more than a year. De Vera, her husband and his political action committees opposed the three incumbents and endorsed McCoy, Rubio and Simmons.
In an Oct. 12 letter targeted to Filipino-Americans, Manuel de Vera, saying racism in Hercules was at its worst in two decades, lamented several instances of offensive comments on the Hercules Patch blog and cited unspecified "indication" that some of the comments came from supporters of Romero. The letter urged Filipino-Americans to vote for McCoy, Rubio and Simmons, citing the trio's interactions with Filipinos such as playing tennis with Filipino-Americans, sending children to schools with a high Filipino enrollment and shopping at a Filipino grocery.
Romero responded with an automated campaign call professing his respect for the Filipino community and noting that he has three nephews who are Filipino.
Kelly, meanwhile, ran on a platform of free speech advocacy and government transparency. He had been at odds with both Romero and de Vera, accusing both of violating residents' First Amendment rights -- Romero, for silencing Simmons during a City Council public comment session and de Vera, for maneuvering to silence a critic who posted comments critical of her on Hercules Patch. Romero and de Vera apologized after the respective incidents.
The personal attacks sometimes overshadowed the candidates' differences on the issues, notably some recent property deals that have been concluded or are in the pipeline. One involves plans for a Safeway store near the city's busiest intersection that the challengers had said is inconsistent with the New Urbanism philosophy underlying the Central Hercules Plan, although recently an alternative plan for a more urban-style store has been floated.
The challengers also opposed a 350-home development on another parcel that they said should include at least some retail uses, and a 50- to 60-home development on another parcel previously slated for retail use.
The incumbents countered that the housing deals were necessary to keep the city out of bankruptcy, after it put up the two properties as collateral for a $4.1 million debt to a bond insurer in a court-approved settlement. They noted that housing developers had shown interest in the properties, whereas commercial and retail developers had not. The challengers argued that the city did a lousy job of marketing the properties for uses other than residential.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner.