The Riggs Report: Senate slugfest ahead

Runoff for vacant seat should be lively

Steve Glazer is the Democratic candidate that labor unions despise. But he ended up the top vote-getter Tuesday in a raucous special election called to fill the Senate District 7 seat left vacant when Mark DeSaulnier was elected to Congress.

Glazer, the mayor of Orinda and a former adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, didn’t win the race. He and fellow Democrat Susan Bonilla, a member of the Assembly, now move on to a runoff election May 19. That means another two months of hardball campaigning in Contra Costa and Alameda counties that, in the end, will test the power and effectiveness of labor’s political muscle.

Glazer has been blackballed by the unions because of his opposition last year to a BART strike and because of his consulting work in 2012 with the California Chamber of Commerce to help elect pro-business Democrats. Those unions put their backing behind Bonilla and former Assemblymember Joan Buchanan in the run up to Tuesday’s election.

And then there was what Glazer complained was an example of political dirty tricks. The Asian-American Small Business PAC, which traditionally has supported Democrats, sent GOP voters a mailer urging them to cast their ballot for Republican Michaela Hertle. One problem: Hertle had already withdrawn her candidacy and had endorsed Glazer.

In the end, Glazer tallied almost 33 percent of the vote. Bonilla had just less than 25 percent, and Buchanan trailed with 22.5 percent. Hertle, the Republican ex-candidate, picked up 17 percent.

That outcome sets up round two, in which business interests backing Glazer will be jousting with the labor unions supporting Bonilla. In a district where registered Democrats number almost 44 percent, compared to nearly 29 percent for Republicans, which party wins is not in question. Rather, it’s a question of which kind of Democrat emerges victorious.

For Glazer, victory will depend on more outside support to round up a winning coalition of moderate Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters. Bonilla can depend on heavy spending by labor groups, who know their political influence is on the line.

It’s only one seat in the Legislature. But the significance goes far beyond a single vote.