Though residents gathered in Benicia last week to protest what they saw as oil giant Valero using cash to try and influence the City Council election, if Tuesday’s unofficial election results hold steady, both sides — the Valero-backed and those whom the company was trying to defeat — may get what they want.
By late Tuesday night, Terry Scott and Lionel Largaespada were in the lead to fill the two council seats, with Kari Birdseye, incumbent Christina Strawbridge and Billy Innes coming in third, fourth and fifth, respectively, according to the unofficial results.
Valero backed incumbents Largaespada and Strawbridge and sent out a mailer in support of them that drew the ire of Mayor Steve Young. The flier read “Re-elect Strawbridge & Largaespada,” with pictures of both candidates along with other current councilmembers Trevor Macenski, Vice Mayor Tom Campbell, and Mayor Steve Young.
“We gave no permission for them to use our photos in the obvious attempt to confuse voters about whom we support,” said Young in a statement released Oct. 28, saying that the mailer “could not be more deceptive.”
Both Campbell and Young supported council candidates Birdseye and Scott.
Though Valero has never explicitly commented on why it supports Largaespada and Strawbridge, Largaespada supported the company’s push to bring crude-by-rail into Benicia. The move was quashed by the city council at the time, with even Strawbridge voting to bar the transports. However, she initially voted to continue discussions about crude-by-rail before ultimately voting “no,” something she has said might have led to her losing her previous run at re-election. Mayor Young, who was on the planning commission at the time, also knocked down the crude-by-rail idea, which he thinks was the impetus for Valero’s opposition to his mayoral campaign.
Another thing Valero has done to raise the hackles of activists is change the name of its PAC, which opponents say is deceptive and obfuscates the billion-dollar industry behind it. Once named Working Families for a Strong Benicia, now the PAC is called Progress for Benicia, a Coalition Supporting Local Jobs and the Economy.
According to Progress for Benicia’s campaign finance reports, monetary contributions to Tuesday’s election total $200,000.