Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Aide, boss now battle for district seat

Both candidates for the Third District Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors seat say they feel betrayed.

"Absolutely," says incumbent Mary Piepho, a 45-year-old former aide to her opponent, state Assemblyman Guy Houston, District 15. "He encouraged me to run for the job to begin with. ... Not only did he encourage me to run for the job, he supported me once I got here and then he encouraged me to run for his (Assembly) seat."

Houston, a 47-year-old San Ramon resident, says he was also hoodwinked.

"I feel betrayed for what I thought I was supporting four years ago," he said. "I thought she was someone who stood up for fiscal responsibility.

"There's a myth that I was Mary's mentor ... I was not Mary's mentor, I inherited Mary when I became a state Assemblyman. I had never met Mary before I took office," he said.

The former colleagues, now bitter rivals, will vie for the seat in the June 3 primary.

Piepho is portraying her former boss as an opportunist.

"Nothing went wrong with our relationship. What went wrong was Guy didn't have a higher office to go to," Piepho said. "This is about Guy Houston being termed out."

Piepho said Houston is only running for the supervisor position because he had no support for three other positions. The supervisor, a Discovery Bay resident, said she was recruited by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office to fill a paid commission seat, which she said she turned down.

Houston Advertisementsays he's running for her seat because he's been disappointed in her.

"I thought she'd perform differently, not let the (employee health care) problem get bigger. I thought she would not sign contracts making the fiscal situation for the county worse," he said.

Houston referenced the county's $1.74 billion unfunded liability for employee health care and its plan to pay down 40 percent of the figure over 30 years. Supervisors voted to pre-fund $20 million this year and adjust unrepresented employees' health care benefits. To reach the 40 percent goal, the county must still reach similar agreements with most of its union employees and continue to make amortized payments over the next three decades.

The former Dublin mayor said the problem was exacerbated because Piepho and the board have shown an "unwillingness to address the unions head on," pointing to a recent grand jury report scolding the board for not addressing the issue in its last three labor pacts.

"I will not vote yes on any type of contract that doesn't improve the (employee health care) situation," he said.

The board has done more to address the health care dilemma than most other municipalities, Piepho said.

"We've done a heck of a lot more than the state of California," she said, calling the 40 percent a "good balance."

"If we fund it at 100 percent today we'd devastate our county services," she said.

Both candidates said public safety and health services need to be protected from severe budget cuts.

In East County, Houston said, the Section 8 program has been mismanaged and needs an audit.

"People who don't belong in those houses are living there," he said of the low-income rental assistance system.

Piepho cites her dealings with the budget and ensuring a county reserve fund as proof of her ability to turn the county's finances around.

"I've only been here one term. You can't turn the ship around overnight. I think I've accomplished a lot over the last 31/2 years," Piepho said.

Steve Thomas, of Danville, has the California State Democratic Party endorsement and is a "write-in" candidate.

District 3 covers Alamo, Blackhawk, Brentwood, Byron, Danville, Diablo, Discovery Bay, Dougherty Valley, Knightsen, San Ramon, Tassajara and parts of Walnut Creek.

In the District 5 race, incumbent Federal Glover faces Gary Agopian, Erik Nunn, Don Parscal and Mary Rocha, and incumbent Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette is running unopposed for District 2.

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