Menlo Park's first official District 3 City Council member could be safe routes advocate Jen Wolosin. As of the most recent election results available Nov. 5, candidate Wolosin had received the most votes at 1,380 or 59% of those counted so far. Chelsea Nguyen had 612 votes or 26.2%, and Max Fennell had 346 or 14.8%. Access the latest results here.
The results included all but about 71,000 votes received by mail or at drop boxes or vote centers after Oct. 28, according to the county elections office.
The three candidates are Wolosin, 46, a community advocate for bike and pedestrian safety in Menlo Park; Nguyen, 56, a Vietnamese American U.S. Air Force veteran, single mother of three and project manager at Cisco; and Fennell, 33, a Black professional triathlete and entrepreneur who owns Fenn Coffee.
District 3 includes a section of Menlo Park bounded between Palo Alto and Atherton, stretching southwest to Crane Street and northeast to the VA property off of Willow Road. It includes the Civic Center, the Caltrain station and the neighborhoods of Vintage Oaks, Linfield Oaks and Felton Gables, among other areas.
On election night, Wolosin said she was excited about the early results. "It's really gratifying and I am excited to get to work for the residents of Menlo Park."
She added that she was proud of the work of her campaign team, which adapted to the restrictions to campaigning that the COVID-19 pandemic created. She has been campaigning since January, which gave her a head start on other candidates, as she was able to canvass part of the district before the pandemic hit. "Some people thought it was crazy, but I like to be prepared and organized," she said.
"I'm really excited to try to bring the community together as we tackle big challenges and issues and figure out how to move forward during difficult, (and) hopefully good times," she said.
This is Menlo Park's first District 3 election, so while there is no way to make a direct comparison to previous elections for how many voters may cast ballots in the district race, there were a total of 3,448 District 3 residents who voted in the November 2016 presidential elections.
The race has been shaped over the past few months by the controversies and obstacles for each candidate.
Fennell reported that he felt discouraged from running for the seat after a phone conversation with Housing Commission Chair Karen Grove and Planning Commissioner Michele Tate in late June. Both women are involved with the policy advocacy group Menlo Together. Wolosin was also a member before leaving the group to start actively campaigning in late June. The organization advocates in Menlo Park for policies that support housing, transportation, sustainability and equity, according to its website.
Nguyen said she received a number of profane and threatening emails from an anonymous source through her campaign website, but did not know who wrote them or if they were affiliated with a particular candidate or campaign.
And Wolosin drew opposition to her campaign after she refused to make campaign promises to two prominent District 3 residents, Stu Soffer and Marc Bryman, who had themselves considered running for the seat.
When all the votes are counted and the winner declared, Menlo Park's District 3 representative will have some big issues to deal with. Among the top issues are: an upcoming mandate from the state to zone for what will likely amount to more than 3,000 housing units within city limits; how the City Council should zone the large USGS property on Middlefield Road that's soon to be vacated; continued decisions about whether and how to pursue the construction of grade separations to separate the Caltrain rail line from Menlo Park streets; and how to move forward with selecting a new police chief and engaging in reforms to promote racial equity within the community.
In an email Nguyen sent to her friends and supporters, she thanked a number of residents and former city officials for their support. She said she also experienced some negative incidents. While out distributing door hangers, someone followed her and her daughter and removed them, she said. With limited campaign funds, she said, she could not afford to send out mailers and felt she had to campaign by going door to door, which was difficult due to a recent surgery.
"Your thoughtfulness has touched me deeply," she told her supporters. "As for my own race, (win) or (lose), I know I have conducted myself with honor and integrity."
Fennell, in an election night interview, added that while there are still many votes to count, if the later results continue to reflect the earlier ones and he doesn't win, he still plans to get more involved with city politics.
"I'm just excited to see that I had a significant base," he said. "They had their (voices) heard and spoke out. ... I plan to continue to represent this base and see what kind of change we can create in Menlo Park. There's a lot that needs to get done."
Specifically, he said, he'll be keeping an eye on how Wolosin follows through on her campaign goals and will work on holding elected officials accountable.
In this race, he said, he got a taste for city politics, was able to generate some votes and connect with a lot of neighbors and community members. He added that he plans to build on the success he has experienced and may consider running again, "especially if we don't see the type of changes that we need."
"The athlete in me understands that sometimes you don't reach success the first go-around," he said.
Menlo Park's District 5 race, which represents the first district-based election for the westernmost part of Menlo Park, including Sharon Heights, is uncontested, with incumbent Ray Mueller seeking a third term.
In an email statement, Mueller said he was grateful to be reelected.
"We have some challenges ahead of us, navigating the budget impacts of Covid-19. Our infrastructure downtown is aging badly and needs investment. Additionally we will need to work together collaboratively with all our city stakeholders to determine how to equitably add state mandated housing across the city," he wrote.
"One of the benefits of serving a district is being able to focus and provide a higher level of constituent service to residents. I look forward to working closely with neighbors, our school district leaders, and our small businesses to really keep our community thriving and our quality of life high for the families and residents who live here."