Newness versus experience is an old trope in American politics, but there’s little doubt it applies to this year’s race for the District 1 seat on the County Board of Supervisors.
Incumbent John Gioia has occupied the seat since 1998, before his challenger’s 21st birthday.
But the disparity in age and experience could work to the advantage of the upstart challenger, Mister Phillips, who hammered home his strategy during a lively debate at a Richmond church Monday night.
“Are things better in West Contra Costa County than they were in 1998?” Phillips asked an audience of more than 60 at the Easter Hill United Methodist Church in Richmond.
Phillips, who often opens public meetings by reiterating that his unusual first name is, in fact, “Mister,” railed painted Gioia as a member of a “good old boys” club that has mismanaged county government for decades and been inattentive to the needs of troubled communities like Richmond. Phillips said he spent much of his childhood being raised in Richmond, and attended Richmond High School.
District 1 includes Kensington, El Cerrito, El Sobrante and San Pablo in addition to Richmond.
Gioia has won three four-year terms on the county board since taking the position in 1998, when he unseated incumbent Jim Rogers. Gioia is a former attorney with RIchmond ties of his own. He currently resides in the city, and his father was a well-respected teacher at Kennedy High School.
Gioia painted his challenger as a quixotic newcomer with unrealistic goals, while touting his own record of working with county, state and federal officials to draw funds into Richmond.
“I wish the Board of Supervisors had that much control, to be able to solve every single problem that Mister Phillips has talked about,” Gioia said.
Gioia focused on reminding the audience of his accomplishments, including securing bus passes for low-income students and helping garner $12 million in federal funds to rebuild a health center in San Pablo.
After the debate, both candidates said they felt confident about their prospects in the June 8 election.
“I’m known in West County as someone who delivers, gets things done in under the most difficult budget environments,” Gioia said. “And I feel confident that voters will see that I’ve done a lot for this part of the county for the last 11 years.”
Phillips said Gioia’s lengthy term in office is a liability.
“The current supervisor, we’ve had him in office since 1998,” Phillips said. “And I really have not met a person yet who has said that West Contra Costa County has become a better place since he’s become elected.”