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18th Assembly District Special Election: Candidate Guide and How to Vote

Voters in Oakland, San Leandro and Alameda are choosing a new Assemblymember in a June 29 special election. The seat opened up when former Assemblyman Rob Bonta was picked by Gov. Gavin Newsom to be California’s Attorney General after Kamala Harris was elected Vice President.

Eight candidates will appear on the special election ballot. A candidate receiving a majority of votes wins the election, and if no candidate crosses the 50% threshold, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff scheduled for August 31.

Here’s a guide on how to vote and who is on the ballot:

How to Vote? 

Every registered voter in the district was mailed a ballot by default, the result of legislation signed by Newsom earlier this year. Vote-by-mail dropboxes are available across the district for voters looking to return their completed ballots.

For those who prefer to cast a vote in-person, Alameda County is opening ten voting locations, beginning on Saturday, June 26. Any voter in the district can drop off or cast a ballot at the locations from 9am to 5pm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and 7am to 8pm on Tuesday, June 29.

Island High School, 500 Pacific Drive, Alameda South Shore Center, 2130 Otis Drive, Alameda Oakland High School, 1023 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland Sequoia Elementary School (Gym), 3730 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland Think College Now, 2825 International Boulevard, Oakland Kapor Center (Annex Warehouse), 1901 Poplar Street, Oakland Allen Temple, 8501 International Boulevard, Oakland Eastmont Mall (Upper Level), 7200 Bancroft Avenue, Oakland San Leandro Veterans Memorial Building, 1105 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro Barbara Lee Center, 2251 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro

The Top Candidates 

(‘Top Candidates’ have been actively campaigning and regularly appearing at candidate forums)

James Aguilar

James Aguilar, San Leandro Unified School District board trustee and candidate for state Assembly in the 18th district. (Courtesy of James Aguilar campaign)

Party: Democrat

Currently: School Board Member, San Leandro Unified School District.

Closing Pitch: Generational change. Call it the Alex Lee effect. Last year, the 24-year-old Lee shocked a field of more experienced Democrats and emerged from a state Assembly primary in the South Bay.

James Aguilar was 18 when he was elected to the school board in 2018, becoming the youngest elected official in the Bay Area. He hopes a generational pitch will make him the second Gen Z lawmaker to win a seat in the Capitol.

“I’m going to bring a really big and needed perspective in the Assembly,” said Aguilar, “because I come from the generation of people that are going to inherit the consequences of the decisions that my parents made, the consequences of the climate crisis, of an education crisis that’s here right now.”

Victor Aguilar

San Leandro vice mayor Victor Aguilar, a candidate for state Assembly in the 18th district. (Courtesy of Victor Aguilar campaign)

Party: Democrat

Currently: Vice Mayor, City of San Leandro

Closing Pitch: Pandemic Resilience. Aguilar believes he’s uniquely positioned to turn the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic into lasting policy change.

“When I started to campaign to run, I lost my mom to COVID-19,” he said. “Advocating for families who are frontline workers — my family are frontline workers — it’s been very challenging. California’s response to COVID-19 would have been different if we prioritized people over profit.”

Aguilar said the state needs a universal single-payer healthcare system and worker protections like the hazard pay for retail workers he helped pass in San Leandro.

Mia Bonta

Mia Bonta, candidate for state Assembly in District 18, which includes Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro, speaks with students at her campaign headquarters in Oakland on June 23, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Party: Democrat

Currently: School Board President, Alameda Unified School District

Closing Pitch: Hitting the Ground Running. In her campaign to follow her husband in the Assembly, Mia Bonta has relished the opportunity “to be able to introduce people to my first name and what I stand for and what I’m about.”

But make no mistake, Bonta’s Capitol connections and relationships (more than 20 endorsements from sitting legislators) could prove invaluable in helping her enact her agenda and aid the district from Sacramento.

“We’ve been going through COVID and experiencing these dual pandemics of reckoning around systemic racism as well as the pandemic,” said Bonta. “It calls for this moment where we have make-sense, can-do, roll-up-your-sleeves, hit-the-ground-running legislators, and that’s me.”

Janani Ramachandran 

Janani Ramachandran, social justice attorney and candidate for state Assembly in the 18th district. (Courtesy of Janani Ramachandran campaign)

Party: Democrat

Currently: Social Justice Attorney

Closing Pitch: Not a Politician. Unlike the other candidates at the top of the AD 18 field, Ramachandran has never held elected office. As an attorney, she’s worked with victims of domestic violence and residents facing eviction.

Ramachandran’s commitment to a grassroots campaign has won the backing of progressive groups like the Bernie Sanders-aligned Our Revolution and Indivisible East Bay.

“I’m running in this race not as a politician, but as a public servant and someone that’s going to be able to change things from my direct services experience, from my knowledge of working with communities my entire life,” Ramachandran said.

Malia Vella

Malia Vella, the vice mayor of Alameda, poses for a portrait in Alameda on June 23, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Party: Democrat

Currently: Vice Mayor, City of Alameda

Closing Pitch: A Record of Accomplishments. In her four years on the Alameda City Council, Vella has been a leading voice in housing battles on the island.

In 2018, Vella helped defeat a measure that would have restricted future rent protections. The next year, she led the enactment of an annual cap on rent increases. And in 2020, she drove an unsuccessful campaign to legalize multifamily apartment buildings in the city.

“I’ve worked across coalitions, building coalitions throughout my time as an elected official to really be an effective leader,” said Vella. “I can speak about my record, about the housing that I have voted to make sure goes through and to talk to [voters] about how we can make sure that we take care of vulnerable community members.”

The Rest of the Field

Joel Britton 

Party: No Party Preference

Currently: Retail worker

About: Britton is a perennial candidate for state and local office. He appeared on the 2003 recall ballot to replace Governor Gray Davis, and also ran for U.S. Senate, Congress and mayor of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Eugene Canson 

Party: Democrat

Currently: Public health professional

About: Canson works as a policy consultant for California Black Health Network, an advocacy organization focused on improving health equity for Black residents of the state. Before that, he was a policy analyst for the Alameda Health Consortium.

Stephen Slauson

Party: Republican

Currently: Electrical Engineer

About: Slauson advanced out of the 2018 and 2020 primaries in AD 18, before eventually losing to Rob Bonta in the general elections. During the campaign, he questioned Bonta’s citizenship, and later pursued a recall of Vella from the Alameda city council.

Copyright 2021 KQED