School board race’s new faces take fundraising to large levels

Name recognition goes head-to-head against cash

SAN MATEO — In an elected post where the current incumbents have campaigned on $500 to $4,000 and often run unopposed, two relatively young candidates for the Trustee Area Four seat on the county Board of Education have been raising campaign funds into the five figures.

Candidate Anthony “Fel” Amistad has previously run in at least four races, including for open seats on the Peninsula Healthcare District board and the Board of Education. Rod Hsiao, although new to Peninsula politics, has worked for U.S. congressmen.

While both Amistad and Hsiao said they are focused on the current contest, board members said they can’t recall a race in the last decade or more in which both candidates raised more than $10,000. The fundraising and willingness to spend their own money shows a shift in the approach candidates are taking to the county Board of Education, some said.

“[The fundraising] is on another level from when I ran,” said Fred Leonard, the current Area Four trustee who is stepping down to enjoy a quiet retirement. Leonard, a long-time board member, was appointed last June to fill the seat left vacant by the death of board member John Belforte from cancer shortly after taking office. Leonard has previously run in two contested races and said he never spent more than $3,000 to $4,000.

Board member Susan Alvaro said she spent $500 in her most recent contested election. Board member Beverly Gerard, on the board for 19 years, has never been challenged.

Amistad has managed to raise nearly $13,000 in his campaign this year to date, and has spent about $12,000. More than $7,000 of that came out of his own pocket, election records show. But even that impressive sum — for a county school board race — pales in comparison to the $46,000 raised by Hsiao, who has spent about $37,000 on the race, elections records show.

Much of the money is being spent on calling voters, election mailers and newspaper advertisements, the candidates said.

The large amount being raised by Hsiao is shocking, according to Amistad, who was critical of his opponent’s dependence on money from outside the district. “It’s a little excessive in my opinion, for a race that should be based on meeting withgrassroots folks at senior centers, parent teacher associations and school boards,” Amistad said.

Hsiao, however, said he has used the large donations to help him counter Amistad’s better name recognition from having participated, though never won, in other elections. “I thought I’d play it safe by trying to raise as much as I could as early as possible,” Hsiao said.

In contrast, the Area Three race with incumbent Rhonda Ceccato and challenger Jeffrey Tong has played out more quietly. Ceccato has raised and spend less than $1,000, so little she isn’t required by law to file fundraising records with the county elections division. Tong has raised just $75 and spent $1,396 on calling voters, elections records show.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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