MARTINEZ -- Vicki Gordon, a longtime member of the Martinez school board, appears to have pulled off a surprising come-from-behind victory to capture a seat on the five-member Contra Costa Community College District governing board.

The race was too close to call on Nov. 7, and Gordon was a couple hundred votes out of first place. Now, with all mail-in ballots counted, she leads Tom Cleveland by 481 votes for the Ward 2 seat which represents Hercules, part of Martinez, Walnut Creek and Lamorinda.

Incumbent Tomi Van de Brooke finished in third place with 1,450 fewer votes than Gordon. Although the Contra Costa Elections Division staff is reviewing more than 23,000 provisional ballots cast in the county, it's unlikely Cleveland would gain enough votes to overtake Gordon.

Although Gordon is reluctant to claim victory until the county certifies the election results Dec. 4, on Monday, Cleveland said he planned to call and congratulate her.

"I think it's over," he said. "It's just a question of the final tally."

If Gordon wins, the four other Martinez school board members must appoint someone to finish the two years left on her term.

The Contra Costa Community College District includes Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and satellite campuses in Brentwood and San Ramon.


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Gordon grew up in Martinez and earned an associate degree at DVC before transferring to what was then known as Cal State Hayward, where she earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. After returning to school to get a teaching credential, Gordon taught at Martinez Junior High School for five years, then took a break to have two children. She ran for school board in 1997.

Gordon said she was admitted to UC Berkeley, but her mother, a teacher, didn't have the money to send her to a four-year university.

"I went to DVC and I was glad to be at DVC. I thought I faked everybody out, I thought Cal made a huge mistake accepting me and I thought I'd' be a huge failure," she said.

Her experience at DVC left a lasting impression on Gordon, who sees community college as the place where students who are not quite academically ready for a four-year institution can take some time to improve their skills and figure out what they want to do.

"I just hate giving up on anybody," she said. "I think that's the thing at community colleges, we take everybody and we give them the time to get through it.

"Community college is that area where we take those kids and we try again to figure out their pathway, we figure out how to launch them out there."

Gordon's late father-in-law, George R. Gordon, was one of the founding members of the Contra Costa Community College District and served on the governing board for 28 years. The district's administration building in downtown Martinez is named the George R. Gordon Education Center.

The last few years of state budget cuts have been challenging for the Martinez school district, resulting in furlough days, layoffs and increased class sizes in the early grades.

During the crisis, the board asked voters to approve a parcel tax and bond measure to help the district weather the economic slowdown. With the passage of Prop. 30 and a five-year extension of the school district's $50 annual parcel tax, Martinez should be on sounder financial footing in the future.

The governor's tax initiative also will help the cash-strapped community college district, which serves about 62,000 students.

During her 15 years on the board, Gordon is most proud of the district's improved test scores, the investments the board made to upgrade facilities, the Martinez Education Foundation's fundraising prowess and the strong relationships the board has forged with staff and the community.

"I'm very, very proud of all the things we've done in Martinez," she said.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.