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49ers-backed candidate loses despite 8-1 fundraising advantage

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The San Francisco 49ers spent $2.5 million on Santa Clara’s mayoral race this year in the hopes that City Councilmember Anthony Becker would unseat incumbent Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who raised approximately $321,000 to her name.

Despite the 8-1 fundraising advantage, Becker conceded to Gillmor — a longtime critic of the team — on Wednesday. Results as of Thursday morning showed Gillmor leading 51.2% to 48.8%, with 687 votes separating the two candidates.

The 49ers and the city of Santa Clara have been locked in stadium-related disputes for years, and the team has spent millions on city council candidates as a result. In a statement posted to social media, Gillmor torched the 49ers.

“I thank Santa Clarans who gave me their vote and sent a message that our city is not for sale,” she said. “I am proud of our residents and hopeful about our future. But we can’t expect that by turning back a multi-million-dollar negative campaign, everything will suddenly be positive — or by defeating a multi-million-dollar special interest, the public interest will magically be served. We must remain steadfast if we want a city council that’s free from corruption and a city hall that operates transparently and ethically.”

Gillmor had a special interest of her own in her corner: real estate development firm Related Companies, which is chaired by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Related Santa Clara is set to break ground on an $8 billion development later this year. San Jose Spotlight described the Gillmor-supported endeavor — which will see the construction of offices, housing, restaurants and more — as “Silicon Valley’s biggest private mixed-use project.” In September, two Related subsidiaries combined to spend $100,000 on a pro-Gillmor committee.

Still, the funding from Related was dwarfed by the 49ers’ contributions.

Gillmor told the San Francisco Chronicle that the Becker ad barrage led to voter fatigue. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.)

“I do think it got to the point where they oversaturated the community,” she said. “It seemed like as the election got closer, the intensity of the negative campaign was building.”

“This just shows it’s possible to beat that kind of money and survive an election,” she added. “I’m hoping it sends (the 49ers) a message that you’re not going to so easily buy our city. Our residents are going to stand up to you. We’re on to you.”