Are you, like me, unhappy about the idiotic decision the San Leandro City Council made in renewing the contract with Redflex, the red-light camera company, for eight years? Do you wonder how we got into that whole pensions mess that risks bankrupting the city? Are you angry that the City pays its law firm over $1 .2Million a year but cut down on swimming pool and library hours and did away with the Cherry Festival and the Christmas Tree lighting? Well, you have no one but yourself to blame. YOU are the one who voted for this Council. It’s YOUR fault.
Ok, that’s sort of unfair. I voted for them too. Truth we told, we didn’t have a choice. Most of members of the City Council ran unopposed or faced opponents with even fewer qualifications than themselves. We voted, in many instances, for the lesser of two evils – but a lesser evil is still an evil.
Ask anyone who follows San Leandro city politics closely and they’ll tell you the biggest problem is finding competent candidates. Running for office (if you get a serious, even if incompetent, opponent) can be expensive and time consuming, there are few perks to being a Council Member and, if you take your role seriously, it’s a lot of work. Unless you need an extra $1200 a month or have political aspirations, the only reason to do it is to help your community – and lets be honest, most of us are not that civic minded. But without that civic mindedness we end up where we are. So really, take on the challenge – run for office!
The next City Council elections will be in November 2012. The seat for District 4, which mostly includes Washington Manor, will be up for grabs as Starosciak will be termed out. Prola (District 6, the Marina) and Reed (District 2, southeast San Leandro) will face re-election. To run for a city council seat you must live within the borders of the district you are running for (look at the map) – so if you don’t live in those areas you’ll have to wait until 2014 (when Gregory from District 1 and Souza from District 3 will be termed out, Cutter from District 5 will probably run for re-election).
I’ll be honest with you: running for City Council is not going to be easy. In District 6, Jim Prola is virtually indestructible. Not only does he come with all the strength of organized labor behind him, but he’s a tireless campaigner. He’ll walk every street of San Leandro during the campaign – twice – and will have fun doing it. Ursula Reed, on the other hand, is more vulnerable. While defeating an incumbent in San Leandro is very hard (Michael Gregory, for example, easily got 65% of the votes in the last election), it’s not impossible as Cassidy’s defeat over incumbent Mayor Santos showed. Reed ran a very good campaign in 2008, but it was against an opponent who relied on her name recognition alone and did not campaign. Reed received a lot of support from part of the progressive community in 2008 that may no longer be there in 2012. I think that a progressive candidate that could create a good grassroot campaign would be able to defeat her.
The District 4 Washington Manor seat, however, is wide open. There have been whispers about a couple of people running for that seat but nobody has announced as of yet and none of the potential candidates are well know. If you live in the Manor, you are smart, competent, willing to do a lot of work and make sound decisions – and preferably (for me) progressive, you should seriously consider running.
The Alameda County Democratic Party will be holding a “running for office” workshop on May 14, 2011, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m at UFCW Local 5 in Hayward. This would be a great place for you to start if you are intrigued by the notion of a 2012 City Council run. For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510.537.6390.
San Leandro is about to appoint a new City Manager to lead the city, hopefully effectively and for many years to come. An ad hoc committee composed by Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Council members Reed and Souza narrowed the field of applicants from 30 to five. The Council won’t disclose their identities – ostensibly to protect the applicants’ current jobs – though hopefully demographic information on them will be forthcoming. Cassidy has not heeded my suggestion that he appoint a citizens ad hoc committee to give input on who among these candidates would work best for the city, but he is soliciting the community’s opinion albeit in a very limited manner.
For one, he set up an online questionnaire asking very general questions as to what San Leandrans want in a city manager. Cassidy has not explained how the information from these questionnaires will be put to use, however.
Cassidy will also be holding a Town Hall meeting (Sat., April 30, 9-11 a.m. Lecture Hall at Main Library) for citizen’s to provide their input on this issue. For that input to be useful, however, it is essential that the citizens attending be asked real questions concerning the particular characteristics of the five final candidates. For example, it would be of little use of citizens to tell the Mayor that they want a Latino or Asian city manager, if none of the five final candidates are of such ethnic origin. Similarly, if none of the candidates live or are willing to live in San Leandro, it won’t help the Mayor at this point to hear how important this issue is to the community. It is thus essential that Cassidy and his fellow Council members take a careful look at the characteristics of these five candidates and then ask the community specific questions about what qualities about them they would find more compelling. Would we rather have someone with more experience or with a commitment to stay in San Leandro for longer? Do we want someone who has worked in City government all his life, or would we prefer her to have business or non-profit experience? Do we want someone who is known for their financial skills – given our dismal budget situation – or someone with superior management skills? Only people with access to the candidates will know what the right questions to ask are.
The five candidates won’t be interviewed by the City Council until after the Town Hall meeting, so this is also a good opportunity for Cassidy to solicit community input about what sort of questions we want Cassidy to put to the candidates – and what types of answers would make us happiest. I will personally not be able to be at this Town Hall – it conflicts with the California Democrats Convention – but I hope that many people will attend, that the discussion will be relevant and useful and that the City Council will take the input it generates seriously.