By Steven Tavares

Stephen Cassidy

Stephen Cassidy is using support from the San Leandro school district to flout election fair practice laws, according to his opponents, Mayor Tony Santos and Sara Mestas.

The Santos campaign is asserting an elementary school fair last Saturday became a defacto campaign event when Cassidy and three other candidates up for election this November were advertised to attend. A flyer for the event refers to Cassidy as a “parent/mayoral candidate” slated to appear for a dunking contest. School Board President Mike Katz, Councilman Michael Gregory and school board candidate Lance James were also listed. James is also listed as a school board candidate on the flyer.

According to Santos, no other candidates were extended an invitation, while Cassidy and Katz wore campaign t-shirts, giving the impression the event was being used as a campaign event. “Here’s a guy who just can’t follow the rules,” Santos said of Cassidy on Monday. “This is a clear violation.” As of Monday night, a decision has not been made whether to issue a formal complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission, although Mestas says she intends to hammer Cassidy over the issue.

Video of the event shows Cassidy introduced as the “next mayor of San Leandro.” The event was also sponsored by the local coffee shop owned by Cassidy’s campaign manager, Tim Holmes. Cassidy called the allegations against him “unsubstantiated.” While he acknowledged the introduction, he says the two men heard in the video were not his volunteers and were speaking on their own accord.

Cassidy’s use of schools for the purpose of politicking has come under fire in the past as recently as last month. On the evening of the second candidates forum Sept. 30 a complaint was also levied against Cassidy’s campaign. Observers said they witnessed a volunteer for Cassidy distributing campaign literature at San Leandro High School during its Back to School Night. Passing out campaign brochures is not illegal as long as they are handed out away from school property. According to witnesses, volunteers for Cassidy were seen distributing literature on campus and on one occasion inside the school. San Leandro School Superintendent Cindy Cathey in an email acknowledged a report of an individual that night distributing campaign materials at the high school.

The district had notified school administrators this fall to be vigilant in detecting the use of their schools for political campaigning, but a group of community leaders and parents led by Hendy Huang contend Cassidy has repeatedly undermined the school district. According to Huang, a female volunteer for Cassidy was seen in front of a school entranceway distributing his literature during Back to School Nights Sept. 16 at Roosevelt Elementary and Sept. 23 at Bancroft Middle School. Principals at both schools told Cathey they were unaware of any possible violations.

Huang has led the way in trying to rid politics from school yards this campaign season. He was also part of a small band of parents who vigorously opposed the firing of Christine Lim, the former superintendent of schools and blamed Cassidy and Katz, among others, for her dismissal on the grounds of racism. Huang says the recent instances of alleged impropriety extends back to Cassidy’s time on the school board three years ago.

During the end of Cassidy’s only term as school trustee he was reprimanded by the FPPC in 2008 when an article bearing his name and title appeared in the school newsletter. Cassidy says he penned the column for the high school PTA, but a volunteer parent editor printed the column with his name in boldface. “That was her decision,” Cassidy said. “I had no part in the production of the newsletter. As it it turned out having my name in bold was against the FPPC’s interpretation of a set of arcane regulations concerning the sending of material through the mail by a public agency in which elected officials are named.” The letter from the FPPC notifying Cassidy of the violation was also sent to the school’s principal. Ultimately no fine or further action was taken by the FPPC.

Cassidy also said he had no knowledge of a volunteer distributing campaign leaflets, but was aware of the allegation. “All that I have heard is that one volunteer at solely the high school back to school night may have been on school property at one point,” said Cassidy. “He was told to not distribute literature on the school property, a direction that the volunteer promptly followed.”

On Monday night, Gregory told the city council he had no part in the burgeoning controversy. Gregory noted he was at the event solely as a resident, even wearing a San Leandro High School t-shirt to the dunking. Gregory said his appearance at the school fair was not political.