Reading the Tea Leaves

By Steven Tavares


No matter the amount of conflict resolution counseling San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos and Mayor-elect Stephen Cassidy partake, they will never be cordial. Ever. Not only will Santos never concede last month’s election, but he will likely be as much of a detractor of the new mayor as Cassidy was for him the past two years.

Santos told Cassidy this weekend to prepare to offer the City Council an apology for campaign season rhetoric criticizing their handling of the city budget. “You owe our council an apology and if you were up to it you would come Monday night prepared to do so,” Santos replied in an email from Cassidy. “Your trash on deficit spending and bankruptcy needs to be challenged.”

The latest spat between political rivals came from Cassidy’s decision to cancel an annual dinner meeting with the city’s federal lobbyist from Washington, D.C. The dinner was scheduled for Jan. 10, but Cassidy asked the city manager to reschedule without the dinner. The meeting with Len Simon, the city’s long-time representative, is now a work session for the same night featuring discussion of the city’s top project pitches for federal funding. Cassidy chided the outgoing mayor for forwarding news of the meeting change with Simon, telling him it was “inappropriate.”

“It is appropriate, and customary, for the city manager to communicate scheduling matters with the City Council by email message,” wrote Cassidy. “It is inappropriate, however, for you to share such communications with non-members of the City Council.” Santos responded saying, “Do me a favor, don’t communicate with me period.”

This would not be Cassidy’s first brush with instituting frugality over tradition. He claimed last year to have encouraged the council to discontinue pre-council meeting dinners while the city experienced budget shortfalls. Several councilmembers and the mayor say it was not his idea or changed at his urging. Most meetings now feature various members snacking away at the Monday night gatherings.

In recent days, Cassidy has slowly exerted some pressure on the city’s existing power structure and culture just to gauge how much political strength will be needed to make changes at City Hall. His supporters lobbied the council in closed session last week to hold off on approving the city’s two employee union contracts until the beginning of Cassidy’s term in January. Both Cassidy and Councilwoman-elect Pauline Cutter said they wanted a chance to vote on the contract, but it is not clear whether the two votes against the deals with change the direction of the board, nor is there any evidence of an alternative strategy to save even more than the $675,000 the current proposal offers can be articulated.

So, now we read the tea leaves for the nascent Cassidy administration:

The Cassidy/Cutter connection could be a reimagination of the Cassidy/Mike Katz super mini-minority during their time together on the San Leandro School Board. Cassidy’s divisiveness on that board is well known along with a knack for failing to gather support for their causes. Cutter, who received union support, cleverly gave indications during the campaign that she supported her union brethren, but also levied criticism against them at the same time.

What does Cassidy mean when he called Santos out for sharing public emails? Cassidy will likely say opening the meeting with Simon to the public is good for government transparency, but the tone conveys an old criticism of those around him from his time on the school board that religiously hides facts dealing with the process of decisions. Any of the emails contained in the article could have been procured using the Freedom of Information Act. Of course, doing so would take time and ingenuity.

For now, Cassidy first few hands are showing he is angling to tackle the city’s problems quickly and expects the city and council to rid itself of old habits. Bring a coat. He might shut off the heating at City Hall next.