May 19, 2012 | The Hayward City Council forum started at 5:00 p.m last April 30 at a union hall located on a two block wasteland of shuttered buildings and twisted chain link fences on Mission Boulevard. Peter Bufete, the 22-year-old Hayward-bred political prodigy is 10 minutes late. He slams his car door shut and pats his blue suit to press out residual wrinkles from the brisk car ride. An older woman, parked next to him, is slowly pulling prepackaged muffins out of her trunk. With a kind smile, Bufete, a well-mannered type of young man which older people think all young people should emulate, graciously offers to help with the snacks destined to be consumed by debate goers inside. “Sorry I’m late, but I was helping with the muffins,” he told the crowd upon entering the room to a round of soft laughter and immediately jumped into the debate.
Although young and inexperienced, Bufete’s strong performance of late is forcing some voters to recalculate their thinking about his candidacy. Despite being just a year older than the legal age to purchase alcohol, it is obvious Bufete has the tools to compete. Even the Bay Area News Group, despite knowing shit about what’s going on in Hayward, made special mention of Bufete’s future in an editorial earlier this month. So, maybe he’s NOT like a hot-shot high school pitcher with a Major League fastball in great need of minor league grooming for some time in the future, but as capable as some of the older, “more seasoned” candidates running for one of four open seats on the City Council on June 5.
Take a blind taste test of the nine candidates for Hayward City Council and you would be hard pressed to pick out Bufete’s brand of optimism and fresh ideas as being attached to a political neophyte. The question, though, is whether the city is willing to drop prejudices against youth or even if they realize the depth of the community’s tough predicament of high crime and city-wide apathy. In reality, on both cases, Bufete tangible age is really 22 going on 42, while being physically too young to bullshit people and mentally old enough to realize the self-proclaimed “Heart of the Bay” needs a serious transplant.
It’s easy to begin explaining Bufete with baseball’s analogies—a sport he professes to love while lamenting other people his age seem to eschew the game for other fast-paced sports or more sedentary activities. Put it this way, Hayward can be viewed as a once thriving franchise. A generation ago, it had the power to attract the best money could buy, but no more. The current team, while capable, has no deep roots in Hayward. Bufete, on the other hand, may represent the best the notoriously underperforming Hayward Unified School District can possibly produce. Bufete attended Treeview Elementary, Bret Harte Middle School and was student body president and captain of the Hayward High golf team. Although his rise may be somewhat of an outlier in a school district that ranks near the bottom of schools in the state, or, as one of his city council opponents said, ranked “27 spots from stupid,” He is the definition of homegrown. In fact, Bufete could only be more Hayward if he was placed in Mayor Michael Sweeney’s belly through Immaculate Conception, born in a manger at the Hayward Plunge and nursed with fresh brewed Tasmanian Devil beer from Buffalo Bill’s.
HELP FROM LOCAL CITY LEADERS
His epiphany occurred upon returning from UC Santa Barbara. After four years and gaining a degree in political science, Bufete found Hayward still wallowing in a lifeless spiral on the cusp on urban decay. It was his mother who first broached the subject of running for city council, he says. “Maybe I can change what’s going on in Hayward. Maybe I do have something to bring to the table.” In an interesting intersection of June primary season politics, Union City Mayor Mark Green, a candidate for the 20th Assembly District, was often Bufete’s substitute teacher at Hayward High. He asked the long-time mayor for advice after announcing his run for council. “If you want to run for office then you have to fully believe in yourself,” Bufete said of Green’s advice. “You have to have the ego that you’re going to do a better job.” Added Bufete, “I’m not going to enter the race just to enter. I really believe that I’m going to do a better job than the people I’m running against.”
Former Hayward city manager and current school board member Jesus Armas has known Bufete since middle school. Bufete and Armas’ son were once best friends and still keep in contact with each other. After Bufete’s first candidate’s forum in front of the Hayward Demos in March, many in the audience raved about the young newcomer’s performance. Armas was particularly beaming when I asked him that night about Bufete; chiefly the candidate’s hardened support for striking Hayward teachers in 2007 as a 16-year-old. “That’s pretty impressive for someone that age to be doing,” Armas said that night.
HIGH SCHOOL UNION ACTIVIST
Always involved in extra-curricular activities at school, Bufete had forged a strong friendship with many of his teachers. He also wrote a semi-regular teen column for the Daily Review at the time. So when he read an opinion piece by a school board member harshly criticizing the striking teachers, Bufete returned the favor with a scathing rebuttal. “I wrote what we were learning from the teachers was something invaluable that you don’t learn in the classroom,” Bufete says today. “It’s demonstration for fighting for what you believe in.” He then organized the student body to support the teachers, while asking for donations to buy snacks and bottled water for picketing instructors.
Not coincidentally, much of Bufete’s list for the ills of Hayward and its path for a comeback is a riff on the city’s dilapidated school system. It’s so much so that a casual observer might conclude he should run for the school board, instead. However, he realizes nothing good will happen in Hayward until the black hole of its poorly-rated schools quits sucking the life and vitality out of it. “When I was in high school, too many kids didn’t believe in themselves,” said Bufete. “They grew up in a system where you’re going to school with these books that are older than your parents. There’s huge class sizes and then college is so expensive that it’s out of the question already even before they’re out of high school. If you already accept that, there’s no way you progress any further in life.”
“My philosophy is we have to continue fixing this problem before we try to fix these other problems,” he says of the state of the schools. “That’s going to fix a lot of the correlative issues. If you fix the schools, you market yourself to a lot of the businesses better. We have good demographics here, but the image we give to everyone is not that good.”
AGE AIN’T NUTTIN’ BUT A NUMBER
Although, ironically, Bufete has lots of gray poking from the temples of his short-cropped hair, he gets quite a bit of prejudice because of his youth. While campaigning door-to-door, Bufete says he encountered a few potential voters, who appeared to respond well to his message, only to quickly end the conversation and close the door when learning his age. “I’ve had some people say, ‘this young punk kid thinks he’s going to change the world. He’s too optimistic’,” he says, while others have simply told him to pay his dues and come back. “I want to do this now,” he shoots back. “I don’t want to come back in ten years down the line and say, ‘now I’m ready to serve.’ That’s 10 years wasted that we could have made the community better.” He also doesn’t envision a long career in politics. “It wasn’t what I planned on doing,” he says. Instead, he was supposed to take over the family business—a pair of assisted living facilities in Hayward.
At 22, Bufete is an administrator for homes that currently care for 12 elderly residents and splits time living in both and even cooks for them, something he says, he greatly enjoys. “I like making things taste good. It’s like chemistry,” he says. As a prolific Lumpia roller and lover of everything adobo, the confluence of nourishing the elderly and taking care of them is highly prevalent in the Filipino household he grew up in. When an older relative entered the room, as a kid, Bufete would typically offer his hand to their forehead for blessings.
“Your elders are someone to appreciate,” he says. “You wouldn’t be here without them. I had a close relationship with my grandfather. I live with my grandmother in a household where the population’s average age is over 70,” he says with a giggle. “If we stop respecting them, who is going to take care of them? Hopefully people can see from campaign that I’m a very compassionate person. I truly do want to take care of people.”
Last November, the care of older people and the fragility of life came into stark view for Bufete, who also has a side business as a licensed CPR instructor. One early morning, he was awaken to a thump. He found a resident on the ground and attempted to revive them with CPR. The memory is so vivid that he still remembers the exact time and date of the incident. “It’s something you never forget. Someone’s life is literally in your hands.”
Although Bufete was not able to revive the patient, Hayward may not be able to revive itself without someone like Bufete. “We’re falling behind in Hayward. We’ve become content with mediocrity. We need someone to push us and say we are better than this and we can succeed.” He added, “You can’t build on negativity, you only building on the positives. Saying this sucks, that sucks doesn’t help. I want us to solve our own problems and that would send the message that we are capable of changing for the better.”