INSIDE THE STORIES OF 2012 | The original plan last July was to take the soon-to-be infamous text messages and present them to the Hayward school board during public comment. Jose Aldana, Maribel Heredia’s long-time fiancé and father of her two children, wanted to shame school board President Jesus Armas in a public setting for entering into an illicit affair with Heredia, but his attorney nixed the idea. He was sure about their dalliances since January when he met with Armas outside a Starbucks in Hayward. Aldana placed his smartphone on the table between them, pressed record, and continually grilled Armas over whether he and Heredia had recently spent a weekend together under the guise of an education seminar in Sacramento. Armas said he was there, but wasn’t aware Heredia was there also. Later when school board member William McGee was asked about the seminar, he laughed, and said neither of them was in Sacramento that weekend, but he was!
It’s fair to point out that Aldana never pointedly asked Armas whether he was having an affair with his fiancée. Instead, he used the line of questioning over the Sacramento trip as a proxy. Armas, ever the lawyer, measured his words precisely to never admit guilt. However, the careful word selection and tone of his voice sounded calculating and unnervingly cold. This was definitely Jesus Armas’s voice on the recording, at the same time, revealed a different, vastly darker side, to his personality.
Heredia would soon be out of the house in January and presumably the affair with Armas continued. Some Hayward sources in December 2011, way before I was alerted to the affair and its ramifications for harboring secrecy on the school board, had passed gossip to me the secret couple was seen holding hands during a school Christmas production. I hear these things all the time and, besides, we were in the middle of blockbuster local stories, at the time, involving Mary Hayashi and Nadia Lockyer. So, Armas’s libido was not high on my list of stories.
That changed around June when I began to receive numerous emails and a few phone calls from people urging me to talk to Aldana, along with many disparaging words for what Armas and Heredia were doing to the school district and, more importantly, to their families. People from the school district were specifically worried about the mental well-being of Aldana’s high school age daughter, who had lashed out against her mom in a Facebook posting. As with nearly all messy divorces, Aldana’s family was wallowing in significant turmoil. News of the affair had even percolated to one of Hayward Councilman Mark Salinas’s government ethics class with a student slyly referencing the Armas-Heredia affair as it pertained to state sunshine laws. Salinas, a Armas ally, curiously never admonished his buddy, nor did the council’s other Latino representative. The inability of Hayward’s city leaders to confront the messy personal details of its elected presented itself a year earlier with the affair of its former city manager Greg Jones and then-councilwoman Anna May. Just smile and act like everything is okay, seems to be the solution to every problem in Hayward.
In contrast, Aldana had no problem airing his personal life to friends at the school district–both to vent and to attract support for the misery in his family life. The flip side of his openness, however, identified those with him and those against him, while fueling his confidence to confront the anger brewing against Heredia, but more so, against Armas, the Hayward fixer many have tried to bring down only to have him repeatedly slide away like a snake slathered in Crisco. That all changed sometime in late June.
Many have speculated how The Citizen obtained the sometimes flirty text messages between Armas and Heredia that proved their affair and put the school board’s integrity on public trial later in the year. Did I somehow hack Heredia’s phone? Did someone at the school district have access to the messages contained on the phone? Did I steal the phone? All those questions were false and frankly gave me too much credit. In fact, it wasn’t even Aldana who procured the text messages, but Heredia’s own disgruntled family, who were upset over her decisions to blow up her relationship with Aldana and the children.
As the story goes, according to Aldana, Heredia left her phone unattended at a family member’s house. An unidentified person took the phone and perused its history for messages from Armas. Among the screen shots taken by the family member’s own phone of Heredia’s conversations with Armas was the infamous dialogue of Armas asking, “What did u buy?” and Heredia replying, “crotchless panties.” Aldana was understandably livid after being presented by the compelling evidence of an secret affair between his fiancée and Armas, but it eventually gave him pause to move on, but not before letting those same friends who buoyed his confidence earlier the confirmation of Heredia’s indiscretion.
When I first met Aldana at a Starbucks in Castro Valley, it was clear to me he had no idea how politically explosive those text messages could be for upsetting the hierarchy at the woeful Hayward school district. As we talked, he offhandedly mentioned an additional bombshell of transcripts taken under oath of Heredia admitting she does not read the school board’s agenda packets. Admittedly, my mouth was agape at the amount and sheer scope of the evidence seemingly dropped in my lap.
We know what happened after The Citizen published successive articles based upon Aldana’s tips in late July. A small group of angry Hayward resident consistently pilloried Armas and Heredia with a verbal “Scarlet A” and both quietly chose to not run for re-election in November. The board was then allowed to mend itself with two new members, Annette Walker and John Taylor.
Maybe Joe Aldana did not set out to change Hayward when he spoke publicly about the affair, but out of vicious retribution, he achieved both. Tell those who scoff, powerlessly, that no one person can foster change, because Aldana, whether unwittingly or by design, brought more positive change to the East Bay than any single person. His actions to rid the city of its corrupt figure heads at the school board who have consistently stripped the district down to spare parts while cronies benefited now give everybody a fair chance to succeed. Young school children in Hayward, our most important commodity, now have a plausible chance to grow and learn and families across the Bay Area may one day have a reason lay roots in the city where schools are valued rather than disparaged and picked over by vultures posing as businessmen. Joe Aldana will never receive a plaque from city leaders for what he did for the community, but we all know real heroes do not act for recognition, but for what is right.