Cassidy’s Quandary: Juggling Work Demands With His Duties As Mayor

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | In San Leandro, being mayor is not a full-time job, at least, financially. Earlier this month, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy offered another in a long line of proposals that appear more suited to molding the official business of the city to his own personal work schedule than his stated goals of greater government efficiency.

While citing concerns San Leandro City Council meetings run too long, Cassidy proposed Nov. 7 a set of time-saving restrictions meant to offer greater efficiency and ostensibly have council members at home and in bed before the late local news.

Cassidy’s suggestions to impose a 15-minute time limit on staff presentations during regular meetings along with a limit of four questions per council member to staff and a seven-minute limit on council reports routinely heard at the end of meetings, was met with some opposition.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

“I signed up for this because I want to be available for the public,” said Councilmember Benny Lee. He told Cassidy he was willing to stay at meetings however long they go and worries placing time restraints will yield inadequate information for the public.

Councilmember Ursula Reed thinks the council is already efficient and meetings typically do not run very long. However, she said, recent hot topic issues such as the Chinese flag controversy last September and the approval of medical cannabis dispensaries two weeks ago are rare and attract more public speakers than usual.

“The majority of us have to be at work the next day,” said Cassidy and “Decision-making begins to degrade after 10 p.m.” He cautions, though, he plans to implement the new guidelines for three months before reevaluating its usefulness.

However, this is not the first time Cassidy has made attempts to allow his own personal convenience trump the needs and schedule of others at City Hall. Early in his first term, Cassidy changed the starting times of City Council committees of which he served. Some were scheduled to start at odd early morning times such 7:45 a.m. Critics claimed Cassidy, who is an attorney in San Francisco, scheduled the odd times to fit his commute on BART to The City. A year later, the council committees were eliminated altogether.

The demands of working a full-time job while leading a city of over 86,000 has also severely limited Cassidy’s ability to hold office hours, let alone commiserate with other public officials and colleagues in the East Bay. During his first three years in office, Cassidy has shown a clear unwillingness for serving on intergovernmental agencies. Of the nine such agencies, Cassidy is only an alternate for the Alameda County Transportation Committee. Earlier this year, former Union City Mayor Mark Green suggested Cassidy was making a mistake for himself and his constituents by not participating on such boards and their potential for creating important networking and leadership opportunities. Despite an aversion to local regional matters, however, Cassidy did serve as president of the Alameda County Mayors Council last year, which skews to a more national view of issues.

In all fairness, Cassidy is the first San Leandro mayor who is not semi-retired since Ellen Corbett in the mid-90s, but the political optics of a mayor who rarely even sets foot in his office is ripe for manipulation by any potential challenger for his seat next year. Cue a photo of an empty mayor’s office with the tagline: “How can Stephen Cassidy lead San Leandro when he’s working at his cubicle in San Francisco?” could be a suggested campaign flier. However, for Cassidy’s sake, he has yet to draw any credible competition. No member of the City Council appears poised to take him on despite his flaws and reputation as an uncompromising colleague and no member of the public with necessary gravitas seems to exist.

Cynthia Chandler, an attorney, is a likely opponent who is indicating a willingness to aggressively take Cassidy on, but she has no political experience. Dan Dillman, a charismatic local theater owner who describes himself as both a treasure hunter and ancient astronaut theorist, may also present Cassidy with another challenger willing to get in his face on issues such as city and business relations. In recent months, Cassidy and Dillman have traded barbs during the public speakers’ portion of council meetings. For instance, when Cassidy asked Dillman to state his address before speaking, Dillman eventually replied, “Milky Way. Planet Earth.” Yet, like the question of whether there is life on distant planets, San Leandro voters may have to wonder if there is, indeed, any sign of life in their mayor’s office and, if it does, what’s next? A proposal by Cassidy to proclaim council meetings to end before the start of “The Voice”?