First term Councilmember Benny Lee
is San Leandro’s next vice mayor.

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | The level of quiet acrimony at the San Leandro City Council is beginning to bubble over. A day after Mayor Stephen Cassidy announced on Facebook he will not run for re-election, some of his council colleagues had not spoken to the mayor before or after the surprise news. The unusually long City Council meeting, which adjourned after midnight, featured no mention by Cassidy of his decision late Sunday night to serve only through the end of the year. Councilmembers Ursula Reed, Michael Gregory and Benny Lee said Cassidy had not broached the subject with them.

Later in Monday night’s meeting, the council voted to name Lee its next vice mayor. The tally, however, was not unanimous, an unusual occurrence for the largely ceremonial position. The 4-3 vote was opposed by Councilmembers Pauline Cutter, Jim Prola and Cassidy and further revealing growing dissension on the council.

The selection also highlighted past confrontations between Cassidy and a few council members, along with some in the city’s Chinese American community still fuming over the mayor’s decision to rescind a vote last fall to allow the Chinese national flag to fly at City Hall in celebration of the country’s national day. The motion, by Councilmember Diana Souza, who is running for mayor this November, may also be political. Souza had previously criticized the council’s method of selecting a vice mayor, while noting she had never served in the role during her seven years as council member. City staff said changing the method for choosing a vice mayor each May would require a costly referendum to change the City Charter. The title of vice mayor can sometimes be a valuable honorific for a candidate running for higher office. However, Souza changed course.

“I’ve been disappointed over the past three years that there has been no support or recognition for anyone to make a motion and support a vice mayor that recognizes and embraces the diversity of this council.” said Souza, who then nominated Lee since he’s not running for office this year and has not served previously. Lee, who is Chinese American, was elected to the District 4 seat in 2012. Repeating Cassidy’s words on an earlier, unrelated agenda item, Souza added, “Think this through carefully.”

After a long 10 second pause, Cassidy said, “I think it is inappropriate to push items for political interests when you touch upon such sensitive matters as respect for other races or other cultures and diversity.” He added other persons of color had served as vice mayor, including Reed, who is black. He labeled Souza’s reasoning a “false argument.”

“Everyone has the opportunity of vice mayor, but no one is guaranteed it,” said Cassidy. Other factors such as experience, temperament and ability to communicate with the public should be included, he went on, “and also a positive relationship with the mayor.” When the final vote was announced, possibly the most telling example of the rift beginning to be made public between Cassidy and the council followed. There was no applause, no congratulatory speeches for the new vice mayor that typically follows. They all just moved on to the next agenda item.