The lack of quality mayoral candidates
in San Leandro leads some to suggest
Ellen Corbett, left, should run in the fall.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

SAN LEANDRO | MAYOR | When San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy said last month he would not seek re-election after just one term, it suddenly put the mayor’s race in play. Cassidy appeared headed for re-election in November and although his ill-mannered personality and chronic absenteeism from mayor’s offie were huge negatives, Cassidy didn’t bring the city down. In fact, San Leandro’s economic recovery outpaced other neighboring cities and under his guidance earned a growing reputation as the East Bay’s newest hub for technology.

Four years ago, Cassidy came somewhat out of nowhere to become the first candidate to unseat an incumbent mayor in San Leandro. With Cassidy off the ballot in the fall, San Leandrans are struggling to find a suitable replacement. If you ask around, the early current field of prospective mayoral candidates is failing to capture the imagination of prospective supporters and donors.

In fact, this lack of exuberance is not entirely surprising. In recent years, San Leandro politics has suffered from a poor bench of prospective candidates to draw from whether it is for mayor or the City Council. Therefore, from this pool of choices, the first two candidates to enter the race are not even the most effective members of the City Council. Councilmembers Diana Souza and Pauline Cutter have already announced their intention to run. Both share a common trait of appearing uncertain during council deliberations. Although, Souza has fought back against Cassidy’s browbeating, Cutter is viewed as his only council ally, however, in doing so, often looking mousy and meek.

Councilmember Jim Prola’s strong ties
to labor would make him a front runner
for mayor, but says he has no interest.

Furthermore, two other members of the City Council better suited for a promotion to mayor, say they have no interest. Councilmember Jim Prola would automatically be the front runner upon announcing, but he has maintained a stubborn aversion to the idea. Similarly, Councilmember Michael Gregory is termed out, but he may feel running for the East Bay Regional Park District board is a more fulfilling endeavor.

Even though, San Leandro has had a history of colorful mayoral candidates running campaigns based more on vanity than policy (think rapper Mo Wiley), Bal Theater owner Dan Dillman may fit this description, but he also has some good ideas and a flair for showmanship. Yet, their candidacies are not providing reason for San Leandro politicos to register full support.

With no future prospects for mayor on the horizon, whispers from the past are being bandied about with great frequency. It’s why former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young is strongly thinking about running. From time to time, you hear Tony Santos’ name floated. The former mayor who lost to Cassidy in 2010 often appears coy about running, but he’s unlikely to run. Sometimes you even hear suggestions former San Leandro Councilmember Bob Glaze might be interested even though he’s been away from City Hall almost a decade.

The most interesting rumor deals with another former mayor, this time, Ellen Corbett. Although, she will be looking for a new job come December, going from the big pond that is Sacramento to San Leandro might, for her, feel like a huge step backward. However, with San Leandro on the upswing, Corbett in the mayor’s office would be a coup. A small city version of Jerry Brown returning to the East Bay to lead an Oakland renaissance a decade ago.

Either way, just like neighboring Oakland where the list of potential candidates is at 18, the bloated ballot denotes widespread dissatisfaction with the incumbent, but it also means no challenger has been able to gain strong traction. This leads to the next prospective candidate to enter the race and so on. This could happen in San Leandro, too, which like Oakland, employs ranked choice voting, the seemingly haphazard method of choosing its leaders. It’s also a system that greatly fosters the belief among political dreamers that anything happen. Four years ago, underdogs Jean Quan and Stephen Cassidy only bolstered that idea.