A Farewell To Michael Sweeney, The Man Who Made It Easier To Cover Government

One of the few occasions when I was attempting to surreptitiously keep an eye on former Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney’s public dealings, otherwise known as a photo bomb. PHOTO/Natalia Aldana
Michael Sweeney ended three non-
consecutive terms as Hayward’s mayor
this week.

HAYWARD | APPRECIATION | I like to think former Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney called me “Hurricane Tavares” because he agreed with my periodic buzzing of the bad characters in his city. I also like to think my ideals of good and honest government was in line with his since his tenure as mayor never attracted my attention for being a hindrance to democracy. Yet, for being such a thorough leader, Sweeney was often a quiet and somewhat mercurial political character. However, there was never any doubt that behind closed doors, he towered over Hayward government. The conga line of unanimous council votes was the urging and sometimes insistence of Sweeney, but such power, often easily misused by other politicians, never seemed to used against the people of Hayward.

As a political reporter, it’s not often that I can reveal what I really think about the people I chronicle every day, but upon Sweeney’s retirement this week, I can suspend the precepts of the Fifth Estate. I think the man who often wore a simple dress shirt and khakis to every public appearance—rolled up sleeves, of course—was an honest politician. There was a very paternal feel to Sweeney’s tenure in office. Sometimes he even appeared to be giving his council colleagues that look only a parent can convey to their children. Other times, like when he would jokingly chide now-former Councilmember Mark Salinas to quit yapping, he was also imparting friendly advice to be more concise in your thoughts. Sweeney didn’t say much, therefore, when he did, people listened.

Sweeney worst act in office, as an
A’s fan, may have been once posing
with the Giants World Series trophies.

I’ll admit to never being able to crack the mind of Michael Sweeney in the four years covering Hayward politics. He’s an old school private guy. On many occasions, I attempted to prod Sweeney into talking about probably the biggest missteps of his political career during his campaign for the State Senate. During that race his campiagn infamously sent a hit piece that inadvertently included his opponent’s Social Security number. He lost that one and would never bite when I mentioned the unfortunate event. The entire episode intrigued me just for the fact it may have been the only time Sweeney acted un-Sweeney-like. But, sure, Sweeney was not adverse to talking trash in the public realm. He often trashed Hayward’s representative in Sacramento for caving against the interests of his residents a few years ago during the dissolution of redevelopment agencies. However, the attacks against Ellen Corbett and Mary Hayashi, although vicious, were always about the game, not the players.

That being said, his legacy in Hayward is not entire clear. The city has long struggled to acclimate itself to its post-industrial economy and the Great Recession did nothing but exacerbate its dwindling revenue base. However, it may be better to view Sweeney’s Hayward through a different lens. What would the city look like today if it didn’t have his leadership to keep the near-sinking ship afloat during the worst of times? Let’s be frank, the lack of quality among political leaders in Hayward is troublesome and its bench is quite thin. It’s scary to think what the city would look like today if it didn’t have someone like Sweeney who could draw up his perspective as the area’s former assemblyman and the perception he was no longer beholden to Sacramento, labor unions or any other special interest group other than the people of Hayward.

Make no mistake, Sweeney’s departure will be immediately evident on many levels and it will be interesting to see if the new mayor, Barbara Halliday, can keep the holes in Hayward plugged in the short-term. I will honestly miss the soothing cadence of the council meetings Sweeney’s leadership imparted and on a practical note, there is this: Doesn’t everybody like the co-worker who makes your job easier? Michael Sweeney’s commitment to good government was impeccable. For a guy like me, there was never any need to keep watch on him.

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