SIX-MONTH REVIEW | A new crop of East Bay officials recently finished their first six months in office. Their probation period is officially over. But while nobody is getting let go–voters would have to mount a recall campaign–most have met expectations. A few less have room for improvement and just one has exceeded expectations…
Pauline Russo Cutter, San Leandro mayor As a San Leandro councilmember, Cutter almost always preferred a low profile. Her demeanor sometimes made her appear meek, but these attributes, in fact, are making Cutter better suited to be mayor than councilmember. After San Leandro politics took a fractious turn for four years under Stephen Cassidy, Cutter has immediately fostered cohesiveness and goodwill. I suspected just after her election last November that Cutter’s nature might work out positively for San Leandro’s City Council, but you never know what the allure of being mayor does to a person. Cutter, though, hasn’t changed and she’s leading a city definitely on the rise and doing it again with progressive flair, giving a nod to labor unions to create jobs for San Leandrans along with allocations this winter to fund warming centers for the poor. Right now, Cutter is showing leadership is not about one person making speeches but building a strong and collaborative team.
Libby Schaaf, Oakland mayor The purveyor of Oakland’s “Secret Sauce” would have exceeded her already lofty expectations if not for her administration’s ham-handed and illegal beat down on the First Amendment rights of protesters to march at night, or anytime of the day. That’s no small thing. Not only the act, but its reminder to many in Oakland’s flatlands that Schaaf is still “Libby from the Hills.” It’s too bad because Schaaf has done an astounding job of changing the general perception of Oakland. Problems still persist, but Oakland is no longer being beaten over the head by local corporate media like it was under former Mayor Jean Quan. She has proven to be a beneficial face of Oakland and, of course, showcasing the city to the national following the Warriors’ NBA championship was a big and fortuitous bounce. Schaaf has also done a good job of focusing on the city’s aging infrastructure with her new Department of Transportation. But, as always, Oakland’s politics is a minefield and no elected official can expect to traverse it unscathed. Look on the horizon. If the Raiders scamper out of Oakland, that one is going to long be held over Schaaf’s head.
Steve Glazer, seventh district state senator Absolutely no surprise here. He calls himself a moderate, but acts like someone without any core beliefs other than antagonizing working people. Although the sample size is small (Glazer was just elected last May) he proven to be anything but a sure vote for Democrats. In fact, he led the Legislature in most times not voting with his caucus, through the middle of June. He also has no compunction against repeatedly posing on social media with the area’s conservative member of the Assembly, Catharine Baker. People in Contra Costa County might dig their representative in the state Senate for his independence, but others might call it believing in nothing and everything.
Abel Guillen, Oakland councilmember He seemed apprehensive at first, but the look may have only been a realization that Oakland politics is plenty crazy. But in short time, Guillen has shown to be forceful in his convictions and tempered in his response to attacks by his colleagues or special interests. Few officials in the East Bay have the political tools Guillen possesses; he just needs to seamlessly corral all of them all at once. Right now, he’s a pitcher throwing 100 miles per hour who has some problems spotting his fastball. Trumpeting a skateboard park near Lake Merritt as a community benefit concession from a developer is one that definitely hit the backstop.
Corina Lopez, San Leandro councilmember She has quickly exhibited a strong presence on the City Council. With progressive Councilmember Jim Prola termed out in 2016, Lopez looks like the movement’s standard-bearer in San Leandro.
Jim Oddie, Alameda councilmember Like Lopez and Guillen, Oddie’s early performance has been slightly a cut above of the rest who have met expectations through six months in office. Oddie’s role as Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s district director has clearly given the Alameda City Council a valuable statewide perspective that few other City Council’s can draw upon. He’s also proven well-spoken and quite comfortable at the dais for someone without legislative experience.
Frank Matarrese, Alameda councilmember He’s been here before. During the fall campaign, Matarrese got lumped in with the anti-development sect of Alameda’s politics, but his platform suggested he was open to reason. He’s still wary of increasing the island’s potential for more traffic, but he has not been the hardliner some moderate and conservatives expected when they voted for him. Matarrese has been through the wars in Alameda as a former councilmember and his experience has shown with several thoughtful and well-reasoned stances on development.
Lee Thomas, San Leandro councilmember He ran as a candidate who appeared to hold more moderate beliefs, but as a councilmember in San Leandro, the typically reserve Thomas has voted for and strongly advocated for labor. He’s also showing an altruistic side with his advocacy for children. Thomas is leading a drive to donate new pairs of shoes to needy San Leandro children in time for the beginning of the school year.
Trish Herrera Spencer, Alameda mayor There’s a hot mess going on in Alameda. Some may have warned about it early on and have been proven absolutely correct, but Spencer’s tumultuous six months as mayor can still be salvaged. Ironically, the candid and blunt personality that has gotten her in trouble recently is also the same attributes that won her the November election. The “white rice” comment to Filipinos last month was unfortunate, but the fix is simply being much better prepared to speak in public than whipping out your smartphone and poaching facts on the fly from Wikipedia. There’s bigger problems here and they started with her first meeting in December when she was the lone vote against an aspect of Alameda Point. A mayor cannot lead from such a small minority and needs to build consensus. Consistently being the lone no vote as mayor only means you’re not working the proposal in its early stages and molding it to suit your stance. Spencer’s way screams weakness and the political establishment she bucked with the major upset of Marie Gilmore is prepared to attack like a band of wild hyenas. So far, they have succeeded it tearing chunks of flesh off the mayor. She needs to be better cognizant about the level of politics she is now playing while keeping in mind she possesses something few elected leaders in the East Bay hold. People genuinely adore her as a person.
Tony Thurmond/Catharine Baker, state assemblymembers He’s a rookie in the Assembly and nothing can change that. This grade doesn’t mean Thurmond’s first six months have been a disaster, but only that it take time for some freshman to find their way in Sacramento. But his bill banning tobacco use by ballplayers at Major League parks is such a colossal waste of time. How does this really dissuade children from using tobacco? It seemed much more about getting Thurmond face time on television and radio than anything else. We already have someone like that in the East Bay. His name is Rep. Eric Swalwell.
Bob Wieckowski, tenth district state senator It’s not that Wieckowski gives bad speeches, its just that sometimes it seems like he can’t read. His devaluation as an elected official in the East Bay actually started during his last year’s in the Assembly. Painfully awkward to watch, Wieckowski still hasn’t offered meaningful legislation in his career and like Thurmond, he’s trying to make his name through attention-grabbing bills. But unlike Thurmond, he’s not gaining much attention. Wieckowsi’s latest bill to fine excessive water users up to 300 percent of the cost of water is a bit outlandish. And instead of bringing attention the real problem of water wasters, the only attention the bill is getting is the exorbitant fine.
Annie Campbell Washington, Oakland councilmember On an Oakland City Council bursting with bombastic characters, Washington often disappears. There’s enormous promise here, though. Her rhetoric is clear and well-spoken and she has repeatedly batted away attempts by the rough-hewn Councilmember Desley Brooks to bait her into one of the public verbal squabbles. This grade is nothing more than a nod to the fact that this job is difficult and there is no way for anyone to train for it. Some people just take more time than others to settle in.
Barbara Halliday, Hayward mayor She has that wonderful, snorting laugh going on and said she was open to not taking showers to save water. So there’s that. Nobody on the Hayward City Council has more experience than Halliday and she’s holding the fort. The city, however, appears to be going nowhere and Halliday’s been at the helm since last June. Maintaining the status quo is no longer suitable and we’re too far down the road for Halliday to have no new ideas for improving upon the ruins of Hayward’s broken economic engine. Halliday is just one of seven city councilmembers, but she’s the mayor and Hayward is starving for new ideas, or, even just some sense that creativity exists at City Hall.
Sara Lamnin/Elisa Marquez, Hayward councilmembers They have been on the job longer than the rest. Lamnin was elected last June and Marquez was appointed in July. Both have done a solid job but because of the makeup of this council, its two most progressive members need to be much stronger and far more vocal. After several tries for the council, Lamnin owes labor for her seat and if Marquez is re-elected next June it will be thanks to working people. The rest of the Hayward City Council exudes a belief that their austerity measures are unimpeachable. In fact, without labor concessions the city could have become the next Vallejo that the fiscally conservative wing often references. Lamnin and Marquez need to more often call BS on this conservative agenda in Hayward.