When the Hayward City Council interviewed a slate of candidates for openings on the planning commission and other boards last month, a common question probed whether prospective appointees intended to fulfill their entire four-year term. In recent years, there are have been a number of mid-term resignations, councilmembers noted.
Aisha Wahab, who interviewed for a planning commission appointment, like many other candidates, was asked about her expected reliability for completing her term, if selected. Wahab is also a candidate for the Hayward City Council this November. Last week, her campaign turned heads by raising $42,000 in contributions–an amount significantly larger than her incumbent opponents.
But when Wahab did not sufficiently answer the default question on expected attendance posed by Councilmember Al Mendall, he posed another, more direct line of questioning. Mendall asked Wahab whether she would end her nascent council race if selected by the current councilmembers to serve on the planning commission.
“I asked everyone that I was considering for Planning Commission whether they would commit to serving a full four-year term,” said Mendall. “It takes time to become an effective planning commissioner, so it matters whether applicants are willing to commit to serve long enough to learn how to be effective.” Mendall, though, did not respond to questions of whether his follow-up was a veiled attempt to dangle the planning commission post to Wahab in exchange for ending her council campaign.
Mendall has endorsed fellow Counilmember Sara Lamnin for re-election this fall. It is unclear whether Mendall is endorsing Councilmember Marvin Peixoto, although they have endorsed each others campaigns in recent years.
In recent years, one of the hallmarks of the Hayward City Council has been its institutional solidarity. The most infamous instance being the council’s unanimous 2014 decision impose a controversial five percent wage cut against a large number of its union city workers. A majority of the council also made an unorthodox foray into opposing some members of the Hayward school board two years ago.
Wahab’s rise as a credible council candidate, and her progressive politics, may be viewed as a threat to the council’s status quo. If elected, she would be the state’s first Afghan American elected official and potentially its most progressive member.
During the July interview session, Peixoto and Lamnin also asked Wahab questions during the interview, albeit, fairly mundane and uncontroversial questions. Furthermore, another candidate for the planning commission who was interviewed by councilmembers, Zacariah Oquenda, also serves as Lamnin’s re-election campaign treasurer.
Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson, according to Lamnin, said the councilmembers up for re-election were not required to recuse themselves from Wahab’s interview because the filing period for candidates running this November had not yet concluded. Theoretically, anyone interviewing for boards and commissions could later become mayoral and council candidates.
When asked whether Mendall’s follow-up question to Wahab seemingly suggesting she end her council campaign in order to be picked for the planning commission, Peixoto said, “I’m not going to comment on the appropriateness of any of my colleagues’ questions during our Planning Commission interviews. I will say, however, that the Council seriously considered all of the applicants interviewed that evening and ultimately selected two individuals who demonstrated superior understanding of the land use issues confronting the City.”
The suggestion of political gamesmanship by the Hayward City Council last month against Wahab follows a related instance of her potential struggle against the city’s political establishment. This spring, Wahab was a scheduled speaker for a Hayward Rotary Club event. However, just days before the luncheon, the invitation was abruptly cancelled. Rotary officials claimed the group typically prohibits local candidates from speaking during the election season. Two weeks later, the Rotary website advertised a speaking engagement by Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday, who is up for re-election this year.