STORYLINE During a year when San Leandro politics was upended by a high-profile allegation of sexual misconduct by its city manager and a well-known non-profit executive, the race for mayor is bringing back the city’s recent trend of lying low when it comes to politics. It’s an atmosphere that suits both of the front-runners.
MEET THE CANDIDATES If re-elected, Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter will be become San Leandro’s longest-serving elected official, passing the stratosphere that includes former Mayors Jack Maltester and Tony Santos. She spent 12 years on the San Leandro school board before election to the City Council in 2010. Cutter won the open mayor’s seat in 2014 when Mayor Stephen Cassidy decided not to seek re-election. Her politics edges toward the center of the political spectrum, by extension she is known as adept at forming consensus with a gentle touch. Cutter’s moderate streak, though, when it comes to housing, has rankled progressives in San Leandro. She does not support rent control, but has not expressed a hard-line against it in the future, if warranted. Councilmember Benny Lee, who has represented the District 4 seat in Washington Manor, has been planning a run for mayor for a few years. Lee has, by far, the largest campaign war chest in all of San Leandro’s elections this fall. The haul was boosted two years ago when he continued the pace of fundraising even though he ran unopposed. A clear theme for Lee since he was elected to the City Council in 2012 has been improving the city’s outreach to its many minority groups. He took some heat, though, when he pushed for the city to raise a Chinese flag over City Hall to recognize the country’s national day. Like Cutter, Lee is a moderate, albeit, a tad more conservative. He has voiced concern over cannabis, backed convenient store owners over the ban on flavored tobacco, and is more rigidly against rent control. Any good story needs a foil. In this race, it has been Jeromey Shafer, a Bernie Sanders acolyte, who is running on a single issue–rent control. His background is in organizing and he used this skill to form a slate of pro-rent control candidates named the “Fresh, Clean Slate.” Its three other members are running in the city’s three council races this fall. During the campaign, Shafer has been a firebrand rarely seen in San Leandro’s staid brand of recent politics. He believes city leaders have failed renters by not approving more restrictive measures against landlords raising rents. Shafer has also repeatedly called out the tactics of statewide and local property owners groups that he believes have put a stranglehold of local politicians in order to block policies for easing renters’ pain. Dan Dillman is back after running in the 2014 mayor’s race against Cutter and former Councilmember Diana Souza. He also previously ran for the City Council. As owner of the Bal Theatre on East 14th Street, he has long advocated for the city to transform the area into a dedicated entertainment district.He’s done his part resuscitating the Bal Theatre (also with the city’s help). Dillman’s previous runs for public office differ from this time around. He’s kept his loving tone and charisma, but added a few policy elements this fall. Although a $400 bond measure to wipe out unfunded liabilities is a non-starter, but annexing San Lorenzo is worthy, at least, as a conversation starter.
She let the city manager take the heat for her. That’s something I wouldn’t do.-Lee criticizing Cutter in the fallout of news report about her daughter being hired by the city.
PAST RESULT (2014, 1st-place votes)
1. Cutter 7,864 (48.46%)
2. Souza 5,931 (36.55%)
3. Dillman 2,224 (13.70%)
4. Gregg Daly 124 (0.52%)
(Ranked choice final)
1. Cutter 8,801 (57.27%)
2. Souza 6,566 (42.73%)
OUTLOOK This could be a very tough race between Cutter and Lee. Cutter’s greatest strength as a public official is her understated way of solving problems and conflicts. When she talks about “A City Where Kindness Matters,” she is no hypocrite. That’s also her personal motto. But her quiet effectiveness doesn’t translate well to the campaign trail. Cutter is consistently a winner when it comes to elections. The “scandals” that surrounds her are somewhat manufactured. Her daughter was hired to work for the city for a menial job. It’s not like Cutter handed over large city contracts to family members or something worthy for voters to consider. Cutter is relatively popular in a city that in recent years has shown a growing amount of voter apathy. Hayward’s apathy may be frustration, but in San Leandro, it may be better described as apathetic contentment. That’s good for Cutter. Her campaign must sense this, too, since it has all the hallmarks of a “stay the course” strategy. Lee has the same thing going on for him. He’s popular and well-respected. This guy is a straight arrow. Knowing that, it was a big mistake for him to use the negative-sounding campaign tagline of “Moving Forward with Integrity.” That’s not Benny! Framing his campaign around stalled San Leandro Marina development is ridiculous. When a San Leandro voter hears this talking point, they’re thinking (probably not saying out loud) ‘I thought you said you have been on the council for six years? Why didn’t you fix this problem already?'” And besides, San Leandrans all know they’ve been talking about improving the Marina for literally 40 years. Thank God, Shafer has inserted a conversation about rent control into this race. Frankly, there would be nothing to talk about. That being said, some of his move have been absolute head-scratchers. How in the world can you unseat the incumbent through ranked choice voting by telling people to vote for Cutter as your number two choice? The main problem here appears to be an enormous amount of over-thinking on his part. Say this about Dillman. People love that guy, and add this without any cynicism, Dan loves them back. But he’s not going to win. Instead, he should be more laser-focused on being the kingmaker in this race and reap the political capital that come with it. Cutter might be in more trouble if her opponents were able to cobble together a cogent campaign to leave her off their top three choices on Election Day. They haven’t done so.
RIGHT Lee or Cutter