Hayward City Council referral debate got really personal

The tension at Hayward City Hall has been building for months between some elected officials and the insurgent councilmember appearing to set a new paradigm in the city’s politics. The mean-spirited comments and backbiting that have been evident in the background towards Councilmember Aisha Wahab’s style and bold legislative direction spilled out into the public view Tuesday night.

During a lengthy discussion on a controversial proposal by Hayward City Manager Kelly McAdoo to limit the number of referrals offered by each councilmember per year, an action perceived to target Wahab, the normal course of city business looked and sounded more like an angry family counseling session than government meeting.

Councilmember Elisa Marquez said Wahab was using the referral process, used for getting idea and new legislative proposals on the agenda, for her own political benefit and that she was prone to grandstanding on social media. Another, Councilmember Al Mendall, appeared to mansplain how elected officials typically get legislation approved before offering his own expertise.

The divide and clique-oriented dynamic on the Hayward City Council over the past few years was further evident when Councilmember Mark Salinas, ostracized by his colleagues for this own political ambitions, came to Wahab’s aid. Salinas suggested that he, like Wahab, have been often targeted by the city’s status quo, in an effort to sideline his agenda.

“Make no mistake about it. We don’t work together.”Hayward Councilmember Mark Salinas rebutting claims of a harmonious working relationship suggested by some of his council colleagues Tuesday night.

Despite the rancor, the council voted, 5-2, to approve the changes sought by McAdoo to standardize the referral process, but without the most controversial component, the request to limit each councilmember to just five referrals per year. Salinas and Wahab voted no. Wahab said the proposed change undermines free speech and is likely a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“This is a disservice to the voters of this city,” said Wahab. “It violates the Constitution, restricts speech, and the duties of the elected to serve the people and their interests. The arbitrary referral process described will make this council ineffective,” she said Tuesday night.

A number of Hayward residents concurred, some strongly questioning some councilmembers for what they believe is a proposal that would strip some of their own powers. “I get this feeling that you guys work for the city manager.,” said Eduardo Orozco, a Hayward resident. “Are you ready to give the city manager this much power? he asked Councilmember Francisco Zermeño. Later, Zermeño made an initial motion to approve the entire referral proposal, including the restrictions on council referrals.

Wahab brought the referral issue to the forefront last January after noticing a transparent process for offering prospective agenda items did not exist. Instead, a long-standing, initially informal, method of “four nods” was used, meaning, a majority of the seven-person council supported the referral item moving forward. But the four nods did not represent a formal vote of the council, said Wahab, and included no accountability for each elected official. “All these years nobody thought this was a problem?” said Wahab.

Tuesday night’s agenda item was in response to Wahab’s referral to revamp the process, but the clause brought forth by McAdoo to limit the number of referrals based on a need to balance city staff time, appeared to some as a power grab by the city manager to quell Wahab’s growing stature among Hayward residents and East Bay politicos.

Wahab has already issued at least five referrals since being sworn into office last December. Theoretically, the proposal as offered could have, in effect, silenced Wahab’s own legislative goals for the rest of this year. Her list of requests have dealt with weighty issues, including, an acceleration of the minimum wage to $15 an hour, rent control, an equal pay for equal work ordinance, and de-escalation training for Hayward Police, among others.

But Wahab’s aggressive approach has clearly unnerved some of her colleagues. Marquez said Wahab seeks to “control the narrative” at every meeting. “With all due respect, Councilmember Wahab, you want every sentence, every word you stated correctly captured. I’m not worried about that because I’m sure you’ll go on CBS News or on your Twitter tantrums. It’s really, really ineffective.”

Marquez breathlessly made odd, seemingly disconnected, references to the 2018 council election, declaring she will be buried in Hayward, before adding that Wahab is a liability to Hayward. “This isn’t about serving the public. This is about individual people wanting to serve their own interests, pushing the own agenda.” Those left in the council chambers at midnight erupted with angry shouting toward Marquez. She exchanged comments with some.

The diatribe is further curious since Marquez, following Wahab, has become a consistent supporter of housing and renters. Marquez is also viewed as a potential future state assembly candidate.

Mendall Al
Hayward Councilmember Al Mendall

Councilmember Al Mendall, also viewed as a candidate for higher office one day, preceded Marquez’s critique, saying there are many ways to get ideas on the agenda. He urged Wahab to first learn the ropes. A referral is just one tool for a councilmember to use, he said. “It is a hammer, but not everything is a nail. Not every community need is a nail. The hammer isn’t always the right tool to use.”

Turning toward Wahab, Mendall said, “Part of learning how to do this job is learning how to use all the tools available to them.” Mendall offered to tutor Wahab last December, he said, but she never took his offer. “I mention that because, it seems to me, that you’ve found the hammer and you seem to know how to use it, but I wonder if you’re aware there are all these other tools out there that you can use?”

“We all go through this learning process when we come up here,” he continued. “We all come to this job not knowing how to do it. It happened to me, too.” He added, Wahab is blaming others for her own “failure to get things done.”

“I’m disappointed about the personal attacks,” Wahab said after the meeting. “I would rather stay focus on the issues I’m fighting for.”

Rarely has this level of personal discord reared its head in Hayward politics. But since Wahab’s election to the council last November based on a progressive campaign to bring housing security to struggling Hayward residents, her splash in local politics and the aggressive push for rapid change in the city, has caught all levels of the city’s government and traditional power brokers significantly off-balance.

Councilmember Mark Salinas emerged Tuesday night as a potential ally to Wahab. In a shocking display of political honesty, Salinas suggested the bid to marginalize Wahab by a the rest of the council has occurred to him on numerous occasions since running to regain his council seat in 2016, along with his run for mayor last year against Mayor Barbara Halliday. “With the exception of Councilmember Wahab, everyone on this dais campaigned against me. They campaigned hard against me… hard!” Salinas said with great effect.

He described being ostracized by the council in the past and being the lone vote on some issues, like opposing tobacco retailers and the cannabis industry in Hayward. “When I was re-elected, it was made very clear to me that I was going to be the lone one,” he said.

“We need to work together. We can’t just talk about it,” Salinas said before pausing and flashing a slight grin. “I heard a lot of ‘We work together and we’re colleagues.’ Make no mistake about it. We don’t work together.”