Like vice-president and lieutenant governor, the honorific of vice mayor sounds important. But it’s not. The ceremonial title’s job prescription is solely to be a stand-in for the mayor at ribbon-cuttings and sometimes preside over a council meeting when the mayor is away. But most local voters don’t readily know this, and come election time the title of vice mayor can impart grand importance to an incumbent.
When selecting vice mayors, some city councils are cognizant of the fact the title can unfairly boost the credentials of an incumbent. Often they choose, instead, to bestow the honor on a councilmember not up for re-election.
This was not the case in San Leandro earlier this month when the behind-the-scenes jockeying to become vice mayor may have resulted in a fracturing between two political allies, while signalling an early soft war for the open mayoral seat in 2022.
Councilmember Pete Ballew, up for re-election this fall, likely doesn’t need the title of vice mayor. But it would have been helpful for Councilmember Ed Hernandez’s own re-election.
Ballew won the District 6 seat that represents areas surrounding the San Leandro Marina four years ago. That he won the seat isn’t exactly how it happened. It just that nobody chose to run for the seat left open by termed out Councilmember Jim Prola. Come November 2020, it’s very likely that Ballew will run unopposed for re-election.
Hernandez, who like Ballew, and every other member of the San Leandro City Council, it seems, is rumored to being eyeing a run for mayor in two years. But, in the meantime, he could be face a challenge for his District 2 seat from Bryan Azevedo, a likable construction worker with a knack for social media.
To the layman, the posts sometimes give the impression that Azevedo is their council representative. A pair of photos published in a local newspaper last year showing Azevedo and others picking up trash around shopping center on East 14th Street portrayed him in a positive light and seemed to unnerve Hernandez.
Hernandez went into the Jan. 6 council meeting with the belief that he would be selected as the city’s next vice mayor and that Ballew had supported his effort, he acknowledged last week.
“I had spoken to my colleagues and shared my interest to be the next vice mayor, but it was not the will of the Council,” Hernandez told the East Bay Citizen. “So, moving forward I have gotten various endorsements and will win without the title.”
Ballew said he made no attempt to lobby for the role of vice mayor. Ballew and Hernandez are typically viewed as political allies. In the past, they had endorsed each others campaign.
Councilmember Corina Lopez, however, had other ideas for who should be vice mayor. First in the queue to speak, Lopez quickly nominated Councilmember Benny Lee as a way to recognize his last year in office before being termed out. When nobody appeared poised to second Lopez’s motion, Lee did it himself.
Ballew was then nominated. The motion was curiously seconded by Hernandez.
Meanwhile, Lee made his case for vice mayor, noting that he is not up for re-election, while two others on the council are. The ceremonial title could weigh heavily on the upcoming city council elections this fall, he added.
Lee had also never served a full-term as vice mayor during his tenure. “I think I’ve served with distinction for the last seven years. I definitely worked well with everyone in the group,” he said. The effort was futile.
The council vote for Lee was split, 3-3, and failed. Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter, Deborah Cox, and Hernandez voted no. Ballew abstained.
Ballew’s vote was successful, passing, 4-1. Lee voted no. Victor Aguilar, Jr. and Ballew abstained.
During recess of the Jan. 21 council meeting, Ballew said the idea for his appointment as vice mayor, was not his, but Cutter’s. During the vice mayor discussion two weeks prior, Cutter said she preferred someone who has sufficient extra time to perform the job’s duties.
“I feel that I’m short-circuiting our community a lot when I cant make it around to different things, and there are lot that happen during the day,” Cutter said on Jan. 6. Ballew is a retired San Leandro police officer. Both Hernandez and Lee hold full-time jobs while serving on the council.
But more appears to going on below the surface. Ballew, Hernandez, and, possibly Lopez, appear on a collision course for the mayor’s race in 2022 when Cutter will be termed out of office.
Their privately stated interest in the job is a hot rumor in San Leandro politics. Given this atmosphere, its no surprise behind-the-scenes machinations to block any advantage, no matter how minute, has begun to fray their relationships.
It may also underscored an exchange that occurred at the end of last week’s meeting when Ballew, presiding over the meeting while Cutter was away at the U.S. Mayors’ Conference, snapped at Hernandez.