The rivalry between San Leandro Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr. and the man he replaced on the city council, Lee Thomas, is easily the most bitter in all of East Bay politics. And following a newspaper article in which Aguilar, Jr. denied wrongdoing for building an illegal fence, Thomas lashed out at his former opponent in a Facebook video last week.
The controversy began two years ago when Thomas’s neighbor went public with her problems about a fence the then-councilmember was attempting to construct at his home. Thomas applied for a variance for the fence. The neighbor and later Aguilar, Jr., who later mounted a challenge for the District 3 council seat in 2018, suggested Thomas had used political pressure to obtain the permit. The controversy may have led to Aguilar, Jr. upsetting Thomas at the polls in November 2018.
See you in 2022.-Lee Thomas, former San Leandro councilmember, in a Facebook posting.
But there was later a plot twist. Last year, it was reported Aguilar, Jr. had constructed his own fence without seeking approval from the city at the same time he was hammering Thomas’s legal pursuit of a fence through the city’s approval process. Aguilar, Jr. essentially blamed Thomas for snitching about the illegal fence. The two live nearby to each other.
The city then ordered Aguilar, Jr. to seek a variance for the illegal fence from the city’s planning commission or remove it. Some planning commissioners blasted Aguilar, Jr. for undermining the public’s trust in government and ordered him to either reduce the height of the fence or move it closer to his home.
Aguilar, Jr. recently made the prescribed changes to the fence. The San Leandro Times touted Aguilar, Jr.’s compliance with the city’s code in a stilted article published last week.
“Everything’s kosher now. Nobody can complain. Not even his opponent in the last election, Lee Thomas, who alerted City Hall that Aguilar’s fence was out of compliance,” read the lede in the Times. Aguilar, Jr. is later quoted, saying, “We play by the rules,” a reference to his actions toward building his fence.
The stilted tone of the article in favor of Aguilar, Jr. and his quote ignoring his wrongdoing, set off Thomas, who posted a video on Facebook that blasted the San Leandro Times and Aguilar, Jr.
Thomas also more than hinted that he will challenge Aguilar, Jr. re-election. “See you in 2022,” Thomas said at the conclusion of the video that also includes a cameo from Thomas’s daughter. Aguilar, Jr.’s first term is up in November 2022.
Thomas said Aguilar, Jr.’s quote in the Times is an attempt to deceive San Leandro residents. “Citizens of San Leandro deserve the truth. He clearly tried to circumvent the truth while using my neighbor’s dispute for election purposes,” Thomas wrote in a text message to the East Bay Citizen. “I also think his statement that ‘We play by the rules’ somehow speculates that I did not play by the rules when I filed for a permit to legally build a fence.”
Last week’s social media kerfuffle is not the first time the two political rivals have engaged on Facebook. In a posting last June, Aguilar, Jr. told Thomas that he has a “lousy attitude.”
“I am in the process of going through the proper steps to become complaint. I think the content of your character is sour because you can’t accept defeat. Your stance is more political than rational. This issue is about a fence not a political race,” Aguilar, Jr. wrote.