Let’s begin by mentioning Hayward, with a diverse population of roughly 140,000, needs district-based elections. Although this council is clearly diverse– three Latinos, one Afghan American, for example- there is little diversity of opinion. The Hayward City Council, despite being a union town, does not always espouse union values, and only acquiesces to the progressive movement when things get too hot. The status quo in Hayward for about two decades has been a conga line of moderate, business-friendly elected officials. Ironically, the lack of a strong local economy is what constantly plagues Hayward, putting it on the short list of East Bay cities that could be talking bankruptcy if the covid-fueled recession because something worse. These are the competing interests in this 13-candidate race for four at-large seats.

The incumbents seeking re-election certainly have experience, Councilmembers Elisa Marquez (six years), Mark Salinas (eight of the past 10 years), and Francisco Zermeno (12 years), have presided over an era when Hayward has struggled to rebuild its economy. It can be argued Hayward is still reeling from the Great Recession of roughly a decade ago. When the economy came roaring back in the middle of the decade, Hayward still struggled. Now that the economy crashed due to the pandemic, these systemic problems are likely to be amplified once again. Like any other city, public health care and pension costs are a primary driving of routine budget shortfalls, but the lack of imagination for increasing the revenue side of the ledger remains a problem. 

It’s a bit audacious that Marquez, Salinas, and Zermeno have joined forces during this campaign to tout their respective tenures as “stronger together for Hayward,” while touting accomplishments that were only taken up by the council because of progressive Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab’s leadership. “Stronger Together” is literally Wahab’s frequent tagline. Marquez, especially, harbors clear resentment for Wahab, whose star has shined since joining the council two years ago. Marquez has spoken like a progressive over the past year, but festering problems such as rent relief, minimum wage, and police accountability, have long been problems on Marquez’s lap prior to Wahab joining the council, yet nothing was done. Marquez actually led the roll back of Hayward’s minimum increase last spring. How this act was condoned by the Alameda County Democratic Party, which endorsed Marquez, likely revealed the old guard’s jealousy of Wahab.

For as long as Zermeno has been in office, it’s amazing that he remains such a lightweight elected official. Packed with platitudes and very little substances, Zermeno gets by on personality. During this election, Zermeno has correctly read that progressive activism in Hayward that is finally coming of age. The Hayward Collective, and other groups have brought street heat to the council chambers since early 2019. Aside from Wahab, the entire council has been in their crosshairs and Zermeno, Marquez, and Salinas, have often been unnerved by the verbal attacks. Zermeno has noticeably attempted to remake himself as a progressive. But it’s clearly not in his DNA. During one meeting last summer he advocated for predictive policing under the assumption it would shift resources away from the police department. In actuality, predictive policing is often blamed for accentuating racism against people of color. The comments only remind voters that Zermeno once supported gang injunction in Hayward, a legal strategy that similarly targeted young Latino and Black males. Meanwhile, Salinas appears confident that remaining a traditional Hayward moderate will again win him re-election. Always someone who has an eye on higher office, Salinas probably needs to win on Nov. 3 if he has any chance at another run for mayor in 2022. He’s lost twice and once entertained a run for county supervisor.

If this Hayward council election is a referendum for what direction the city is heading, then who might replace the status quo? Despite the uncommonly large field of candidates, there are only four other legitimate candidates. Progressives Lacei Amodei and Elisha Crader are a young and refreshing duo who have tangled with the council over the past two years in an effort to push for greater protections for Hayward renters. Both were recently endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. They also represent a chance to bring an earthquake to the council’s status quo. Backed by Wahab, and running as a slate, Amodei and Crader showed an ability to raise money and marshal a group of activists to get the word out. If they win two seats next month, or another progressive, Nestor Castillo (also backed by Sen. Sanders) joins the council, Hayward politics will see an almost jarring turn to the left. Wahab has done so much as the lone progressive on the council, adding like-minded colleagues will only bolster her rapid rise in south county politics.

A fourth legitimate candidate in the race, Angela Andrews, is a wildcard. She has planted her flag with the three incumbents and her political profile appears to match Marquez, meaning a lot of progressive talk, but potentially little follow through. Depending on the composition of the next council, Andrews could also be an ally for Wahab. But those are political calculations for another day.

OUTLOOK: We often talk about generation-defining elections. At the local level, no other election in Alameda County has the possibility of literally changing the fate of a city more than the Hayward council race next month. If the expected influx of new voters are merely energized by the presidential election and care little about the rest of their ballot, then the Hayward incumbents may have a distinct advantage. On the other hand, Hayward residents know their city has been neglected for sometime. It took an aggressive grassroots uprising to shake them out of years of inaction. The zeitgeist in Hayward definitely backs progressive candidates. Even Marquez and Zermeno realize the winds are at progressive candidate’s backs. But are enough Hayward lefties aware of who is the progressives and who is the charlatans? Remember, Hayward voters are notoriously apathetic. This field is large and the top vote-getter might not break 20 percent, meaning, this will be one of those races where we won’t know the winners until a week later.