Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Race to Unseat Santos Begins

The race for mayor is still over nine months away, yet the incumbent and his possible challengers are already gearing up for what may prove to be an interesting race centering on two of the nation's hot button issues--the economy and health care.

For those hoping to unseat the one-term San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, the early strategy is taking a cue from James Carville's famous campaign maxim, "It's the econmony, stupid." Officially, only current Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak has announced her candidacy, but former School Board Trustee Stephen Cassidy interest in the job is probably the worst kept secret in the city.

As with all political races, the incumbent holds a significant advantage--well-kept connections, access to networks of fundraising in addition to valuable name recognition. Santos is a well-known local pol as opposed to Starosciak and Cassidy, who are far less known outside the inner circle of San Leandro politics. Santos indicated last week an aversion to fundraising, but not enough to forego a potentially lucrative pot of campaign funds next Thursday. The scheduled event, to be attended by enough local heavyweights to make you wonder, "who died?", will likely illustrate to opponents just how great a mountain their candidacies may face. Some believe Santos could be able to raise close $75,000 for next June's election, likely to handily dwarf the others.

Santos' climb to re-election, though, could be hampered by external factors, namely, a languishing economy coupled with the likelihood of further distressing budget cuts next year. Starosciak and Cassidy both seem intent on portraying themselves as proponents of budget restraint.

During a speech two months ago, Starosciak appeared to be foreshadowing her campaign themes, while voting against the city's proposed budget. Hoping to show leadership during tough times ahead, she was one of the first to alert the community of the possibility of far worse cuts next year. The clear stand seemed to have been a shot across the mayor's bow as public comments on the budget by Santos shortly after began to contain specific talking points that, he too, is the candidate of budget restraint. Within San Leandro's electorate, it is not clear whether the real problem Starosciak poses to Santos is the possibility she may peel away voters from the same pool of voters Santos hopes to gain or leaving the possibility of a strong third candidate sweeping up the leftovers.

While Santos has the support of most the city's leadership past and present, Starosciak has the support of Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi. Starosciak's campaign site, electjoyce.org, at first glance, imparts the impression she is running in tandem with Hayashi. A prominent photo of the two adorns the top of the site.

The wildcard of course, may be Cassidy, who if anything may insure the focus of the campaign stays squarely on the the city's hemorrhaging coffers. Through his blog, Go San Leandro, and numerous Letters to the Editor, Cassidy has written extensively on San Leandro's budget problems and how the current leadership led the city to this predicament. Cassidy believes the city will be bankrupt by 2015 "if significant action is not taken."

It is well-known that Cassidy has been a thorn in Santos' side for some time. In response, Santos repeatedly mocks Cassidy's comments on balancing the budget, saying he failed to balance the book when he served on the school board, "He wants to tell me how to balance my budget when he didn't even balance the school's budget?" Many believe Cassidy has the tenacity to seek the job, but there are concerns his heavy-handed approach is less than conciliatory and may fall flat with voters despite being the candidate thus far declaring the most solutions to the city's problems.

The fate of San Leandro Hospital may also be a major campaign topic. At the moment, a betting man would accept the hospital will close, but the more protracted the battle to keep it open lasts, the more it could hamper Santos. While the city has little power over the hospital's fate, many in the community have been critical of Santos' leadership on the issue. Some of his detractors also say his public comments too often mirror the talking points of Sutter Health. Santos, though, says he has been working on the issue for over two years, yet there is simmering discontent in the electorate that may well blame the mayor if the hospital's emergency room closes its doors anytime before June.

Like all elections, the aura of unpredictable events must be written into the equation. While Santos is somewhat vulnerable to those realities than the other candidates, they both have much work to show the people of San Leandro why they should boot their mayor out. But as they say, it's still way too early.

This article has been edited since its initial posting.

The Citizen FEATURE: Papa John's Crusade
When it comes to the closing of San Leandro Hospital, 71-year-old John Kalafatich has more to lose than most of us--his job, his health insurance and his life. Never before an activist, the man called Papa John vows to save the hospital while saving the lives of others, including his own.

JOIN THE REVOLUTION! www.eastbaycitizen.com



I suggest the city's financial condition be the subject of an article on your site.

In May, I raised the issues of the city's precarious fiscal situation and unrealistic revenue projections in a letter to the San Leandro Times and Op Ed in the Daily Review. As I detailed recently on my blog at http://gosanleandro.blogspot.com/2009/09/san-leandros-unsustainable-city-budget.html, if significant action is not promptly taken, by 2015, San Leandro could join the City of Vallejo in declaring bankruptcy.

Sadly for our city, I am not the only current or former elected official our Mayor mocks in public. At the recent City Finance Committee Meeting I attended, Councilmember Gregory, Assemblymember Hayashi and State Senator Corbett came under criticism by the Mayor.

The Mayor's criticisms of the school board are flat wrong. The school district's budget was never in the red when I served on the board. When faced with cutbacks from the state, the school board did not hesitate from making the painful, but necessary, cuts to avoid any deficit spending. Every budget adopted during my term on the board was balanced, and then reviewed and approved by the County Office of Education.

If that didn't occur, everyone would have known as any deficit spending would have sent the school district on the path of being taken over by the state.

Under the Mayor's tenure, the city is amassing millions in red ink and burning through all of its reserves. $4 to $6 million deficits are projected to continue for the next five years - even if the economy recovers. In the latest budget, six police officers were cut, all school crossing guards eliminated, library and pool hours reduced, senior services scaled back. Yet despite these cuts, the city's budget for 2001-10 calls for greater expenditures and further deficit spending than last year. I suggest that answers the question you pose in the title of your article.

In terms of whether I may run for mayor next year, I am meeting with many community members to gather their input on the pressing issues facing our city. I have not yet made any decision.

All the best,

Stephen Cassidy

Tony Santos's petty, mocking behavior toward those who disagree with him is, unfortunately, not new, but has marked his entire term as mayor. Does anyone remember the "crime meeting" he held a few years back?

As for criticizing his leadership on the hospital, the criticism is that there isn't any, not if you mean working to ensure the hospital stays open. His attitude and statements lead one to believe he has accepted that it will not stay open as a hospital with an ER.

As for the financial state of the city, Stephen Cassidy has, to my eye at least, been the only person, candidate or not, who has raised a flag about these financial issues and the only one to detail the problems as well as possible solutions. If Cassidy is NOT a candidate, win or lose, it will be San Leandro's loss as I expect he will be the only one sharing the whole truth with the people of San Leandro.

Simple fact, anyone running would be better than Santos, he is disappointing on all levels and has not provided the direction and leadership San Leandro needs at this turning point that will make it or break it as a city to live in...East Oakland or Castro Valley..which will we be more like in the future???

Who do we want to be...East Oakland or Emeryville? Dirty, downtrodden and in a rut or modern and full of young, progressive, vibrant energy?

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