By STEVEN TAVARESOftentimes, the only useful news from a San Leandro City Council meeting happens at the very end. A dirty little trick that forces reporters to stay for the entire hearing. Monday night wasn't exactly one of those nights, but it was close. There was a spirited debate on the city's plan to "educate" the community on its budget crisis for a likely ballot initiative next year and the council approved a state of emergency regarding the H1N1 virus. Don't worry. The resolution is more of a mechanism for the city to recoup any money spent fighting the burgeoning pandemic than an admission of impending microbial pandemonium. Nevertheless, remember to cough into your sleeves.
It was the final seven minutes of the two-hour meeting that was one of those "what just happened" moments when people look around and sheepishly smile and shrug their shoulders at one another. When it was Mayor Tony Santos' turn to make a public comment he took the opportunity to rip into his two mayoral opponents.
"This city is not deteriorating. Anyone who says that is out of line," Santos forcefully said from the chambers dais. Santos never mentioned his mayoral opponents by name in the sometimes rambling argument which was a response to comments made this week by Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak, but the references were crystal clear.
Strarosciak told the Daily Review Monday the state of the city was in disarray. She reiterated her stance to The Citizen after Monday's council meeting saying, ""I'm talking to hundreds of voters. I'm not giving speeches. I'm asking people people in San Leandro and they are saying we are not moving fast forward. We are in a state of decay. The city is not only impacted by the state of the economy, it's spiraling out of control. People want someone who is going to listening and that's not happening right now."
The mayor and councilmembers are free to riff on any subject during the comments period, typically at the end of the meeting. Starosciak agreed and said Santos can speak about anything during his time even if it could be contrued as political in nature. Her demeanor during the address was far different. As Santos told the small group of remaining attendees to "look into the future" and see the rise of new Kaiser campus on the corner of Fairway and Merced, Starosciak turned towards fellow Councilwoman Ursula Reed and chatted in hush tones. What she said could not be heard and lips are hard to read, but the comfort level of the entire council was noticeably and comically low.
The council had the look of discomfort similar to spending the night at your friends house as a teenager as the kid's parents started fighting right in front of you. Councilwoman Diana Souza had a forlorn look that seemed to evoke the old bath soap commercial with the famous tagline, "Calgon. Take me away!" Another member suddenly had a newfound interest in the chamber's ceiling architecture.
At various points, Santos seemed to lose his train of thought and returned to various areas of the city that are, according to him are growing and then he returned to his favorite whipping boy, mayoral challenger Stephen Cassidy. Santos, while motioning to a few city staff members to his left, again criticized Cassidy for implying he would cut city staff wages and cut jobs to balance the budget.
This reporter was also put in the middle of the spat in the council foyer afterwards while chatting with Santos. Starosciak approached me and the two combatants were forced to make small talk like nothing had just occurred. Santos asked her if she wanted to attend a meeting in his place and, while she never directly answered, she did not seem too keen about it.
Neither Santos nor one of his campaign consultants would cop to the speech being more than impromptu and the lack of crispness in the arguments may suggest this to be true, but the point was made. This was more than an opportunity to rebut a critical point made by Starosciak, but a political warning shot that says the mayor will run on his record next year and do it quite forcefully.
So, what that, the battle lines are beginning to emerge. Santos: an East Bay John Winthrop channeling a vibrant, shining city upon the hill. Starosciak: the Cassandra showing us San Leandro as a decrepit Gotham City and Cassidy, the idea man, hoping to conjure the spirit of de Tocqueville favoring the best way to see the city's problems is from the outside, rather than in. However way you view it, it's on!
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