Jan. 13, 2012 | Just minutes after a musician performed the last bars of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" last Tuesday, a touching two-hour tribute for the recently deceased Fremont mayor Bob Wasserman devolved into the makings of what may be an epic battle to become his replacement.
Three of the four remaining councilmembers have unofficial designs on running this fall, while a fourth is up for re-election to the council.
"I worry about the politics getting bad over the next 10 months," said Councilman Bill Harrison, who may have been the closest to the departed Wasserman and is a likely mayoral candidate. Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan and Dominic Dutra are the other potential candidates who have not been shy in articulating their own interest in the mayor's office.
All three eventually took themselves out of the running during Tuesday's meeting sorting out the mayoral situation in the interim. One prominent factor included what the possibility of naming a current council member would do to the remaining make up of the body. "Business needs to go on with five minds," added Harrison.
Harvey Levine, the city attorney of Fremont, said appointing a sitting member would leave the council with just four officials since an additional appointee could not named under state law. Dutra was appointed last year to replace Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski. Appointing a mayor followed by a replacement on the council would give Fremont a majority of unelected appointees on its council.
The inadequate size of Fremont's city council has put city leaders in a bind and potentially formulates a combustible election season this year.
In the past, there has been some discussion of whether Fremont's five-member council is far too small for a city of its size and potential growth. Fremont's population is just over 214,000. For perspective, San Leandro, which has 85,000 people incorporates a seven-person council, while the city of Alameda at nearly 60,000 employs a five-person council.
The dilemma led the council to approve opening the position up to all-comers. An application for perspective candidates is found on the city's Web site and ends Jan. 17. Potential interviews could start Jan. 30. A legal deadline for naming a new mayor is Feb. 27, said Levine.
A short list possible candidates include some of the same applicants for Wieckowski's seat last year, which was eventually filled by Dutra. "It's not like you can take a break and come on in," said Dutra, who added the city needs to convey a sense to the public that someone is in charge.
The search will likely lead to scrum among Natarajan, Dutra and Harrison to find the perfect candidate unlikely to add an additional roadblock to their own individual paths to the mayor's office.
"We need to take politics out of it," said Harrison. "We need someone who would be a placeholder that would not run and has experience."
Natarajan disagreed with Harrison's notion to eliminate politics from the discussion and urged them to be wary of a situation similar to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's flip-flop that led to a victory last November.
"We've seen time and again as recently as [last] year in San Francisco that people with no intention of running turn around and run," said Natarajan. "The whole notion that we take politics out of it and appoint someone who commits not to run is politically naive."
To further illustrate the great potential for palace intrigue in Fremont this year, Dutra nominated Councilwoman Suzanne Lee Chan for mayor despite comments earlier in the meeting announcing she had no intention of running for mayor. When asked if she would accept the request she switched course and allowed the council to vote on her appointment.
The nomination lost, 2-1, but not before cameras in chambers captured a visibly bewildered Natarajan in disbelief as Chan allowed the remaining council members to deliberate without her in attendance and setting the stage for a deliciously ruthless campaign season in the south county.