San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee
The City Council narrowly approved the proposal, 4-3, to raise the Chinese flag at City Hall on Oct. 1, following similar events in other Bay Area cities. Mayor Stephen Cassidy, Councilmembers Michael Gregory and Pauline Cutter voted against the flag-raising for its divisive attributes. Much of that disharmony could be heard Monday night.
“Do not honor violence and China by raising this flag,” said Giovanni Vassallo, president of Bay Area Friends of Tibet. The red and gold banner symbolizes oppression and the murder of millions of Tibetans, he told the City Council.
“Are we going to start raising the Cuba flag, too?” said San Leandro resident Dan Dillman. “As far as I know when an entity raises a flag over a country it means they conquered it.”
Mayor Cassidy and others who voted against the proposal agreed. “Symbols are important, especially when used by the government,” said Cassidy. “In this case, it’s one that is not democratically elected and has had severe violations of human rights over the years that continue to the present.”
“We don’t want to close our doors," Lee said. "If we close our doors there is no sharing of their prosperity." San Leandro’s Asian population is the city’s largest demographic and has continued to grow over the past two U.S. Census.
Councilmember Jim Prola admitted the contentious issue had forced him to change his mind 3-4 times. He ultimately settled on approving the plan after speaking to numerous Chinese American residents over the past few weeks. “My vote tonight is honoring the Chinese people and not the Chinese government," said Prola. “I want to make it clear; I don’t stand for anything the Chinese government does, as far as oppression.”