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Monday, February 8, 2016

Stewart Chen-speare mulls a return to Alameda City Council

Stewart Chen appears to be itching for a return
to the Alameda City Council.
ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | "To run or not to run. That is the question," wrote former Alameda City Councilmember Stewart Chen on Facebook last week.

With two open seats on the council this fall and a public discourse over the island's rental crisis roiling virtually every meeting, Chen may believe there is an opportunity for a return to the council.

In addition to an increase in social media posts, Chen was seen at last Tuesday's council meeting. But not to weigh-in on the proposed rent ordinances listed on the night's agenda, but in support of a colleague's petition to reverse a planning board decision denying a permit for the Circle K on Webster Street to sell alcohol.

Chen blasted the council's decision on Facebook. "Another blow to Asian Americans in Alameda!" he wrote. He was also critical of two council members who opposed the liquor license, saying their reasoning was "arbitrary and capricious," the same words used by Mayor Trish Spencer, who supported the license.

But, despite Chen's strong support in the Asian American community, his electoral history is underwhelming. Although, he won election to the council in 2012, it came with a caveat. Chen finished third in the race for two seats, but was elected only because then-Councilmember Rob Bonta was elected to the State Assembly. Under Alameda election laws, the next closest vote-getter was in line to finish the remaining two years of Bonta's term.

In 2014, Chen performed similarly at the polls, again finishing third in a race with two open council seats, but this time without a fail-safe.

Shakespearean flurry, notwithstanding, Chen's campaign for re-election in 2014 was somewhat of a Greek tragedy. Earlier in the year came a report detailing his involvement 20 years prior in an insurance fraud ring. Chen received two years probation, paid a $50,000 fine, and believed the incident was wiped from her record. But to quote Macbeth, "What's done cannot be undone."

"They didn't have anything on me," Chen said of the fraud conviction. The report likely torpedoed his re-election.

If Chen decides to run for the city council this fall, he may be a part of growing field of strong candidates. In addition to incumbent Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Tony Daysog, attorney and union activist Malia Vella is eyeing a run, as is Jeff Cambra, who ran in 2012.

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