I wish I could be writing this from the perspective of being a newly elected member of the Hayward City Council.
There was hope that the city council would move in a much more progressive direction if just one of the three Bernie Sanders-endorsed candidates in the race—which included myself, the only candidate running openly as a Democratic Socialist—was elected.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and while it was a blow to my ego, it is a more significant blow to the working people of Hayward. At the most recent post-election city council meeting, out-going councilmember Al Mendall stated, “There were other candidates that ran on other platforms and more radical change that we’re not successful.” He continued to praise what he saw as a mandate by voters in support of the incumbents stating, “I think it is important for us to recognize that this vote is a clear endorsement of the steady progress that this city council and the city staff have been making in recent years.”
The council went on to vote against an amendment to a rent stabilization ordinance that would have dropped the annual rent increase from 5 percent to CPI (a rate that would take into account inflation or the general rise and fall of the purchasing power of your dollar), bringing to our most vulnerable residents, at the very least, a sense of comfort and increased stability during this COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the steady progress that is promised by council, which is to basically say keep voting for us and we will make any change that will benefit you nearly impossible to pass without a prolonged, drawn out battle. The most interesting aspect of that night’s vote was that lead vote getter, Elisa Marquez, voted against the measure breaking away from the two other reelected incumbents.
Someone on a local Hayward Facebook forum posted the important point of whether she would have gained a majority of votes if people knew that she would take this particular vote against stronger rent control. The establishment block ran in opposition to us progressives, only to negate each other’s votes when they got back on council. One would think that if you ran as a block, you must share some values or principles especially on a crucial issue such as housing affordability, but I guess that isn’t the case.
We knew that this would be the case if we lost. Back to the business as usual. Yet, there are a couple of things we should keep in mind from this loss. The first is that we gained nearly 25 percent of the total vote. While the incumbent block did gain 50 percent of all votes, it does not give the incumbents a mandate to govern as they see fit, as Councilmember Mendall believes.
I’m no one to lecture on numbers, ask any of my stats professors, but if I understand percentages correctly, that also means that 50 percent of all voters voted for someone who are not the incumbents. At the very least, we can safely say that 50 percent of voters were interested in moving Hayward in a different direction and that’s without considering that half of the population isn’t even registered to vote (a discussion for another day).
The second point, which is a much more abstract one (and at the risk of coming off as a sore loser), was this the best way to conduct an election that gave us the most representative results? 13 candidates running for 4 seats? This presents a huge challenge for any voter trying to assess who would best serve their interests and the interests of community at-large. Unlike most cities in the Bay Area of the same size, Hayward has no districts. It also does not use a Rank-Choice Voting, albeit a more complicated but fairer system where you can rank your choices in order of preference like San Francisco or Oakland.
A return of the incumbents isn’t all bad though. Clearly, there is an energized and mobilized base of young progressives ready to bring the battle to council. I am a member of the newly founded Hayward Community Coalition, which has mobilized around the calls for #BlackLivesMatter and defund the police.
2022 will be here before you know it and there may be progressives waiting to challenge the incumbents having learned the crucial lessons of this past election. As for my own political ambitions, they’re on pause for now. My friends and family tell me this is just the beginning and they may be right, but we will just have to wait and see.