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July 18, 2006 > A New Face And An Empty Place

A New Face And An Empty Place

by Steve Warga

With more than a little sadness, the Hayward City Council inducted a new mayor and a re-elected councilmember on Tuesday, July 11. It was the unexpected death of longtime councilmember Matt Jimenez one week earlier that lent somber overtones to the otherwise festive occasion. It was his empty chair that the council decided to address in a special meeting on Thursday, July 13.

At the Tuesday meeting, the city bid adieu to retiring mayor, Roberta Cooper, who had decided that twelve years in the center seat was long enough. She expressed gratitude to the citizens of Hayward for their support and love. Cooper also made it clear she would be keeping an eye on things in between lunches and shopping trips with her grandchildren. Among other gifts, flowers and plaques, her fellow-councilmembers had Cooper's gavel mounted as a memento of her service as chairwoman of the council.

After Cooper stepped down, City Clerk Angelina Reyes proceeded to administer oaths of office to new Mayor Michael Sweeney who returned to the position he held from 1990 to 1994, and then to Councilmember Kevin Dowling who won re-election to a third term. Sweeney's opening remarks dwelt heavily on his theme of populism, referring several times to his "working class" sympathies and soul. He promised an open door to his office with complete accessibility even at home, including giving his home phone number to the assembly. Sweeney apologized to his wife for this intrusion on their privacy; he also thanked her warmly for her unflagging support.

His themes were familiar ones to those who followed his campaign. Sweeney hopes to see a shift of priorities away from downtown, somewhat, and more to the outlying neighborhoods with an emphasis on providing more open spaces and on removing blight and graffiti. He promised to walk various areas, door-to-door, at least once every month. Toward the end of his speech, Sweeney dwelt on the critical importance of maintaining "great Hayward schools," arguing that all citizens had a stake in this. He turned to City Manager Jesus Armas and asked him to contact Hayward Unified School District Superintendent, Dale Vigil to arrange an immediate conference to discuss ways to improve the safety and performance of Hayward's public schools, especially at the secondary levels.

Returning Councilmember Dowling then took a few minutes to thank his supporters, including his mother who stood with him for his oath. He too returned to familiar themes from the campaign, speaking of his continuing support for several redevelopment projects in the works.

Many hearts were heavy though, because of a white Fire Chief cap and single red carnation reverently placed in front of the empty chair of "Mr. Hayward," Matt Jimenez. He too had just won re-election to the council and would have taken his seventh oath that night. Instead, the council was faced with a decision of how to proceed in replacing the local icon. Per city charter, they could either begin an appointment process, or call a special election. Given the changes taking place that particular evening and in the interests of letting all citizens have their say, the council delayed this decision for two days.

At the subsequent Thursday meeting, numerous individuals arose during public comment; many spoke with deep conviction of their desire to see Robert Lopez appointed to the vacancy. Their arguments often dwelled on the theme of democracy in support of Lopez who, they claimed, deserved the seat since he finished as the runner-up in each of the last three city council election cycles. Lopez argued that the matter should be put to a vote of the people, suggesting that any method of appointment would amount to a sellout of democratic principles, in particular, the right to vote.

This line of reasoning was not accepted by the council who decided to follow an appointment procedure for the vacant council seat. At the core of this decision is the proposition that people in our country are governed by a representative government - we pledge allegiance "to the republic for which it stands." Citizens elect representatives who are charged with protecting the interests of their elective districts. So, after deliberations and discussions, by a vote of 4 ayes and 2 nays, the council decided to immediately commence accepting applications to replace Jimenez.

Consistent with past appointment practice, the council will accept applications for one week then vote on which applicants proceed to a public interview. All applicants who receive at least three votes from the six councilmembers will be interviewed. The council will then choose, by majority vote, a candidate to serve until municipal elections in 2008. That individual may then elect to run for a full four-year term.

Applications will be accepted through July 20; at their regular July 25 meeting, the council will announce which candidates will advance to interviews; those interviews will take place on July 27; the replacement candidate will then be determined no later than 30 days after July 11, as required by the city charter.

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