August 8, 2006 > Where are the candidates?
Where are the candidates?
In order to hold office as a member of the City Council, a person must be a registered voter of Fremont at the time nomination papers are issued for his or her candidacy. In order to qualify as a registered voter in Fremont, you must be a United States citizen; a resident of Fremont; at least 18 years of age on the date of the next election; and, not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.
City of Fremont Candidate Handbook
With little time left for interested parties to pull papers and fill them out, some local elective openings appear barren of candidates. Is this simply the calm before a storm of entries, a lack of enthusiasm for public office or the firm hand of behind-the-scenes politicos determining the fate of hopefuls?
Fremont should be a hotbed of city council candidates since two seats will be up for election without an elected incumbent in the race. Anu Natarajan is running for election after her two-year appointment to the seat vacated by Mayor Bob Wasserman as he assumed his mayoral duties and Dominic Dutra has publicly stated and restated his decision to sit out this election cycle.
In the past, even when incumbents have stood for reelection, several challengers typically emerge. So far, the usual list of suspects is conspicuously absent from filing nomination papers this year. The normal nomination period ends August 11 at 5 p.m. but for Fremont city council, since an incumbent (Dominic Dutra) has decided not to file Nomination Papers, the nomination period will be extended to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, August 16.
It takes a special type of person to withstand the scrutiny of the election process and retain their sanity but fortunately a group of motivated individuals usually emerge to face the challenge. Although hours are long - just ask anyone associated with the myriad of meetings and issues to be reviewed in just about any public entity - and pay is in many cases minimal ($1,407 per month for Fremont councilmembers), the public needs its representatives to direct and oversee the activities of its employees. This is one of the few checks to balance day-to-day use of public funds. Public debate among candidates also helps to insure responsive leadership.
Not only have Fremont city council vacancies failed to inspire candidates, but other races have suffered a similar lack of interest. Are these elected offices closed clubs with members that count on reelection over and over simply because they submit their name on the ballot? According to the Santa Clara County and Alameda County Registrar of Voters, the November 7, 2006 General Election will include municipal elections in Fremont, Milpitas and Union City as well as seats on a variety of boards - Alameda County Water District (2 seats); East Bay Regional Park District (2 Wards in our area); Hayward Area Recreation & Park (2 seats); Washington Township Health Care (2 seats); Chabot-Las Positas Community College (3 seats); Ohlone Community College (4 seats); Fremont Unified School District (2 seats) and the Milpitas Unified School District (3 seats). In some cases, for example, the East Bay Regional Park board, there are no representatives who live in the Alameda County portion of the greater Tri-City area (Fremont, Newark, Union City, Hayward) although two Wards represent many parks located within our geographical boundaries.
One of the major differences between our system of government and many others is the relative ease, at least at the local level, with which people can qualify to run for office. We have sneered at elections in other countries where a high percentage of voters turn out, usually under threat of violence, to vote in elections where there was a choice of only one candidate. On occasion, this happens here, hopefully absent the violent context, when an elected official is universally recognized as doing an excellent job representing the wishes of the electorate. However, in situations where an incumbent is not involved and a myriad of challenges face an elected deliberative body, lack of interest for an open position raises questions.
In a small constituency, there may be a dearth of people available who would even consider running for office, but when the populace of large cities and districts show little interest in representing the will of the people, apathy has reached new heights. You can do something about this. Check with your local city clerk to determine filing requirements or check with the appropriate agency. Consider your participation in the great American dream of government of, for and by the people.