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April 3, 2007 > Council appoints a familiar face

Council appoints a familiar face

By Steve Warga

After interviewing eight, impressively qualified, civic-minded candidates for an open seat on Newark's City Council, Mayor Dave Smith neatly summarized councilmember observations. "I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. This is an outstanding group of applicants. It will be impossible for us to make a bad decision with this group of candidates."

Still, council did have to choose. As a general law city, Newark was required to fill its vacancy within 30 days. Wasting no time after Susan Johnson's March 9 resignation, City Clerk Sheila Harrington posted notices and began accepting applications.

At council's regularly scheduled, March 22 meeting and with less than 24 hours remaining before the March 23 deadline, Harrington reported only two qualified applicants. One of those applicants was a surprise. Alberto Huezo, in his second year of retirement from Newark's city manager slot, had thrown his name in the hat after finding retirement a little too quiet.

Although the vacancy was only eight months - the seat is up for reelection in November - Mayor Smith and others were pleased to have at least one applicant who could hit the ground running. However, council faced a tougher decision the following day at close-of-business. Additional applications were filed by six other well-qualified candidates, some of whom boasted nearly as much hands-on experience as Huezo.

In discussions prior to selection, Councilmember Ana Apodaca consistently emphasized her preference for selecting only from candidates who would not run for election in November. Experiencing a similar experience when former Councilmember Alberto Torrico resigned to begin his first term in the California Assembly, Apodoca was sensitive to reelection as an incumbent, seen as a powerful advantage in a general election. In that instance, she had submitted an application for Torrico's seat, but withdrew when council required candidates to promise they would not run for the seat at the next election. Apodaca waited for the election and won her seat. She appealed for the same restriction on candidates for Johnson's seat.

Fellow councilmembers were sympathetic with Apodaca's arguments, but until the surge of applications on Friday, there seemed little choice in the matter. Harrington had two applicants; each had marked "undecided" to the question about future election intentions.

At the conclusion of interviews on March 29, Apodoca cast the only dissenting vote against Huezo, maintaining her position that the new councilmember should promise not to run for a seat in November. She also argued that two of the candidates who said they would not run for election were also female and might bring additional diversity to the council.

Although the debate was spirited, there was no rancor when Apodaca lost her argument. Even during Huezo's interview, she teasingly wondered aloud how the grizzled veteran might handle being called "rookie" again. Whoever won the seat would be bumping the bright, young councilmember up to veteran-level seniority. Chances are, Huezo will adjust.

The other candidates, in order of appearance, were: Ben Nillo; Shirley Sisk; Mark Gonzales; William Lam; Yen Chen; Harry Lewis; and Angelina Reyes. All are either lifetime or long-time Newark residents. Sisk is a former councilmember; as is Lewis, who also served as appointed mayor when councilmembers rotated into the mayor's seat. Nillo, Gonzales, and Chen are all businessmen with histories of community service. Lam is a planner for the City of Santa Clara; Reyes is Hayward's city clerk. All were earnest, sincere and devoted to the city they all call home.

It was Councilmember Al Nagy who spoke first in favor of Huezo. Nagy reasoned that the former city manager held the strongest credentials in the city's greatest area of need: attracting new businesses with attendant city revenue increases. This was a theme every candidate addressed and one clearly of concern to all. Councilmember Freitas and Mayor Smith quickly echoed Nagy's comments; Nagy moved Huezo's appointment; Freitas seconded and Smith joined the "ayes" while Apodaca opposed.

New Councilmember Alberto T. Huezo will be sworn-in no later than April 8, in order to comply with state law timelines. At the next scheduled Thursday meeting, April 12, council will host a ceremonial Oath of Office where four veterans will formally welcome the "rookie" to his chair.

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