Here at the Political Climate International News Center, we have talked a lot about how change is affecting our region, because, you know, it is.
But the recent election and subsequent reorganizations of our various city councils is another demonstration that a more fundamental and profound change has taken place, bringing the prospect of what can be termed a political revolution.
In short, the burgeoning diversity of our community is reflected increasingly in our most basic, grassroots-level politics.
There are 20 cities in San Mateo County. Among the councils that represent those cities, 10 have a woman mayor, nine have a mayor from an ethnic minority and eight of the councils have a majority of women. Add in the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which just elected Carole Groom as president, and 11 of the county’s political jurisdictions are led by women (not to mention the fact that two women also represent the county in Congress).
Not that long ago, the election of any woman to any city council or as mayor was a noteworthy occurrence.
When Pacifica elected an all-woman council in 1992, it was national news as the first such body to achieve that milestone.
Now, Pacifica has four women on its five-member council. So does Colma, and Redwood City’s seven-member council has six women. The extraordinary has become that status quo.
Look deeper at who is holding office and it might well be time to retire the phrase “ethnic minority” since the county now is a “minority majority” county, where Caucasians, while still the largest ethnic group, are outnumbered by the combination Latinos, Asians, African Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Indeed, consider the lineup of mayors and vice mayors of color: Daly City, Mayor Ray Buenaventura, Vice Mayor Glenn Sylvester; Colma, Mayor Joanne F. del Rosario; South San Francisco, Mayor Karyl Matsumoto; San Bruno, Mayor Rico Medina; Millbrae, Mayor Wayne Lee; Belmont, Mayor Davina Hurt; Redwood City, Mayor Ian Bain; and Foster City, Mayor Sam Hindi, Vice Mayor Herb Perez.
And then there is East Palo Alto, a council made up of three African Americans and two Latinos, led by Mayor Lisa Gauthier and Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones.
If you added in Millbrae and Foster City, there would be 12 cities with woman mayors, except in both those cities, some serious behind-the-scenes maneuvering and public snubbing denied mayor positions to two women who looked to be next in line had councils followed the customary rotation.
Ah, the job of mayor. It’s a job that, at most, is symbolic. In every Peninsula city except San Bruno, the mayor is selected by council colleagues. It’s a one-year job, except in Redwood City, where it’s two years.
It’s a job that as substantial as cotton candy. Big, puffy, colorful and tasty, but largely air, signifying nothing more than it’s one council member’s turn.
Still, some city councils manage to pick a fight over this job because some of them don’t like each other. I suppose we would have to describe that as impressive.
SO WHAT? What is the significance of all this diversity I’m ranting about?
We are opening up the halls of power to more people – specifically those who have been denied access. They will bring a different sensibility to the job and a different perspective.
Mary Hughes, leader of a statewide campaign to recruit progressive women to run for legislative office, said that expanding the range of those who hold office means a bigger agenda of issues, such as early childhood education, extended parental leave, more and easier access to college.
Women are “more likely to put issues forward having to do with real-life challenges,” Hughes said. “Women lead with a 360-degree perspective about life. There hasn’t been a consideration of the home life as part of public policy. What we see is women look at their whole lives when it comes to public policy.”
BUT NOT EVERYWHERE: Sometimes, the old lineup stays intact and it has got some people hopping mad in Redwood City.
A month ago, at its meeting to swear in recently elected members, Redwood City Council members looked to a year disagreeing civilly and to an abiding effort to work together.
On Monday, faced with their first symbolically significant decision, the council voted to appoint two middle-aged white men to the Planning Commission, which now has only one woman in its ranks. One decision apparently was easy – Rick Hunter, who narrowly lost last year’s council race, was appointed unanimously.
The other, Bill Shoe, was appointed by a 4-3 vote. Shoe is a former principal planner at Santa Clara County and he has had a low profile in Redwood City affairs, if he had one at all.
His appointment appears intended to satisfy those who want to slow the rate of growth in the city.
In the process, there are some people who are furious that the commission now is less than diverse.
And some are upset that another Council candidate, Jason Galisatus, was passed over, even though he had been assured he had the votes to win the appointment. The other significance is that while 40 percent of the city’s residents are renters, there are no renters on the Council or the Commission, a point Galisatus made while running for Council. There still isn’t.
As for who had been promised votes, Janet Borgens, who found herself in the middle of that little controversy, denied committing her vote to anyone and she subsequently wrote to Galisatus, indicating “after our last conversation, I made that clear.”
Who knows? Even better, who cares?
Perhaps it’s a holdover from a divisive campaign and all this will settle down when real issues come before the Council. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of more 4-3 votes and that the promise of working together in January was wishful thinking. We’ll find out soon enough.
We’ll leave the last word to Borgens, who told me, “We’re going to butt heads and that’s a good thing because we can learn from our differences.”Contact Mark Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org