Sometime before Richard Valle was appointed to replace disgraced Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer in June, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi was already lurking in the background, gauging political support in advance of her likely campaign this fall. However, conventional wisdom quickly coalesced around the belief that her run for District 2 supervisor would be dead on arrival. After all, she was convicted of shoplifting last year. Just plaster her mugshot on billboards and mailers, many said this summer, and witness the final chapter of Hayashi's once promising career.
But now suddenly Hayashi appears to have a decent shot in the race. The reason? Valle has been reticent about confronting her in public about the conviction. In addition, Hayashi has put together a string of well-honed and aggressive criticisms of Valle. As a result, what seemed impossible several months ago could actually come true on November 6: Hayashi might win this thing.
Indeed, the idea that a politician with a criminal conviction for stealing might be elected to replace one who resigned because of a drug and alcohol addiction is no longer farfetched for many East Bay political watchers. "Absolutely" it could happen, said former Hayward Councilman Kevin Dowling, a longtime active member of the central county political scene. "I don't think there is great awareness out there about what happened," referring to Hayashi's arrest and plea of no contest to shoplifting $2,450 in high-end clothing from Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. Dowling, who ran for the same District 2 seat in 2010, which was ultimately won by Nadia Lockyer, said that, when talking to voters in the Hayward area, he's discovered that their memory of the incident is foggy at best. "People remember something about it," he said, "but they're often not quite sure about remembering who it was."
Part of the reason for short-term memory loss among some voters in the district, which encompasses Hayward, Union City, Newark, and parts of Fremont, can be attributed to the surprising lack of media attention given to this race and the unwillingness of Hayashi's opponents to call her out publicly for a conviction that included a sentence of thirty months of probation. Along with Valle, the race includes Union City Mayor Mark Green and Mark Turnquist, a recently retired Alameda County sheriff's deputy.
Instead, Hayashi has been the clear aggressor at numerous public forums, while Valle calmly stares into the distance. A practicing Buddhist, Valle has a low-key demeanor. Green described his long-time ally on the Union City Council as "almost always in a sedative or meditative mood."
In addition, instead of reminding voters about Hayashi's background, Valle touts his service to the community as one of the founders of Tri-CED, the largest nonprofit recycling company in the state, his pledges to keep Hayward's St. Rose Hospital in operation, and his promises to continue his work with the poor. But, to the consternation of many of his supporters, aside from periodic jabs at Hayashi's record in Sacramento as it pertains to the Legislature and the shifting of local dollars to the state level, Valle has used kid gloves on his notorious rival.
When asked after a League of Women Voters forum this month in Hayward why he was not going after Hayashi, even though her criticism of him has been unrelenting, Valle responded, "I didn't want to bring those things up at this forum because it would have been inappropriate."
A theory among local political observers suggests two reasons for Valle's reluctance to pound away at Hayashi's conviction: the district's large and ever-growing Asian-American population and the fact that Hayashi is the only woman in the race and none of her male opponents want to be seen attacking her. Green said last month following a forum in Union City that he read polling data that showed that Hayashi has strong support when the shoplifting incident is not mentioned, but added, "if you beat her up about it, she falls to third" in the race.
The strong sense that Valle is letting Hayashi off the hook has been growing recently, as more supporters are urging him to talk openly about her conviction. And there have been signs recently that Valle is becoming more willing to attack Hayashi, but still hasn't confronted her. Valle, for example, recently said to a reporter, "Do you want somebody who has done good work in the community to represent you or do you want a thief to represent you?"
But the expected flurry of anti-Hayashi mailers, either from Valle's campaign, his deep local labor support, or independent expenditure committees, has not yet materialized. As of late last week, the only mailer sent to voters from Valle about Hayashi described her as being "on probation for stealing luxury goods at Neiman Marcus."
Hayashi's reputation as brass-knuckled legislator also seems to be instilling fear in her opposition. Despite tough talk behind the scenes by many officials in the Alameda County Democratic Party and local activists who strongly oppose her candidacy, there still remains genuine concern that, if Hayashi wins the supervisorial seat next month, she will seek revenge on all who opposed her over the past year. Following a forum this month in which Hayashi went after Valle for his participation in a county program for the poor that was rife with potentially criminal mismanagement and was later dissolved, she also alluded to Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley's involvement in the case. Afterward, Hayashi pointedly declared that when elected she would hold oversight meetings to probe the reasons for the program's demise and insinuated that the investigation would focus on Miley, who publicly declared last May that Valle was the board of supervisor's best choice for defeating Hayashi in the fall.
Another key component in the race is Green. His presence might very well be the single greatest factor in Hayashi's favor. "Green is going to hurt Richard in Union City, like he hurt me," explained Dowling, recalling the 2010 campaign in which Green ultimately finished a strong third in the primary and Lockyer came out on top.
As a result, many political observers in the district are expecting a tight race and believe it can be won with as little as 35 percent of the vote. Hayashi also has accumulated the most campaign cash. As of September 30, her total was $157,000 compared to Valle's $143,000. Plus, Valle has already spent much more than her. She had $121,000 in cash remaining as of September 30 — nearly double Valle's $63,000.
Hayashi also contends that voters want someone with solutions and not candidates talking about her troubled past. "Voters don't care about that," she said, possibly hoping they don't. Besides, if nobody reminds them about it, they might not even remember it ever happened.