HAYWARD — The Hayward City Council election was still too close to call Wednesday, but city voters appear to have narrowly elected the first Latino council member since 1991, while also putting into office the first council member of Asian descent in history.

The tight race for five open seats remained uncertain Wednesday because an undetermined number of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots had not yet been counted, according to the Alameda County registrar of voters.

But if the tally rankings do not change, Francisco Zermeno and Anna May will become the two newest faces on the Hayward City Council, taking the oath of office on July 8. And the three incumbents who sought re-election will all get their seats back.

"It's time for nearly 40 percent of the Hayward population to have some representation," said Zermeno, a native of Mexico, speaking of the estimated 37 percent of city residents who are Latino. But the 55-year-old Chabot College instructor, video store owner and founder of the Hayward Latino Business Roundtable added that the issue of representation was never the focus of his campaign.

"I wasn't a Latino candidate at all. That really wasn't the platform," he said. "But I believe it's a good thing."

After two failed council candidacies in 1998 and 2004, and after being considered for but denied an appointment to replace longtime Councilman Matt Jimenez after he died in 2006, Zermeno looked to be losing his fourth try at political office when votes began to be tallied Tuesday night.

He was coming in fifth in early returns behind Hayward Planning Commissioner Marvin Peixoto, a retired budget analyst who had honed his campaign message on a no-nonsense approach to battling blight.

Yet as election parties died down, poll workers continued counting votes through the early hours of Wednesday morning, changing the dynamics of a race in which seven candidates, including three incumbents, were competing for four four-year seats. The top four vote-getters win.

"It just slowly started climbing up," Zermeno said of his vote count.

As of late Wednesday, with most absentee votes and all of Hayward's 120 precincts counted, the three incumbents appeared to be holding onto their seats. Councilwoman Barbara Halliday had 6,749 votes, Councilman Bill Quirk had 5,799 and Councilman Olden Henson had 5,412.

Zermeno, with 5,401 votes, was just 11 votes behind Henson and poised to join the three incumbents on the council.

Peixoto, whose support among mail-in voters had put him in third place in early counts, began losing ground as results came in from Hayward's 120 polling stations on Tuesday.

Peixoto had 5,265 votes as of Wednesday, followed by Linda Bennett with 4,839 votes and Rob Simpson with 2,540 votes.

There was a vacant four-year seat this year because veteran Councilman Bill Ward, the first African American on the council when he was elected in 1984, decided to retire after his term ends this month.

In a separate election for a two-year seat to replace outgoing Councilwoman Doris Rodriquez, who had been appointed in 2006 as a temporary replacement for Jimenez, real estate broker Anna May was pulling an upset victory over a challenger who had launched his campaign many months earlier than she did.

As of Wednesday, May was ahead with 6,291 votes, or about 59 percent, over retired 9-1-1 dispatcher Steve Bristow, who had 4,440 votes.

If they are elected to the council, May and Zermeno will bring at least one shared focus: Making city government more friendly to small businesses.

May, born in Taiwan to a Taiwanese woman and an American military officer, was raised in Hayward and has lived and worked in the city for much of her life. She is the former owner of the Rickshaw Express restaurant and has worked as a model since her teens.

Zermeno was born in Mexico to a family who owned a local grocery in Guadalajara. When his father died, his widowed mother moved to Salinas in 1960 and brought her three children with her a few years later. His mother, who worked as a cook and owned a Mexican restaurant in Salinas, now lives across the street from her son and his family, Hayward residents since 1980.

Reach Matt O'Brien at mattobrien@bayareanewsgroup.com.