Balancing the city's budget, attracting businesses and improving school performance were common priorities among eight of nine Hayward City Council candidates at a Tuesday night forum.
Although there were no surprises in regard to the general sentiment on those topics, there were differences in what should be prioritized and who would bring the most valuable tools to the table if elected.
The candidates are seeking four seats on the June 5 ballot, with incumbents Francisco Zermeno, Barbara Halliday and Olden Henson up for re-election. They face challengers Shahla Azimi, Fahim Khan, Greg Jones, Al Mendall, Peter Bufete and Ralph Farias Jr.
Azimi did not attend the League of Women Voters forum and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Candidates are listed in the order of the secretary of state's randomized alphabet.
Chabot College professor and small-business man Zermeno said the economic vitality of the Hayward is the most important goal because with it comes the ability to combat crime, increase cleanliness and advance environmentally minded initiatives -- the city's top three priorities. He said he will continue efforts to get successful businesses to expand, and those from out of town to move to Hayward.
Zermeno said his track record shows the hands-on approach of a "doer, not a talker" who puts a lot of time and energy into improving Hayward.
"I listen, I read, I confer, I question, research and act accordingly," he said.
Political newcomer Khan, an aspiring real estate investor and nonprofit volunteer who was born and raised in the city, said improving Hayward schools would be a main goal. The 28-year-old who "knows all 63 square miles of the city" said bringing up test scores is vital to attracting businesses and residents to Hayward.
Although concerned about crime, particularly the type associated with gangs, he said the city is "doing all right" in reducing crime and compared to education, "it is not as big an issue -- it is low compared to Oakland."
Khan cited more than a decade of work with nonprofit groups, "working selflessly to help other people" and would like to do the same for Hayward.
Jones, 49, owns Realty World Neighbors and formerly served as city manager in Hayward and Chico. He said though there's "nothing radically different" regarding candidates' goals, he offers 20 years of experience in local government to help achieve them.
"I have the expertise," he said. "I know how to look at budgets and contracts. I don't have a learning curve, and, frankly, Hayward does not have time for that -- we need to advance some ideas and not just talk about them."
Jones said a broad-based youth initiative is needed, something larger than the school parcel tax on the ballot, "to tell youth we give a damn about them."
Halliday, a retired medical liability claims supervisor, said she's seen "great strides" in her 22 years serving the city, including as a council member since 2004. That includes strengthening neighborhood ties, curbing violent crime and cleaning up blight and graffiti.
Halliday, 62, said wrestling Hayward's $14 million budget deficit is "the elephant in the room," and the city is working on having employees pay more into pensions.
Her other key goals are creating opportunities for youth, attracting businesses and helping schools via city programs. She pointed to the city's corps of volunteers, particularly in the after-school homework program, as a potential source to help "turn school performance around."
Henson, a self-employed software consultant, pointed to his accomplishments and "amazing transformations" he's seen as a four-term council member, including casting a tiebreaking vote to create the new City Hall and supporting housing developments around downtown, as well as Eden Shores and Stonebrae.
He said he's demonstrated an eye toward sensible sustainability as well as technological advancements, such as the new public safety communications system, and added that he'd like to see Hayward become a destination spot.
"We need entertainment downtown," he said, adding that he'd also like the city to be a "Mecca for commercial offices, with people spilling out and shopping and going to entertainment areas."
Mendall, a software developer and planning commissioner, said there's a need to make the city safer and more attractive because people can be reluctant to bring a business to Hayward or shop in the city because of the way it looks.
He added that "getting control of the budget" is necessary to do those things and suggested employees who accept concessions would be insulated from layoffs.
"Those that don't agree, that's where we start," he said. "We reward people who are willing to step up."
Mendall said he's got a "unique combination" of experience and a "long list of new ideas" that he would bring forward if seated on the council.
Bufete, 22, owns a first aid and CPR instruction business and is a caregiver for the elderly. He is the youngest candidate and one who agrees with city priorities but wants to put youth development and education at the top of the list.
"By fixing this issue, we will fix many related and correlated issues," he said. "That will attract business."
He said the city can do a better job collaborating with the school district, and "I feel like I know what needs to be done" in schools.
Bufete said he'd bring new perspectives and ideas to the council and would "make sure we look out for the future -- those who don't have votes, those who may not yet be registered to vote."
Farias, a self-employed food and spirits broker who ran in 2010, calls himself the "most entertaining candidate" and one who wants to get rid of everybody on the current council.
"The current regime has let us down," said the 30-year-old. "I'm not here to make good with the good-old-boy network."
He said bringing business to Hayward is his top priority, and he would "bring them in with open arms" and "get rid of the red tape that pushes them away."
Farias cited the recent Planning Commission rejection of a Walmart Neighborhood Market at a former Circuit City site as a glaring example of failure to do that.
JUNE 5 election
For more information about the candidates, including available statements and links to websites, visit IBAbuzz.com/hayword.