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Lily Mei vs Aisha Wahab: the race for Senate District 10

If you live in the cities between Hayward and Santa Clara, you're a part of California Senate District 10 and a deciding voice in its next senate representative. Senator Bob Wieckowski's is reaching the end of his term, and now the seat is juggled between his favorite successor, council member Aisha Wahab, and Fremont City Mayor, Lily Mei, who both are running on similar democratic platforms.

Illustrated by Ku Li


By Naomi Lin, Benjamin Qiao, Lucia Liu, Faith Qiao

 

Lily Mei and Aisha Wahab are the two top runners in the California State Senate race in District 10. As a Fremont resident, the name Lily Mei sparks recognition as the current mayor, but the name Aisha Wahab is a mystery.


After Fremont was ranked #1 as the “Happiest City” in the nation, Lily Mei seemed to be quite the effective mayor. With her long resume, list of awards, and involvement in the school board, I would have thought Mei would be the more popular candidate among the public, local organizations, and political figures.


But interestingly enough, Aisha Wahab, a newer face in local politics and the underdog, has stronger political endorsements. On her website, she has over 200 endorsers, notably Bob Wieckowski (State Senator currently representing District 10), Fiona Ma (CA State Treasurer), and also the California Democratic Party.


Wahab has only been in politics since 2018, which is far shorter than Mei who started in 2008, which brings up the question: Why does Wahab have so many supporters?


Both candidates are women of color from the Democratic Party—Mei is the first Fremont Asian-American mayor and Wahab is the first Afghan-American woman elected into public office.


Additionally, they have identical stances on today's hot political topics:

  1. Providing affordable housing

  2. Fighting climate change

  3. Boosting the school system

  4. Improving public safety

What stands out about Wahab is her emphasis on her background.


"Before she could tie her own shoes, Aisha was placed in foster care after her father was brutally murdered and her mother died at an early age. Her experiences inform her understanding of the struggles many silently face. Aisha was fortunate to be adopted by a young, self-employed couple in the Bay Area who taught her the values of hard work, perseverance, and pride in their American identity.


Like so many Bay Area residents, Aisha and her family have struggled with the cost of living. In 2011, her family home was foreclosed on, her parents lost their business, her father’s health began to deteriorate, and Aisha was laid off from her job. After being priced out of Fremont, Aisha and her family moved to Hayward where she began to attend council meetings and advocate for affordable housing." — Aisha Wahab


She adds a personal touch to the issues she fights for and this caring dedication makes her seem more passionate and reliable. As someone who has faced losing a small business, she would be empathetic towards business owners and speak out in their favor. Plus, since she started her political journey as a regular citizen passionate about a cause, she is relatable to the average resident.

Wahab has achieved many great feats throughout her life. She is among the 3% of foster youth to earn a college degree. As a business IT consultant and board member, Wahab was named one of 2017’s most influential women by the San Francisco Business Times. In 2019, FUN Progressives voted her as Local Elected Official of the Year, and in 2020, the Alameda County Labor Council nominated her as Women to Reckon With.


Jim Bell, a State Senator, advocated for Wahab: “Aisha has proven herself to be a champion of the people first and foremost. As a former foster care child in California, Aisha will always prioritize the needs of everyday Californians before politics and I’m excited to see the changes she’ll make in Sacramento.


Despite only being elected into office four years ago, Wahab received the largest amount of votes during the Hayward election, along with being the youngest council member ever elected.


She said, “I was considered the outsider, and what ended up happening was that I was the top vote getter in that election because people truly care about the issues more so than anything.”


And within that short amount of time, Wahab has addressed many issues, most notably:

  1. Ensuring the minimum wage acceleration is attached to the inflation rate or consumer price index.

  2. Investing $4.9 million to fund affordable housing options - both rental and ownership.

  3. Creating a policy to request that all Hayward Police Department officer-involved shootings that result in a fatality be investigated by the State Attorney General.

Many endorsements highlight Wahab’s course of action; she has a track record of listening to people and is able to come up with a plausible solution to solve the problem. As Bob Wieckowski, the current district 10 State Senator put it, “Aisha Wahab gets things done.”


“We were the first in the nation to have a free COVID testing site that so many other cities including Fremont copied. I was also the first to introduce, within weeks of the shelter-in-place ordinance, the resolution against Asian Hate, and many other states copied that 10 months to a year later.” — Aisha Wahab, State Senate Candidate's Forum

Wahab says, “I want you to know that, no one will work harder than myself for this district.”


On the other hand, Lily Mei joined politics through the Fremont Unified School District in 2008. Prior to joining, the district only had one award-winning high school, but by the end of her term, all five high schools were listed on the prestigious U.S. News and World Report Most Distinguished School ranking. Continuing in her journey through politics, Mei was elected into the Fremont City Council in 2014.


She has since become mayor in 2016, and under her leadership, Fremont was named the 7th greenest community in America, 3rd best city to raise a family, and ranked top “Most Inclusive City.” She has about 100 endorsements on her website, including two Congressmen and four State Senators.


Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci voiced her support for Mei: “Lily is the right woman to represent us in these critical post-COVID times, in the State Senate. She’ll provide bold innovation for job creation, climate action, and infrastructure.”


Perhaps the main reason behind Mei’s lack of endorsers lies in the controversy surrounding her past statements, rather than in her policies. Despite advertising herself as someone who brings diverse people together, Mei was accused of being anti-LGBTQ in the past. Matthew S. Bjako from the Bay Area Reporter said on the matter that:"Fremont Mayor Lily Mei is the first person to be deemed anti-LGBTQIA+ under a recent bylaws change adopted by the Democratic Party in Alameda County. It means she will no longer be eligible to be endorsed by it, nor will anyone who personally endorses her going forward."


The Alameda County Democratic Party is the first committee in the state to adopt bylaws restricting endorsement support from candidates that are deemed anti-LGBTQIA+. A month afterwards, the committee of 31 members had voted 91.9% against Mei. The specific bylaw, adopted in June of 2021, labels the candidate on whether or not they are anti-LGBTQIA+ and if any central committee member donates, endorses, or expresses support in that. candidates campaign, they will be removed from the committee.


Over ten years ago, in 2010, when Mei was serving as a member of the Fremont School Board, she had voted against Harvey Milk Day—a celebratory day in honor of a "slain gay San Francisco supervisor, who in 1977 became the first LGBTQ person elected to public office in California." Lily had defended this decision with the idea that she had wanted to support other civil rights leaders instead.


However, this lack of a public apology was continuously brought up. Some didn’t accept the apology due to the apology not being recorded. Central committee member, Melissa Sheun-Mallory, reasoned that Mei’s actions on the School Board continue to reverberate to this day, with many LGBTQ students such as her goddaughter feeling unsupported by school administrators.


In response to our previous article on Lily Mei's senate race, her friend, Henry Liang, had approached our team to ask us to take down the accusations of labeling her as anti-LGBTQIA+ stating that the news has taken things out of context. Henry himself is the President of the Huaren Rotary Club as well as a board member of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs nonprofit which are both organizations Mei is associated with.


Ultimately, Mei hopes that her actions speak louder than her past judgment. “I know the local party has endorsed candidates with the same voting record. I hope you provide me with the same grace for my votes. I have changed, given they were a decade ago.”


In terms of future bylaws that run on a similar platform, central committee member Pamela Price said, "I support this and look forward to the day we have similar exclusions/restrictions for racists."

In comparison to Aisha, Lily Mei clearly has the advantage in terms of leadership and experience. One of her endorsers is Karla Brown, the mayor of Pleasanton. She worked with Mei on the Alameda County Mayor’s Conference and the Alameda County transportation commission. When we reached out and asked her why she supports Mei, Brown stated, “I have always found Mayor Lily Mei to be prepared, articulate, well researched, and ready to represent her community in a fair and balanced manner.”


When I heard this, the phrase that stood out to me was “her ability to represent her community in a fair and balanced manner.” Although this could mean anything, it is notable to point out that under Mei’s leadership, Fremont has achieved many titles, including #1 “Happiest City” in the nation, top 10 best cities to “Raise a Family,” and top “Most Inclusive City.”


According to Wallethub, the organization that gave the “Happiest City” title, scores were based off factors such as mental health, community & environment, and income & employment. Under Mei’s leadership, Fremont has flourished in all these areas, which is why the city won the award. Throughout Mei’s time as mayor, many initiatives were taken to improve Fremont all around, starting Fremont’s first Housing Navigation Center, supporting local businesses during the pandemic, and increasing manufacturing (Fremont is home to America’s most productive auto factory). Ultimately, a key element of being state senator is taking initiative and looking at the big picture. From these achievements, I believe Mayor Mei indeed fulfill this requirement.


For many, much of the decision boils down to personal preference. Both are great candidates with similar goals, and have a track record of being effective leaders.


In terms of achievements, Lily Mei has a more extensive repertoire. As mayor, Fremont has won many awards, from being recognized as Global Leader in Environmental Action, top “Most Inclusive City,” to #1 “Happiest City” in the nation. Plus, with her long involvement in politics, Lily Mei has the experience to be a senator.


Despite Wahab being newer to the political scene, her track record shows that she is an advocate for the people. She involves herself with the needs of everyday Californians and addresses these issues in a direct and immediate way.


When it comes to serving on the state legislature, it becomes a matter of listening to your constancy. The only function a representative has is to become an avenue to push forward policy proposals that often sprout from lobbyists and political advocates. As for the question of who to chose, its more about who will listen to you.








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