Former mayor Tony Santos isn’t about to let his nearly two decades in local government fade into memory just because he’s no longer the city’s top dog.
But you won’t find him railing against a proposed policy during a City Council meeting. Nor is Santos following the path of San Leandro’s other super-involved former mayor, Shelia Young, by finding work in another local government agency. At least, not yet.
The 78-year-old, four-term City Council member and one-term mayor is taking another popular post-government path: consulting, both for and not for profit. He’s also pondering a potential memoir — from his barefoot Hawaiian youth to the highest post of an almost mid-sized city.
In his consulting work, Santos has a two-pronged agenda these days: beating down ranked choice voting wherever it threatens to take hold; and promoting renewable energy, in the neighborhood and abroad.
“People think I have something to offer,” Santos said about his consulting work during a recent interview at in the Washington Manor neighborhood. “I know more about the city than maybe anyone else right now.” (Don’t tell that to Mayor Emeritus Young.)
On the renewable energy front, Santos is working as a sort of middleman between several local companies and investors, and potential clients overseas.
He recently provided photo ops at the demonstration of a mobile, solar-powered , which San Leandro-based Renewables West and Santa Clara-based Forever Pure want to market to energy-poor developing countries.
Santos is trying to help broker a deal between Renewables West and some local Afghani investors, who hope to buy 100 of the mobile solar units for their country by leveraging federal development funding, according to Santos and Renewables West President Mike Adelson.
Santos and Adelson said Congressman Pete Stark’s office was also involved in trying to set up the deal.
“Basically what I’m trying to do is put all these various groups together,” Santos said.
In addition, the former mayor said, he’s been facilitating a potential renewable energy project in India for a Chinese investment group. Most recently, Santos said, he’s added to his potential client list a group of Portuguese firms interested in the renewables market.
“I’ve had meetings every week since I left my mayor’s job,” Santos said.
On ranked choice voting, the city’s fledgling electoral system that may have cost him the mayorship last November, Santos has been lending his name and story to opponents around the country — and gloating when the alternative voting system has been shot down, as it recently was in Ft. Collins, CO.
“This is a great victory for those of us who assisted on [the] campaign in Fort Collins getting the word out,” Santos wrote in an email after the initiative failed to muster enough public votes.
Santos was a proponent of ranked choice voting until his defeat under the system's first iteration in San Leandro. He now calls the system “discriminatory,” “confusing,” and “undemocratic.”
“The public doesn’t know what they’re getting into,” he said, vexed by the lack of civic uproar in his native state, Hawaii, after the state House of Representatives passed a bill to implement ranked choice voting there in March.
The Honolulu City Council has since asked the legislature to defer action on the bill, which elicited another victory email from Santos.
The former mayor doesn’t make any apologies for his conversion from supporter to spoiler of ranked choice voting. He figures his four years in the military — two and a half of them flying rescue missions in Europe for the 84th Air Guard— gives him the right to be “sour grapes,” as he puts it.
“I was in a dangerous occupation in the military and that allows me to be sour grapes if I choose,” Santos told me defiantly.
Speaking of the military, his mind seems to say, there was that time when….
Soon, grainy, black and white footage is running through my head, of brave, young soldiers saluting the cameras goofily and heading off to fight the enemy.
Santos likes to tell war stories. He said he recently submitted an article about one of his most harrowing military exploits to the webpage of Air Rescue Museum, a nonprofit group dedicated to collecting historical materials from the U.S. Armed Forces Air Rescue Service. If the organization ever gets an actual museum together, Santos said, “I’ll have to go visit and bring a truckload of stuff.
“My wife would not be pleased,” he added pensively. “She thinks my rescue days are behind me.”
Then, before I could get a question in: “Let me tell you a story about Sgt. Ramirez,” Santos said, launching into a tragic war tale. That story led seamlessly to recollections of his first stomach-flipping flight in the Austrian Alps.
From the Alps to Hawaii, and — reel change — home videos are again running through my head, this time of a young, barefoot Santos walking to school down a dirt road between pineapple fields.
Not all is in the past, though. Santos is still resentful of what he considers a nasty, negative political campaign waged by his opponents, particularly the man who now occupies his seat in City Hall.
“I’m still ticked off at Steve Cassidy,” Santos told me, his brow furrowed indignantly. “His comments on our budget situation were incorrect,” he said, launching into a recap of the unexpected tax windfall the city received from the county earlier this year.
Santos has vehemently contested Mayor Cassidy's suggestion that San Leandro may have been headed for bankruptcy.
He’s still hoping for an apology from the new mayor. The question is, will he really stay away from the public microphone in City Council Chambers until he gets one?