Fremont’s first African-American councilmember in almost 65 years criticized the mayor for not approving a proclamation honoring historically Black colleges.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Teresa Cox accused Mayor Lily Mei of refusing to approve a proclamation recognizing the contributions of Ohlone College, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) and the Divine Nine–historically Black fraternities and sororities.
Over interruptions from other councilmembers who called for points of order and a recess, Cox claimed Mei ignored her request to explain why the proclamation was turned down.
Cox first brought the proclamation to Mei for approval on Jan. 31.
“It was very rude to not be responded to after all this time–this is not acceptable,” Cox said Tuesday.
Mei ignored her, and instead recognized a separate proclamation honoring Black History Month, which was accepted by the city’s Human Relations Commission. Mei, who did not respond to Cox’s accusation in full during the meeting, noted Fremont has recently seen African-Americans take several leadership positions in the city, including Cox’s election to the council.
“This has been a very exciting and transformational time for our city,” Mei said.
Cox believes her proclamation should have been approved because it recognizes the historical importance of Black educational institutions.
“They paved the way for African-Americans to be able to go into higher education,” Cox told San José Spotlight. Cox served 12 years as vice chair of the Ohlone Community College board of trustees and in 2020 became the first African American elected to Fremont City Council in decades.
Mei, who is running for state Senate in District 10, faced backlash in 2020 when she refused to kneel during protests over police violence in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
Cox said she believes the move is politically motivated because she supports Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab for the Senate seat—instead of Mei.
Mei did not respond to requests for comment.
Several East Bay residents Tuesday spoke in support of Cox and criticized the council for silencing her.
“What I witnessed this evening was complete disrespect,” said Sara Prada, governing trustee of the Hayward Unified School District. “It’s shameful to see the city and the Fremont City Council act like this toward your only Black councilmember.”
Members of Cox’s sorority also urged the city to consider its actions.
“City of Fremont, please do better in respecting your councilmembers and respecting your residents,” said Zina Slaughter, president of the Rho Delta chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, noting that Black educational institutions have made important contributions to American history.
Some residents, however, defended Mei and cited her work with vulnerable residents in the community.
Ronnie Forbes, executive director of the food nonprofit One Nation Dream Makers, said Mei helped his organization address food insecurity in the East Bay.
“I want to applaud Mayor Lily for the work she’s done to help One Nation Dream Makers,” he said.
Alanda Johnson, executive secretary of Hayward South Alameda County NAACP, thanked both Mei and Cox for recognizing the Black community.
“I appreciate everything you all do, in particular madam mayor, for partnering with us and the community,” Johnson said. “We definitely see your support for the Black community.”
Cox told San José Spotlight the mayor spiked her proclamation in retaliation for Cox not supporting Mei’s campaign for the District 10 state Senate seat, where she’s facing off against Wahab, former San Jose City Council candidate Jamal Khan, Santa Clara Unified School District Jim Canova, Santa and Republican candidate Paul Pimentel. Cox supports Wahab, according to her campaign site.
“Because I’m not supporting her, she’s using and abusing her power,” Cox said.
Carolyn Fowler, DNC chair of the Women’s Caucus in California, told San José Spotlight she’s baffled by Mei’s decision and considered it a “slap in the face.”
“I was flabbergasted to read about this,” Fowler said. “The fact that this mayor is taking that position in this day and age, and it’s my understanding is planning to run for office—she seems unfit to be a public servant.”
Fowler added she’s already placed a call to one of Mei’s key supporters to complain. Her supporters include Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Civil rights leaders in the South Bay also expressed alarm.
“It’s Black History Month, this is the time to make these kinds of statements and honors,” William Armaline, director of the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University, told San José Spotlight. “If you’re going to stop something like this, you would need to make a pretty solid and obvious case to do so.”
Last October, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee voted in support of finding Mei in violation of a policy to not endorse candidates who take actions against LGBTQ rights.
According to media reports, Mei voted against a resolution to declare May 22 Harvey Milk Day when she served as a Trustee for the Fremont Unified School District in 2010. Mei has argued she supported the Harvey Milk Day resolution and has proclaimed June in the city as Pride Month.