After a contentious two-hour public hearing Tuesday night, where residents accused some members of the council of racism, the Arcadia City Council bucked tradition by declining to elevate Councilman Sho Tay to the largely ceremonial post of mayor.
Instead, current Mayor Peter Amundson will remain as as the city’s titular head for 45 days, while a complaint against Tay, the city’s only Chinese elected official, is investigated by the state’s Fair Political Practices Committee.
“It’s an unprecedented move,” Amundson said, to a packed council chamber that at times turned raucous with derision. “But this has been an unprecedented election.”
A boisterous citywide election in March returned three incumbents — Tay, Roger Chandler and Tom Beck to the chamber amid acrimony from residents and candidates who traded barbs verbally, on the internet and via fliers sent to voters.
With the election results certified earlier this month, dozens of residents urged council members to “do the right thing” and proclaim Tay as Arcadia’s mayor for the next year. Several said any other move by the council could only be described as racist retaliation aimed at further dividing Arcadia following an ugly election.
“If you choose to bypass the opportunity to have a Chinese-American as mayor, what will it say to the 60 percent of Arcadia residents who participate in this community’s successes?” Singpoli CEO Kin Hui asked. “Will it say to our children that Chinese-Americans are great members of the community, but have no business as community leaders? That would be shameful and go down as an historic blunder.”
Using colorful and sometimes coded language, a handful of residents told the Council that complaints about Tay’s tactics were too serious to ignore.
“We the American People are here to ask the City Council to restore ethics to this chamber,” exclaimed resident Caroline Blake. “I say no to rotation, and to even one year with Sho Tay as Mayor.”
Tay described the FPPC complaint as an unfair election tactic used by his opponents who publicized it in various formats.
“They made me sound like some kind of criminal,” Tay said.
In seeking a vote to delay the election of Tay, Amundson described it as a “cooling-off period” meant to strengthen the cooperation between members of the City Council, and allow extreme emotions left over from the intense election to settle down.
With the cooling off period in effect, the next time Tay could be considered for the post of Mayor will be June 5.