From Daily Journal

Redwood City’s first Latina mayor

Sue Lempert – Jan 1, 2012

Even though the population of Redwood City is 40 percent Latino, it wasn’t until December 2011 that a Latina became mayor. This first-time honor went to Alicia Aguirre, former school board member and long-time professor at Cañada College. And wow, is she proud of this historic moment! She is the fourth Latino to serve the city. The first was elected to the council in 1928. Fernando Vega served in the 1970s and Priscilla Marquez in the 1980s.

Aguirre is an American success story. Her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Her father arrived after World War II under the bracero work program. He did farm jobs in Florida and Mississippi and then moved with his wife to Detroit to begin a job on the assembly line of the booming automobile industry. Aguirre and her four siblings were born in Detroit.

Her father insisted that the children speak only Spanish at home even while she and her brothers and sisters were learning English at school. Today, she and her siblings are bilingual as are Aguirre’s two sons. Aguirre is thankful her dad insisted on strong ties to the culture, music, language and folklore of their heritage. It has played a major role in Aguirre’s career.

Life was a struggle in those early years. Her dad was frequently laid off and had to find odd jobs in a tortilla factory to support his growing family. Aguirre was the oldest and played the role of “mama chiquita,” little mother. Her own mom, who had been a school teacher in Mexico, was her model and inspiration. She instilled a hard work ethic and set high standards for her children. Aguirre’s mom died at 59, but her dad is still alive in Detroit. One sister is the community affairs reporter for NBC TV in Detroit. She came out to film Aguirre’s swearing in as mayor. All of the siblings have had successful careers. The youngest is now working for Ford .

Aguirre pursued her college education in Michigan. She was part of the mini-mayor program set up by then Detroit mayor, Coleman Young, to provide community outreach. She worked in primarily Latino neighborhoods. To advance her education and obtain a Ph.D. in archeology, she obtained a scholarship from the U.S. and Mexican governments. She studied in Mexico City but never completed her degree. Instead, she met and married a young doctor. The couple moved to Seattle. Then her husband was offered a position at Stanford Hospital and they moved to Redwood City where they met Rich Gordon.

Aguirre’s husband worked for Gordon’s partner, also a Stanford physician. Aguirre was new to the community and wanted to get involved. Gordon put her on the board of the nonprofit Youth and Family Assistance Program. Gordon was the executive director at the time. Nonprofits were always looking for good Latino board members and Aguirre more than fit the bill. But she told Gordon she didn’t want to be “the token Latina.” And she wasn’t. Soon she found herself on a number of community boards. Then on to the Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees in 1990, where she served until she was appointed to a seat on the Redwood City Council to fill the vacancy created when Ira Ruskin went to the state Assembly.

Aguirre taught at several community colleges before obtaining a full-time job at Cañada College where she has taught for the last 24 years — ESL, Spanish and Latino heritage. For the past 14 years, she has been married to Pete Liebengood, a former sportscaster for KRON.

In Sacramento, the Latino caucus holds significant political power. In San Mateo County, it’s beginning. Aguirre is the third Latina to be elected mayor of a county city this year. She is joined by 27-year old Laura Martinez of East Palo Alto and Raquel Gonzales of Colma. The other Latino councilmembers are Pedro Gonzalez, South San Francisco; Sal Torres, Daly City; Ruben Abrica and Carlos Romero, East Palo Alto; and Helen Fisicaro of Colma.

What’s most significant is that there is now a San Mateo County Latino PAC (Aguirre was a founding member) which endorses and contributes to candidates. “It’s not an automatic endorsement if you are Latino”, Aguirre pointed out. “ We are looking for the best candidate.” She also serves as a member of the Latino caucus of the League of California Cities.

With the demographics changing and reflecting more Latino political muscle, Aguirre may be the first but not the last Latina mayor of Redwood City.

From San Francisco Examiner

Redwood City’s first Latina mayor hopes to engage others

Katie Worth – Jan 22, 2012

Two out of five people living in Redwood City are Latino. But until Alicia Aguirre, only two or three had ever served on its city council, according to her research.

It’s no surprise that Aguirre’s rise in local politics has Latin leaders thrilled. After six years on the city council, she was recently selected to be mayor. The term will last two years, until the next election cycle in 2014.

“This is a big step for Latinas and Latinos on the Peninsula,” said Jorge Jaramillo, president of the Redwood City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “When you have these role models, more people will get the power to say, I want to run for city council or serve on a city commission.”

Aguirre has been a professor of Spanish and English at Cañada College for more than 20 years. She grew up in Detroit, where her father immigrated from Mexico to work for the auto industry.

She credits him and her mother with her penchant for civic engagement. Even when her parents struggled to pay their bills, the family remained active with church, immigrant organizations and nonprofits.

When work brought her to the Peninsula, she decided it would be a good place to raise children, and took the position at Cañada. She became interested in the school board at her sons’ district, and over many years became a leader in the local education community. In 2005, when Ira Ruskin left the City Council to join the state Assembly, Aguirre was chosen out of several candidates to replace him.

Assemblyman Rich Gordon has known Aguirre since the mid-1980s, long before she became involved in politics. Gordon gushed about the new mayor’s chops for the job, including her “great intellect and great compassion.”

“And candidly, we need more women, and particularly Latinas, to be engaged in our political process.”

Why there are so few people of Aguirre’s demographic in politics is something she has given thought. But she hopes her own story will provide inspiration for people to become more engaged politically.

“It takes people seeing other people like themselves in a position of leadership to feel empowered to do the same,” she said.

As to whether her career may have a higher trajectory than Redwood City’s City Council, Aguirre was circumspect.

“Right now I’m just really excited to have been chosen for mayor and looking forward to doing the best job possible,” she said.

Alicia Aguirre’s career

  • Professor with the English Institute and Spanish departments of Cañada College since the late 1980s
  • Served on the boards of Mount Carmel School and Garfield Charter School
  • Served as trustee and president of Redwood City Elementary School District
  • Appointed to the city council in January 2005, re-elected in November 2005, 2007 and 2011
  • Chosen to be Redwood City Mayor from Dec. 2011 through Nov. 2013

Second Annual Chanukah Festival in Downtown Redwood City

The Chabad of MidPeninsula presents the
Second Annual Chanukah Festival in Downtown Redwood City

Thursday, December 22 from 5:30 – 6:45 pm
On Broadway in front of Courthouse Square

Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre and California State Senator Joe Simitian will join in to help light a Grand Menorah, and everyone will enjoy Chanukah Music, Chanukah Latke, Arts and Crafts, Live Entertainment for the Kids, and more!

The entire community is invited to come join in this celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, and to help spread some extra joy and warmth into the world at the Second Annual Chanukah Festival in Redwood City.

The festival is open to all and admission is free. For more information call 650.232.0995 or email, or visit

Go to and fill out the RSVP form – that’ll register you for a chance to win a Flip video camera!

Also, check out this article about the menorah.

Alicia Aguirre gets Re-elected to the Redwood City Council

Aguirre, Bain, Foust, Pierce keep Redwood City seats

Daily News 11/9/11

Facing only one challenger who barely raised any money to wage a campaign, four longtime Redwood City council incumbents easily retained their seats in Tuesday’s election.
With all 4-0 precincts reporting, Vice Mayor Alicia Aguirre and council members Ian Bain, Rosanne Foust and Barbara Pierce collected enough votes for another term. Aguirre led the pack with 2-3.5 percent of the vote.

The challenger, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Paul McCarthy, came in fifth with 1-2.9 per-cent of the vote. He had campaigned on a platform of ensuring community safety, managing growth, improving the economy and prudent city budgeting.

Although McCarthy had a Face-book campaign page and attended house parties and candidate fo-rums, he did not do any fundraising to distribute campaign literature or erect lawn signs.

Pierce, currently in her 1-2th year on the council, said in her campaign statement that she was “proud to have played a leadership role in making Red-wood City a more vibrant community.” Foust, CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, said the city benefits from her business acumen. Bain said he prioritizes city requests from the “average citizen.” Aguirre, a college professor, said she has worked to “create a community where everyone can afford to live, work and raise a family.”

In addition to maintaining a balanced budget, the city council faces many challenges related to development. Revitalization of the city center has been gaining momentum since the council approved a downtown plan in January that allows taller building and more offices and homes. The council eventually will decide whether to permit development of a mini city on the Cargill salt flats.

Redwood City incumbents keep seats

Daily Journal 11/9/11
Michelle Durand

All four Redwood City councilmembers seeking re-election retained their seats handily, shutting out the one challenger to their campaigns, while two tax measures and a charter change passed.

Of the four, Alicia Aguirre came out on top with 4,058 votes, or 23.5 percent. Barbara Pierce followed with 3,831 or 22.2 percent, Ian Bain with 3,597 or 20.9 percent and Rosanne Foust with 3,536 or 20.5 percent of the votes. Challenger Paul McCarthy received 2,217 votes, or 12.9 percent, according to final semi-official results from the San Mateo County Elections Office.

“I’m really excited and appreciative,” said Pierce who has already served 12 years on the council.

Pierce said her victory was sweetened by the return of all four incumbents to the council because it allows a “continuity of vision” along with some new initiatives for economic development.

Continuing their work was a theme for all four incumbents during the campaign with a particular emphasis on the ongoing revitalization of downtown.
Bain, Foust and Aguirre did not return calls for comment.

McCarthy, a 44-year-old sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, purposely chose not to raise money or use traditional campaign methods like lawn signs and fliers.
McCarthy could not be reached for comment.

Both tax measures on the Tuesday ballot also succeeded. A transient occupancy tax increase from 10 percent to 12 percent received 72.9 percent of yes votes. The change is estimated to bring in an extra $640,000 annually. The city last increased its hotel tax in 2003 from 8 percent to 10 percent, placing it in the middle range of the county’s 15 cities which levy such a tax.

The increase in the business license tax will add an estimated extra $825,000 annually to city coffers by fiscal year 2014-15. The measure passed with 55.1 percent — 3,406 yes votes to 2,776 no — unlike two years ago when a similar effort failed. It needed a majority to pass.

The difference is the amount of understanding the public had about the measure, Pierce said.

“I think [previously] we didn’t really do as much outreach as we needed to do so that the public understood the value. It’s always hard for people to vote for new taxes,” Pierce said.
Pierce donated to the committee “Redwood City Residents to Protect City Services” which raised more than $6,000 to support the tax measures. Aguirre also gave money.

Voters also approved changing the city charter so officials can consider how a developer wants to use city land instead of simply how much money is offered. The charter proposal, which lets officials consider maximum public benefit when selling or leasing property, essentially flew under the radar leading up to Election Day but still nabbed 61.2 percent of favorable votes.

The recommendation was not hitched to a particular parcel but stands to be beneficial for Block 2 of the cinema/retail project. If the city sells the parcel, considered part of the city’s gateway, the council can now consider what exactly they want there. The city charter has been amended 15 times since its 1929 adoption, the last being in 2009.

Council Incumbents Handily Defeat Challenger

Incumbents Aguirre, Pierce, Bain and Foust remain in their seats on the city council.

Redwood City Patch 11/9/11
Stacie Chan

By a sizeable margin, the four city council incumbents edged out challenger Paul McCarthy to retain their seats on the city council.

Aguirre received the most votes by collecting the support of 4,048 residents, while the 3,831 votes in favor of Pierce made her the second most popular candidate and Bain edged out Foust by 61 votes to become the third leading vote getter.

The four incumbents will each serve another four year term, where they will make difficult decisions regarding the city budget, the proposed Cargill Saltworks development, High-Speed rail, and how to provide more housing.

This is Pierce’s last term, since the city has a four-term limit on city councilmembers. This is Bain’s and Foust’s third term and Aguirre’s second full term.

Listen to how Alicia Aguirre, Ian Bain, Rosanne Foust, and Barbara Pierce envision the city in four years.

McCarthy was not immediately available for a comment.

Some may attribute McCarthy’s shortcoming to his lack of a traditional campaign, with Mayor Jeff Ira calling it “sad.”

Resident Catherine Fraser said in a comment on this Patch article, “What I don’t like about Mr. McCarthy is the fact that he’s not running a campaign.”

While the incumbents spent an average of $13,172 on their campaign, McCarthy spent $54 on business cards. He also held a “Meet the City Council Candidate” event on Oct. 28.

He said by accepting campaign donations from anyone, businesses, unions or even friends, there would be an inherent debt to that person that could affect his objectivity. McCarthy also said that any lawn signs would just end up in a land fill, contributing more waste.

“I think he ran a great, clean campaign, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Bain said. “I really appreciate him putting his hat in the ring.”

But McCarthy and the incumbents all invested a great amount of time as well. They attended multiple candidates’ forums, filled out endorsement forms, met with community members, and had a great online and social media presence. The incumbents also put out mailers and calls reminding residents to vote.

“It isn’t easy,” Foust said. “But you put yourself out there when you want something and you work hard.”

A formal induction of the city councilmembers will take place on Dec. 5, when the city clerk will hold an election amongst the seven candidates to select the new mayor.

Results: Incumbents Will Keep Seats On Council

Redwood City Patch 11/8/11