The Mayor’s Race

Will Los Angeles elect a mayor whose name will be regularly misspelled by school kids, news reporters, and, heaven forbid, bloggers?  Antonio Villaraigosa—yes, correct spelling—could become California’s most notable Latino politician in May.  For a sense of his challenge, let’s jump in our blogospheric time machine and go back to San Jose, 1998.

Then, Ron Gonzales was a former County Supervisor and working at HP.  I was a lead strategist for his mayoral campaign. 

We wanted to test the race issue since Gonzales would be the city’s first elected Latino mayor.  We knew race would be a factor for some voters. But figuring it out would be tricky.  We were savvy enough to know you just can’t have your polling firm call voters and ask: “are you a racist?”  Well, you could but the hang up rate would be pretty darn high.

So, we came up with another question:  “Do you agree or disagree with this statement – ‘to tell you the truth, San Jose is not quite ready for a Latino mayor.’” 

I guessed the number would be low – around 10 percent. After all, San Jose is considered progressive:  electing two female mayors (Janet Gray Hayes and Susan Hammer) and a Japanese American (Norm Mineta) to lead the city.

The polling numbers came back higher – 25 percent.  That meant if Gonzales had no shot with one quarter of the electorate, he had to essentially win 2 out of every 3 of the remaining votes to get to the 50 percent mark – which he did, barely.

Gonzales was fortunate that he could count on some Latino votes (about 12 percent), and the coattails of a popular Mayor Hammer.  Plus, he was a Democrat running against a Republican in a Democratic town.

Villaraigosa is running against an incumbent mayor and both are Democrats.  But the Latino population in LA is over 50 percent. The Latino vote is about a quarter of the electorate.

My guess is that LA is ready for a Latino mayor – as long as voters don’t have to correctly spell his name on a write-in ballot.


  1. So maybe a poll question today would be is San Jose ready for an incompetent Latino mayor?

    Gonzales isn’t unpopular because of his race.  Its his performance.

  2. Gonzo gave a bad name to our great latino comunity of San Jose.

    Saying he is representative of latino community is like saying that the few “gang bangers” running around on downtown streets are representitive of the latino community. 

    Both gonzo and the gang bangers give the latino community a bad image and name.

    I look forward to having an effective latino leader as mayor one day!

  3. Well, when you promote the suburban lifestyle and don’t provide an alternative to it in the downtown area, you’re not going to have much to choose from in mayoral candidates other than a bunch of wet noodles from cookie cutter homogenized neighborhoods out in the mall zones.  This kind of pool will never provide the charismatic leadership San Jose needs. 
    The Gonzo formula wasn’t a bad one—a guy from the private sector (at the time) with leadership skills.  The problem is that Gonzo has been just as good at mis-leadership.  If we can find someone who can get people motivated about where they live, good things will happen.  Nobody in the current field seems able to do that, and San Jose will just be living in the shadows for another 4 years—minimum—if any of them is elected.

  4. Jude,

    Joe Trippi is a loser.  Hertzberg is another “sure winner” that Trippi managed to screw up.

    As soon as I hear he signed with a candidate, you can bet on the other candidate and make a fortune.

    Shall we go down the list, Dean, Green, Hertzberg, Mondale, Gephardt—as far back as Bradley.  Throw in Jerry Estruth and Dick Peacock, locally—just to show what a lying, thieving scumbag he has become and you have all the evidence you need to distance yourself.  If there were malpractice in political consulting Trippi would have been barred years ago.

    Trippi’s bio says he was “instrumental” in Alan Cranston’s reelection in California.  That is a outright “lie”.  Trippi was no where near that campaign because the Cranston folks, myself included, would have nothing to do with him. 

    Trippi helped Hahn get elected City Attorney and then he goes out and takes Hertzberg as a client.  There is aboslutely no loyalty or ethics in the guy.  He has no redeeming qualities—unless you consider self-promotion a potential value.

    Free yourself from the dark side, the guy is bad news.

  5. 1) Tom doesn’t live in San Jose.
    2) He has his hands full with the State Budget.
    3) After running for the U.S. Senate, the Mayorship of San Jose seems less attractive.

  6. Dear Jude:

    I too thought this website had been dedicated to what’s happening in San Jose, but I really don’t mind the digression, Jude.  Heck, I’d hate to have to try writing something interesting about San Jose every week.  As to the mayor’s race in L.A., I don’t see how electing a Latino would be that big a deal.  It really wasn’t a big deal in San Jose either.  I do hope, however, that the Latino running for mayor in L.A. knows how to speak Spanish.  For the sake of the folks in L.A., I also hope he knows how to govern.

  7. Dear arturo and others,

    Today’s blog (most of it) is about San Jose, albeit 1998.  But its also about LA in 2005 and San Jose in 2006 if we have another Latino candidate for mayor.

    Nonetheless, here’s my approach to my Tuesday blogs which I outlined in my inaugural blog on January 9:

    I’ll write frequently about San Jose issues.  I’ll usually discuss it within a larger framework:  state, national, cultural, political, social, and business trends.

    In San Jose, like many important cities, we do a lot of navel gazing.  That can be a good exercise if it yields greater awareness.  It’s bad if it limits perspective.  It’s like a person who spends all day looking at his belly button.  He removes a lot of lint, but bumps into a lot of walls.  We need to look up now and then.

    Whether you agree or disagree I appreciate the feedback.


  8. Hey Richard-
    Ron Gonzales wasn’t from San Jose either!
    And, not that it means anything, but I saw Tom Campbell in the plumbing department of the OSH store on Branham Lane a few months ago. And…I swear this is true…he was wearing suspenders!
    Faulty conclusion: If Jerry Estruth wore suspenders and did his own plumbing maybe he would have been elected to Congress.

  9. To all the people who complain that Jude’s comments are not about San Jose: one of the reasons SJ is still considered a “cowtown” (and, trust me, it is, in many other parts of the nation/world) is precisely because we are so insulated from the rest of the state.  I agree with Mark T’s comments: in the land of 75,000 Webber kettles, we are the quintessential sub-urban area trying to be a real city. 

    One would think that the birthplace of most of the significant technological advances of the past 30 years would generate news and discussion a little more exciting than a discussion about a glass dome, fer chrissakes!

    “Silicon Valley”, which, by the way, is not the same as “San Jose”, is only as important as the amount of money we generate, and it ain’t very much these days, compared to the late ‘90’s. 

    It would be quite refreshing, actually, to have a mayor who actually had some kind of personality, who had an interesting vision for the soon-to-be-10th-largest city in the US.

    So, short of ordering a personality transplant for the current mayoral candidates, is there anyone who can shake up the race that promises to put us all to sleep?  At least Villaraigosa has a bit of flash, compared to our snoozers.  Wake me up when something interesting happens (and I’m not talking about the Terry Gregory debacle!).

    Paul Wysocki

  10. San Jose, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego, Salinas, Long Beach major cities of our state, also have a high porcentage of latino population and more that 20% of latino register voters, any of this cities are ready for a latino mayor, In the Latino community we have very capable people to take any of this positions, we should start getting ready for that, and racist people should start looking for another place to live because California soon will not only will have Latino Mayors in the Big Cities, but also a Lituanent Governor, or Governor and beauty of this, is that is only male latinos….but FEMALE LATINAS…ie LIZ FIGUEROA…a our Future Lituanent Governor……And Maybe our Ron Gonzalez…..Which I’m peoud to have as a Mayor….can probably run for Governor….Less be realistic……is hard to keep everyone happy….politics is nor easy…..Run Has done a Good JOb…..! so we now need a latino women for mayor in SAN Jose…….? Cindy, Nora, Cathy or lets bring Margie Matthews back

  11. Please don’t throw Cindy at us.  She’s about as Latina as the Taco Bell chihuahua.  Just because she has a spanish last name does not make her Latina.

  12. Thanks for hipping me to the fact that SJ is considered a cowtown by the rest of the world.  Frankly I’m quite bummed to hear that the Parisians and Londoners look down on SJ.

    If only we had a charismatic mayor – then we’d get the respect we richly deserve and want so badly!

    If only we’d spend billions more on downtown, then we’d surely be respected by new yorkers and europeans!

    What we need instead is a self-esteem campaign.  How about “I’m OK, San Jose is OK”.

  13. Ed,

    Jerry does wear braces and does his own plumbing.  Maybe if Tom had spent less than the 1 million on a Congressional race—he’d have money to hire a plumber.


    If this blog is solely about San Jose—it will get boring in a hurry.  This is not a slap at the City—it is a compliment.


    Your comments regarding Cindy Chavez are offensive.  Ignorance is no excuse for name calling. 


    San Jose is a small town.  60%+ of the vote in California is in Southern California.  San Francisco politicians have learned to move south to get TV coverage in LA.

    San Jose politicians have no clue what it takes to run statewide.  Norm got an appointment to the Cabinet, he didn’t run statewide for an office.

    Stever Westly gets it.  He lives in Los Altos, but he knows winning LA is the key to winning in statewide politics.  It helps if you are extremely wealthy—which most San Jose politicians are not.

  14. Just an observation….Aside from Norman Mineta, how come none of the former San Jose mayors and council members ever made it up to state or national office?  Too parochial perhaps?

  15. Cindy Chavez is probably the most loyal civic leader to the Hispanic Community right now.  She is definetly 100 percent dedicated to fostering Hispanic culture in San Jose.

    Steve Westly worked in San Jose, helped found EBAY that is as San Jose as it comes, and has never been known as a Southern California person.  If you have to be a Los Angeles person to get ahead, please explain Phil Angelides and Bill Lockyer, and Van De Kamp was as LA as they come.  Kevin Shelley may be gone, but methinks he sure was SF to all of us.  As far as Norm goes, he did not start getting appointments until after he moved to DC.  Westly lived in Atherton and Menlo Park

  16. I will take a few million from the “loser” Joe Trippi any day.  A)  Trippi had a bit of revisionist history in his book, as another college contemporary, I thought his Billy Joel and John Travolta impessions were quite bad, and I think there were times that he was more hype than substance.

    B)  Trippi, unlike same, always paid up his commitments, and always found work for people that opposed him in campaigns.  I can remember how anxious he was to get people who had opposed him, to get a place in the Bradley and Kennedy campaigns.  He never brushed off people.

    C) Joe also stayed true to the party, and never went too far from it, and then accuse others of working for the money.

    D)  I found Joe Trippi to be an opportunist, too impressed with himself, but at the core, an honest person who has a lot to contrubute.