An affable former security guard, bartender and doorman at the popular downtown bar Johnny V’s is eyeing a run for a seat on the San Jose City Council. Tim Hennessey has generated backing from a number of angry downtown club owners, and this December, with no political experience, he’ll start officially vying for a position representing the most high profile council district of the nation’s tenth largest city.
It’s an ambitious proposition. He’ll face a popular incumbent in the district that produced two recent mayors—Tom McEnery and Susan Hammer—and two mayoral candidates—Cindy Chavez and David Pandori.For now, he’s sitting at a table inside the Firehouse No. 1 Bar & Grill on San Pedro Square, sipping a John Daly—vodka, ice tea and lemonade—from a little red straw as he talks about his motivation for running for office.
“I think it’s time for fresh ideas and fresh changes. I think we need to secure our own destinies,” Hennessey says. “I think it’s time for the younger generation to get involved.
“We can’t wait until we’re 50 or 60-years-old and have served on water boards and school boards. We need to act now.”
Hennesey, who resides in Morgan Hill, is the son of Morgan Hill city council woman Marilyn Librers, but he is a political outsider. After graduating from Morgan Hill’s Live Oak High School in 1995, he served a little over three years in the Army National Guard before attending the Evergreen Valley College Police Academy. Unable to secure his dream job with the Morgan Hill Police Department after graduation, he worked security at Eastridge Mall and then Valley Medical Center. After having a heart attack during a foot chase on the job, Hennessey was medically retired at age 29. He then moved to downtown San Jose in 2004, looking for a little fun.
“There is only so much staying at home being retired at that age you can stand,” says Hennessy. “I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I ended up picking up the skill of bartending, and I worked the door as security at Johnny V’s.”
Over the years Hennessey gained a reputation as a regular on the downtown cocktail circuit, which, he says, turned him onto the plight of the struggling small business owners downtown.
“I have a very good rapport with the majority of the small business owners, entertainment, retail and dining, and that just comes from being a longtime patron of downtown San Jose,” he says. “For years now, I’ve heard all their gripes and grumbles.”
Hennessey says that in his view, downtown has been grossly mismanaged. After helping his mother with her political campaign in 2008, he decided it was his turn to run for office. He says someone with his background in law enforcement can help bridge the gap between government, police and the nightclubs downtown.
He brings up issues that have been percolating for years and which boiled over when the San Jose Police Department revoked Wet nightclub’s entertainment permit last month, effectively shuttering the club and igniting a lawsuit against the city.
“I feel that small business is under attack in downtown San Jose,” Hennessey says. “We all want the same thing: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How we go about that is important. We can’t have people shanked on the dance floor. But I think that just pulling a nightclub’s entertainment permit, which is the business owner’s livelihood, especially in this economy—it’s difficult to justify removing somebody’s ability to make money and shut them down.
“I think there needs to be a different process. Of course public safety is an issue, and I’m an advocate of both, but I think we could all play a little bit nicer together.”
Hennessey may say he wants to play nice, but Ray Shafazand, owner of Sabor Tapas Bar & Lounge on San Pedro Square and one of Hennessey’s biggest supporters, says that he sees the upcoming election season as a chance to get down and dirty.
Sabor hosted Hennessy’s first “meet the candidate” event on Sept. 23, and coming Jan. 10, 2010, Shafazand plans on launching a hardcore opposition campaign against current District 3 Councilman Sam Liccardo.
“I’m going to start a negative campaign against Sam Liccardo, and it’ll be the biggest negative campaign that has ever come to downtown against one councilman,” Shafazand says. “I have all the clubs behind me. Between all the clubs we have 1.3 million e-mails, and we will be blasting that stuff twice a week against Sam Liccardo. We’re going to do e-mail and text blasts, we’re going to put posters around, you name it.”
Shafazand, who owned the restaurant and dance club Cuccini before it was rebranded as Sabor, has had permit problems that have led to litigation in the past with his landlord, Frank Cucuzza. Cucuzza has been part of San Pedro Square property projects with former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery, and he has sought to evict Sabor.. Shafazand believes that McEnery and Cucuzza have influenced city officials to crack down on his club to further their development ambitions.Shafazand says that he thinks Liccardo has failed to support him and other downtown San Jose nightspots because he is taking instructions from McEnery.
“We need to put a people’s person on the council, not somebody who was handpicked by the old mayor, and the wealthy from downtown,” Shafazand says. “He’s betrayed his business owners downtown, and he’s going to get it.”
Liccardo says that Shafazand never even tried to contact him about problems at Sabor.
“I’ve never received a single phone call from Ray,” Liccardo says. “The last time I had a conversation with him was the opening day [of Sabor]. I showed up and said ‘here’s my name and my number.’”
Liccardo points out that Sabor, which is suing the city, has created “challenges” for the SJPD. “They have the second highest calls for [police] services for any club downtown,” he says.
Liccardo says he thinks the economy and conflicts over how nightspots should be run has a lot to do with why some nightclub owners are running a candidate against him.
“The fact that nightclub owners are unhappy doesn’t surprise me a bit because business has been bad,” Liccardo says.
Since throwing his hat in for the ring, Hennessey has turned his personal Myspace profile into a campaign website titled “Tim Hennessey 2010.” There he posts his photo alongside the likenesses of George Washington, JFK and Rudy Giuliani. However, some of Hennessey’s bawdier personal photos, which depicted him partying, tongue out, with scantily clad women wrapped around his leg, had mysteriously disappeared from the site a few weeks after it was launched.
Shafazand says that he didn’t know Hennessey until a few months ago, when the 33-year-old walked through the front door and asked him how business was going.
“Unlike Sam Liccardo, who takes his own personal agenda ahead of the working people downtown, I think this guy has no connection to businesses,” Shafazand says. “He’s not an attorney, he didn’t attend Bellarmine, and he doesn’t have any ties. He’s a retired cop, so he can understand my position as a restaurateur.”
Liccardo says that he is in fact doing his best to hear from his constituents personally, including doing once monthly walks around downtown to hear what’s going on with business owners.
“In a tough economy like this, it’s often the case that you can be dancing like Baryshnikov and still be too late to save a failing business,” Liccardo says, “so you just do what you can.”
For his part, Hennessey has a lot of questions, but not as many answers. A Republican, he makes it clear that he supports porn filters in San Jose’s libraries, but “does not support a bag tax.”
Hennessey knows he needs to get a move on and find an apartment in downtown San Jose by the end of the year, so he can be eligible to run in District 3. He moved back to his hometown to take care of his father, who suffers from paralysis, he says. On personal level, Hennessey is dealing with the death of his stepbrother, Anthony William Librers, on Oct. 17 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that occurred at a bachelor party at rural Central Valley campground
Hennessey says he also needs some money.
“Right now I’m borderline broke,” he says. “I’ve made some investments, some went well, some didn’t. As far as a positive flow of income, I have very little.”
Hennessey will be hosting his second “Meet the Candidate” event at Morocco’s Restaurant on Nov. 7. Shafazand says he will for sure be in attendance.
“We’re going to help this guy to the last breath that we have,” he says. “We need to make sure we get heard, that we get our needs done, and not for the millionaires downtown or the big landlords to get what they want.
“They play dirty. We’re going to play dirty. It’s going to be a big war, trust me.”