Back in March, when he first launched his campaign, Donald Rocha was careful to a fault.
He declined to take positions on controversial issues, saying he needed to first get familiar with the issues, and then to go out into the community and find out what his constituents were thinking.
Seven months later, Rocha has evolved as a political actor. Having studied the policy papers, pounded the pavement and knocked on a few thousand doors, he says he now knows what his district wants and how to get it.
On the most important issue confronting the city—the $118 million budget deficit and the structural problems that created it—Rocha has staked out a strong position at some political risk. He has come out publicly in favor of Measure V and Measure W, which would strengthen the city’s position with regards to public employees’ unions.
Where he once opposed pension reform, he now says he believes it is necessary and will support it. Asked whether he would have voted with Mayor Reed to impose a pay cut on the unions, Rocha doesn’t hesitate to say yes. (“Reluctantly,” he adds.)
Because Rocha has been endorsed by the South Bay Labor Council, his opponent, Larry Pegram, is trying to portray him as a union pawn. But Rocha’s willingness to speak out on these controversial issues proves that he is capable of being his own man. That will be important in coming months, when the citizens of San Jose will need an independent representative on the council.
Rocha is still cautious—admirably so. “I don’t think we need to be hammering on city employees and blaming the unions for all the city’s troubles,” he says. “We don’t need to be demonizing them.” Back in March, that might have sounded like double-speak—today it sounds like an intelligently nuanced approach.
Pegram, an evangelical activist who spearheaded the local fight against gay marriage, served on the City Council in the mid-’70s, when he was known as one of the notorious “Fearsome Foursome.” That developer-friendly bloc fell apart following bribery indictments and scandal.
Pegram then began a career as a financial planner, which was marked by bankruptcy and foreclosure. Several longtime acquaintances have questioned his forthrightness and integrity. His positions on social issues aside, he is not qualified to sit on this council.
Residents of District 9 have a clear choice.