Why Sheriff Smith Won’t Run for Mayor

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit, no use being a damn fool about it.”—Winston Churchill

We dream of the perfect candidate in our business. The right person, at the right time, with resources to win and the perfect fit for the populace and the times. Barack Obama in President 2008, Jerry Brown Governor in 2010, Willie Brown for San Francisco Mayor 1995, and Sheriff Laurie Smith for San Jose Mayor 2014.

Only the last scenario won’t happen. She laughs when the compelling case is put before her. “Why would I give up the best job in the world to take on that nightmare?” she asks emphatically.

“Because you are the person who can bring this city back together,” comes the lame answer.

The reasons for a Smith candidacy are compelling. A strong woman administrator with a solid base of support from both business and labor, a down-to-earth personality, a record of taking on a formerly demoralized and ridiculed department and making it the premier law enforcement agency in the county.

Politically, her numbers are off the charts. Smith has high name identification, especially compared to those who would run against her, and her image rating surpasses everyone in the county as it is a lofty 5-to-1 positive. Image ratings are determined by the ratio of people who view a person positively versus those who view them negatively.

Those numbers would not only make her candidacy viable, she would be the immediate front-runner in the race.

Most importantly, with crime rising, with a devastated emergency services problem, a severe public employee morale problem and a divided city; Smith has the capacity to bring all the major parties of interest together to move San Jose forward.

Where once people with large egos worked together for the best interest of the residents, in a town that produced Norm Mineta, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, Janet Gray Hayes, Tom McEnery, Susan Hammer, and Susie Wilson—our current crop of leaders seem wholly inadequate to the challenge.

This should not be taken as a complete dismissal of the current crop of candidates—one of them could rise beyond the petty personal politics that currently dominate our local culture, but none have that cache yet. Smith already has it and could make use of it the day she takes office.

Moreover all the announced candidates are from a City Council that has staked its entire legacy on a flawed premise for pension reform. There is little hope the much heralded Measure B will withstand a court challenge. All of this turmoil will be for naught. We will be going back to square one; with only rising crime, devastated city services and divided politics to show for the effort.

We need a mayor who is not part of the problem and can provide real solutions.

That can only happen with a leader who doesn’t worry too much about their ego and has credibility with all the major interests. We need a leader who can navigate the politics with persistence and put the people’s agenda ahead of personal political ambition.

The simple fact that Smith won’t run, doesn’t need the job and has no higher political ambition outside of the county is one of the main reasons she would not only win, but could also govern. One only need look to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to see how effective that management style is for success.

At one point in a conversation she does get animated: “Boy, that police department really needs some help.”

“It will take five years to rebuild that department.” she adds in a matter of fact tone.

But Mayor Reed and his political inner circle would never offer her that job, even with her record of turning the Sheriff’s department around. And she would not likely accept unless given a guaranteed five-year contact and a free hand to do what is necessary. Besides, why would she give up one of best jobs in the world to take on that nightmare?
I give up, no use being a damn fool.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley. He previously worked to get Laurie Smith elected as sheriff.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

18 Comments

  1. “…a record of taking on a formerly demoralized and ridiculed department and making it the premier law enforcement agency in the county.”…The Sherrif’s office is the premiere law enforcement agency in the county?  Which county? They can’t even handle their own business. Yesterday’s homicide apparently required the assistance of 20 officers from the depleted SJPD. Laurie Smith might actually be a good mayoral candidate, but that statement is a ridiculous bit of political hyperbole.

    • Really?  Which San Jose homocide are you referring?

      Ask any City that has contracted with the Sheriff whether they like their public service.  We not only pay less for public safety, we get better service.  They actually investigate burglaries, respond when called and don’t have the turmoil exhibited at SJPD.

      Finally, no qualified person wants to be Chief of Police in San Jose.  Let me repeat that. . .no, qualified person wants to be Chief of Police in San Jose. 

      The SJPD has many dedicated public servants, but they have been decimated by people leaving and recruiting high level talent has been difficult.  Morale is beyond low.

      When this Sheriff took over with Sheriff’s Office, there had been years of fighting over the jails.  That no longer exists.  The Sheriff’s Office reflects the philosophy of the leadership.  They have great officers, have been involved in many high-profile incidents and the department is respected again.

      The SJPD needs leadership, more qualified officers, better moral and that will take time.  Laurie Smith has been there and done that. . .

      • My post clearly stated the homicide to which I was referring.  The patrol arm of the Sheriff’s office doesn’t have the manpower to handle a major incident without assistance, or even, in some cases, their lesser responsibilities. Another example is the fact that the S/O is contracted to handle incidents occurring on light rail platforms. Despite this contract, they do not respond to such incidents which occurr during nightime hours due to a lack of manpower. SJPD responds in their place.

        SJPD definitely does need help, a lot of help, due to the financial decimation inflicted upon it by the city government, but it still doesn’t take a backseat to the S/O. The job the S/O does in policing low cime areas such as Saratoga, Los Altos Hills and Cupertino can’t compare to policing the 10th largest city in the United States.

        • Correct, the Sheriff’s office can’t/won’t handle thier business. They acutally have a contract with VTA to handle all law enforcement matters occurring on VTA Property and on their rolling stock – between 6 am and 11pm… SJPD handles ALL law enforcment related duties on VTA everything in the City between 11pm and 6am. SJPD also handles everything when the “transit deputies” have had a long day and go off duty early or when ever they say the magic words: “We aren’t responding to that… call SJPD.” 

          Did you ever any of the details of the Sheriff’s proposal to provide police services under contract for SJ Int’l Airport? It really wouldn’t take a CPA to figure out how the Sheriff’s Office was going to provide that service so inexpensively – The broad plan basically cut the staffing to next to nothing and drastically limited the area inside the airport the the deputies were responsible for relegating everything except the airfield and arrival/departure gates to guess who?  SJPD!

      • I think jojo actually meant the homicide on Wednesday, with the mentally ill suspect and 48 yr old and 1yr old victims. I could be wrong though, but it was SO’s jurisdiction, and SJPD was out there to assist

  2. “He previously worked to get Laurie Smith elected as sheriff.”

    Rich Robinson also previously worked to get Jimmy Nguyen elected…

      • Rich,
        What is your emoticon supposed to be saying?  Is it pointing out that calling them both “outstanding individuals dedicated to public service” is ironic?  Certainly you don’t believe the Jimmy Nguyen is in the same category as Laurie Smith when it comes to public service?  Or do you? 
        WG

        • Heck, I’m new at emoticons, it was supposed to be a smile not a wink.  There is no question the Sheriff has a longer and better record of service.

          But Laurie and Jimmy have a high sense of integrity , are smart and put the public first.  There is no reason to believe Jimmy’s career will be any less stellar than the Sheriff’s, though it is a lofty standard she has set.

  3. “Why would I give up the best job in the world to take on that nightmare?”

    “Boy, that police department really needs some help.”

    “It will take five years to rebuild that department.”

    Rich, are these direct quotes from Sheriff Smith speaking to you?  Or are they just what you “believe” Ms. Smith might have said?

  4. Look at the council clowns all lined up to run for mayor.  What a joke!  We are doomed and your posts are only to put money in you own pocket.

    Can’t believe you are not on top of the news, how about the double murder in San Jose that was in county jurisdiction. Maybe you need to read the news more often before you post.

    She adds,  “At one point in a conversation she does get animated: “Boy, that police department really needs some help.”

    Hell us we do, have you seen the cities latest offer to the SJPD.  Absolute embarrassment, if I were on the PD I would be submitting applications to jump off this sinking ship.

  5. Ash Kalra should get credit for voicing to the Mayor and City Council what was going to happen if Measure B was approved and tried to be implemented. He was the lone voice on the City Council to do so. He predicted police officers would flee this city, which they have and continue to do so. Every week, we are losing several talented veteran officers to other police departments where they receive adequate compensation and their work is appreciated and not spit on by their respective mayor and City Council. Ash Kalra predicted that Measure B would be tied up in the courts, costing the city millions in legal fees, while there would be no pension reform savings. So far, Ash’s predictions have come true. I remember Ash asking the Mayor and City Council to work with the POA to corroborate and come up with a pension reform agreement, something the POA offered to do but was spurned by the city. If the City had done so, they could be realizing millions in savings right now and not be facing the continuing mass exodus of police officers to other cities. Make no mistake, while it is great to see academies of new recruits for the police department, they are nowhere near the number of officers resigning and retiring, especially since the staffing numbers have dropped from 1400 officers a few years ago, to 900 officers today. Many of the new recruits will flee this city once they are off probation. Doesn’t our Mayor and City Council ever wonder why absolutely no experienced police officer from another city wants to lateral to the San Jose Police Department?? That use to be common place, but no more. That is an even more glaring symptom of what this Mayor and City Council have done to this police department. It is too bad that this Mayor, City Council, and city manager’s office are so blinded by hubris and pride, causing the continuing flood of the fine men and women of this department to leave on an almost daily basis. Sheriff Smith would be crazy to run for mayor, and we are doomed if one of the current councilpersons running for mayor are elected.

  6. I love the quote from Pierlouigi when he talks about money being sent to the Police Department VS the Fire Department “The mere presence of a Fire Department wont stop a fire, or prevent a heart attack…but the presence of a Police Officer can prevent a crime.”  What a crock of garbage.  That is you next Mayor.  How is YOUR insurance Policy holding up San Jose Citizens?

    • Oliverio is a bag of hot air, but I think the comment does make sense.  Police and fire are not joined at the hip. People think about each in a different way.

      I actually think that the way that fire departments are structured and operated need to be brought into the 21st century.  The 24-hour shifts, the big fire trucks responding to heart attacks and the like need to be looked at.

      The 24-hour shifts pretty much sum up the difference between police and fire.  Police would never have 24-hour shifts, because they are expected to be active during their entire shift.  Fire people are available 24-hours a day, but they normally aren’t active their entire shift.

      • Interesting take, but not accurate.  For example, predicting crime, fires and heart attacks is paramount to predicting earthquakes.  Not possible.  Police officers have a very narrow job description, while the Fire Department responds to everything from flooding calls to house fires, heart attacks to headaches, and everything in between.  The Police Department can pick and choose the priority for response to the tune of 6-8 hour response times.  The Fire Department responds as soon as they are dispatched.  The insurance policy that is the Fire Department has a completely different job description and responsibility.  To compare the two is ludicrous at best, irresponsible at worst.  This is the basic misunderstanding of the City Council as a whole.  You also have more than twice the number of Police Officers on patrol than Fire personnel.  Activity during the shift does not preclude training, fitness, mandatory physicals, public services and demonstrations, inspections, fire prevention…..the list is endless.  Not to mention that the time onscene of a fire is 4-6 hours for the first arriving units.  The Fire Department has, traditionally, been very bad at educating the public about what we do.  Instead, we let windbags like Oliverio and the San Jose Mercury News TELL you what we do……while having absolutely no clue.

      • S . Randall , you are correct in that Police and Fire are different , Very Different . But Make no Mistake both are vital to insuring safety to this city . Have you ever worked as a police Officer? a Firefighter? or even a 12 hr. or 24 hr Shift ? You make the assumption that because Fire is not going from call to call , that they are not busy ? There is Station Maintenance , Online training, field training , Training the new Firefighters , Equipment Maintenance , Engine Maintenance, Truck Maintenance, Tool Maintenance , House chores , cooking lunch and diner, all while running calls . From hiccups , to a full arrest, to rescues, to fires, . respond to any and all imagined and/or real calls. Do yourself a favor and sign up for a ride along on Engine 1, 2 , 16 , 26 . lets see how you do

        • My ex-brother-in-law is a retired SF fireman.  Not to throw gas on this, but he used to diss those departments on the Peninsula for standing around outside buildings, pouring water on fires with “Scotts” on while buildings burned down.  I asked a Peninsula fireman that I know about that, and he confirmed that they will not go into a building if there are no people in the building, and the fire is contained.

          Why is it necessary for highly trained fire personnel to do what might be described as “housekeeping” chores?  24-hour shifts are great for fire people, but I really do believe that there have to be better, more cost effective ways schedule crews.

          The point of all that is that there is a cost-benefit relationship in response times and the like.  If we were like SF with the tightly packed buildings, built to old or non-existent fire codes, response time is a much bigger issue than here in San Jose, where most single family homes are separated.

          There are also communities that can’t afford to pay for full-time personnel, and have volunteer fire departments.  Also if you look at the situation in Contra Costa County where they had to close fire stations, because they couldn’t pass parcel taxes to pay for fire services, it’s clear that it is all about cost/benefit.  The analysis isn’t always sound, but the decisions do get made on the basis of perceived cost/benefit.

          http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_22169113/contra-costa-supes-vote-closing-four-fire-stations

          http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Contra_Costa_Fire_Protection_District_parcel_tax,_Measure_Q_(November_2012)

        • Your ex-brother-in-law is correct in that there are departments that do not go into fires , BUT SJFD is NOT one of those departments . They will always “Risk a lot to save Life” Not helplessly stand outside and watch . The San Jose Fire Dept. is an aggressive and progressive dept . they take pride in providing the absolute best service to this city , even when it has turned its back on them. again you correct in that there are cities that cant afford a fire dept. BUT San Jose is not one of them . We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, so a better question is , Where is Taxpayer money being spent? You pay more for your call phone than you pay for a Firefighter here in san Jose ( around $150.00 per year)