Judge Arthur Weisbrodt is known for asking tough questions, which is why the Rotary Club of San Jose picks him to moderate election debates, such as the one on Wednesday between District 2 Supervisor candidates Teresa Alvarado and Cindy Chavez.
Weisbrodt opened by challenging Alvarado on her absence of experience as an elected official, then turned to Chavez and asked her whether she’d be “a rubber stamp for labor’s positions—and that could be harmful to or even potentially bankrupt the county.”
“I appreciate the question,” Chavez said, and after a long pause, repeated, “I very much appreciate the question — it’s sort of the elephant in the room, actually every room I walk into lately.”
Weisbrodt drew boos from a handful of Rotarians, however, when he quoted an anonymous source who had compared Chavez to the convicted felon she’s running to replace. “Ms. Alvarado, you seem to be running a gentle, hands-off campaign, focusing on your experience and proposals and refraining from seriously attacking your opponent. During the interviews I conducted to prepare for this debate, several people told me that you simply cannot win without taking on Cindy Chavez aggressively,” the judge said.
“One experienced San Jose politician told me what he or she would do if running in your place in this election. And this person said to me—and I almost quote—I would tell the voters that voting for Cindy Chavez is the same as voting for George Shirakawa or Ron Gonzales. The same corruption, dishonesty and back deals.”
That’s when the hecklers erupted. Among the loudest was former supervisor Rod Diridon Sr., who says he wasn’t booing the judge, he just didn’t think it was a fair comparison.
The judge recovered and continued. “Now, now, do you believe these criticisms about Cindy have any validity and if you do, are you prepared to articulate them here and let us know what your position is?”
Without missing a beat, Alvarado replied: “I think I’ve been very, very clear about differentiating. I think we’ve been very clear in our campaign literature about differentiating. I believe that we’ve put corruption at the cornerstone of our message. Our first platform was all about reform and accountability—and transparency. So I think it’s very clear what I stand for.
“I don’t think in the process I need to personally demonize Cindy Chavez. For a very important reason. I think that is the cancer in our local politics right now.” For this comment Alvarado received loud applause, a full six seconds worth, after which she continued.
“Look at what we saw, in what’s happened in the City of San Jose over the past several years is a direct result of what transpired in the last major mayoral election. There was personal demonization to the point where, when we had to come together in collective bargaining, there were not willing partners. You need willing partners to negotiate.
“The county is at the precipice of some major issues with labor relations. We need people at the table who are not viewed as demons and enemies. Because otherwise the unions will not believe the information that you are sharing, which is what happened in San Jose. They did not believe the people at the bargaining table. And that’s very dangerous.”