Voters in Santa Clara County’s District 2 will choose a new county supervisor Tuesday, when Teresa Alvarado and Cindy Chavez face off in a special election. The two Democrats are vying to replace the seat vacated by George Shirakawa, Jr., who resigned amid scandal in March.
In the June 4 primary, Chavez received 41 percent of the vote and Alvarado came in second with 31.5 percent, setting the stage for Tuesday’s runoff. Coming within 10 percentage points of Chavez, the obvious frontrunner in the primary, was seen as a partial victory for Alvarado, but it remains to be seen if she has cut into that advantage enough to make Tuesday’s race close.
Alvarado has campaigned on a message of transparency and governmental reform, in an attempt to illustrate her distance from Shirakawa and his cronies. Chavez has emphasized her experience and support for workers.
Both candidates have made crime a central issue in the race—never mind the fact that county supervisors have no control over the operation of San Jose’s police force, which handles nearly all crime in District 2. Nevertheless, promises to combat corruption and crime resonate in a district that has been subjected to both. (Editor’s note: In respect to full disclosure, San Jose Inside endorsed Alvarado for county supervisor.)
Still, the deciding factor in Tuesday’s election may be neither crime nor corruption, but political savvy. As the Mercury News’ Scott Herhold argued in a recent column, “Chavez is a professional politician. Alvarado is not. That distinction cuts both ways.”
When mediating a recent San Jose Rotary Club debate between the two, Judge Arthur Weisbrodt questioned Alvarado why she hasn’t attacked Chavez more aggressively, and whether Chavez would be a “rubber stamp” for labor—an issue the longtime labor leader herself called “the elephant in the room.”
That elephant could grow in stature as the county plans to address pension reform. The county’s $4.1 billion unfunded liabilities will be a central issue in Tuesday’s election, according to a recent report, particularly in a political climate that remains charged by Measure B’s passage last June. Alvarado, who has aligned herself with Mayor Chuck Reed’s message of fiscal reform, voted for Measure B, while Chavez, a former leader of the South Bay Labor Council, helped organize a campaign to oppose it.
Chavez has greatly benefited from the coordinated support of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the South Bay Labor Council, while Alvarado’s campaign cannot receive help from independent expenditure committees. Both campaigns have been accused of breaking campaign laws in this regard.
Tom Torlakson, California’s superintendent of public instruction, and insurance commissioner Dave Jones recently endorsed Chavez for the seat, lauding her experience as an advocate for public education.
Alvarado, meanwhile, has been endorsed and supported by the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Reed and others. Like every election, Tuesday’s runoff will be decided by those who show up to vote—assuming absentee ballots haven’t already put this thing in the bag.