All the votes were counted weeks ago in the District 2 county supervisor race, but the total campaign finance numbers have only recently become available. One thing is clear above all: A staggeringly high amount of money was spent in an election in which a staggeringly low number of people actually voted.
In monetary expenditures alone, the Democratic Central Committee’s United Democratic Campaign (UDC) spent $288,000 to elect Cindy Chavez, the party’s sole endorsed candidate. The UDC also gave nearly $350,000 in non-monetary contributions to the Chavez campaign; bringing the total spent for one County Supervisor seat to well over $600,000. The party did this despite the fact that Chavez’s opponent, Teresa Alvarado, is a lifelong Democrat. (Full Disclosure: I was a paid organizer for the Alvarado campaign).
District 2 voters received a barrage of mail declaring Chavez the only Democratic choice while attacking Alvarado as a tool of special interests and a closet Republican. Ultimately, Chavez’ campaign strategy worked, no doubt helped by her campaign and its allies outspending Alvarado and supporters by a margin of at least two to one.
But this raises an important question: Why would the county’s Democratic Party spend so much money on one candidate when there were two viable Democrats on the ballot, especially with so many important races coming up next year?
All the money spent electing Chavez will undoubtedly have an impact on the 2014 elections. The party is going to start the campaign cycle with little in the bank, during an election season in which a new mayor of San Jose will be elected and at least three seats on the City Council will be up for grabs. The county Democratic Party will also have to defend U.S. Rep. Mike Honda from challenger Ro Khanna, and Councilman Xavier Campos from the ensemble cast lining up to take him on. The expectation is that the party will spend big for both men, especially after Honda did so much to help get Chavez elected. As for Campos, his older sister, state Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Nora Campos, is not likely to allow the party to skimp on his re-election just because they have bigger issues to deal with.
Going back to the question of why so much money was spent on Chavez, the most likely answer is because she is labor’s leader, having served as executive director of the South Bay Labor Council. Even though Alvarado holds mainstream Democratic policy positions, in its support of Chavez the Democratic Party made the election a referendum on public safety and Democratic values. Alvarado’s message of transparency, reform, and government accountability never gained as much traction by comparison, which is odd considering the only reason the election happened in the first place was because George Shirakawa Jr. resigned in the wake of admitting to multiple felonies related to his misuse of taxpayer and campaign funds.
Ultimately, the successfully coordinated effort between the Chavez campaign, labor and the Democratic Party may have been more about flexing some muscle and showing that labor is still a force following stinging defeats in last year’s council races and the Measure B pension reform initiative. But in keeping majority control of the Board of Supervisors, did labor Democrats imperil their electoral chances for next year?
Nick Draper is a campaign organizer, proud native of San Jose and lifelong Democrat.