Local labor legend John Neece, one of the architects of what has become the South Bay political machine, has broken ranks and endorsed Magdalena Carrasco in her bid to unseat San Jose Councilman Xavier Campos.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Neece, who was CEO of the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council from 1997 to 2001, said he was “sickened” by Campos’ decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment in a grand jury hearing last year looking into a mail fraud scandal involving George Shirakawa Jr.
“You can do two things in life—stand up or go get in the closet—and my gut tells me something is drastically wrong,” Neece said. “I just don’t like [Campos] taking the Fifth Amendment. That just sickened me.”
Now retired and living in Oregon, Neece, 69, is believed to be the longest-serving CEO in the county Trades Council’s history. He said the organization had 8,000 members when he took over and roughly 27,000 by the time he left.
While he remains friends with people in the local labor scene, Neece admitted that could change by voicing an opinion many are scared to come out and say publicly.
His endorsement of Carrasco is especially surprising considering his close ties to the Campos clan. Neece served as a mentor to Neil Struthers, who is married to the councilman’s sister, Assemblymember Nora Campos.
“I think you have to look at [Xavier Campos’] record, and I try to put two and two together,” Neece said. “For the life of me I can’t figure out why Shirakawa would do the mailing against Carrasco. It just never made sense to me. And then when Xavier took the Fifth, I was like, ‘Come on.’
“He took the Fifth when they asked him his sister’s name! What the hell was that about?”
Neece said he has “never gone against labor in my life,” but the Campos-Shirakawa saga and Carrasco’s credentials spurred him to publicly support her campaign.
“I think she’s a decent woman and will represent San Jose well,” he said. “I think she’s honorable. I think she really cares, and she comes from a teamster background. Her father was a teamster. She’s got union blood."
Councilman Campos’ uncertain involvement in the mail fraud scandal isn’t the only thing that has rubbed Neece the wrong way, though. He also expressed disappointment with Struthers’ unusual exit from the Trades Council in January. Neece said that Struthers’ decision to abruptly resign after 12 years on the job was in response to the organization’s board denying him a “per capita” increase in funding.
“He was going for a per capita increase to bring it into the council, and he lost by one vote—so he just quit,” Neece said. “It’s really a tough job dealing with all the contractors and the unions, and I had a little sympathy there, but then I started seeing this Xavier stuff and Nora stuff. Why would he just quit?”
Prosecutors alleged during last year’s grand jury hearing that Nora Campos gave Shirakawa a $5,000 check to coordinate the mail fraud scandal to help her brother get elected.
“You want somebody to follow you who’s honorable,” Neece said. “[Struthers] quitting kind of pissed me off. You’re there for the members. You can’t ever forget it. I like Neil. I like Nora. But this whole thing is just upsetting to me.”