If San Jose voters are to believe the political mail piling up, the recommended candidate will lead the city to a beautiful future while the other will plunge San Jose into a dark, crime-ridden future or a financial abyss.
We think the stark contrasts painted by campaign strategists are a bit overblown. The truth is that the economy and the city council’s composition will be much more important than who occupies the mayor’s office. And either candidate will have to cut sensible deals with the public employee unions to improve public safety in a fiscally responsible way.
Sam Liccardo is a former prosecutor who has represented the downtown council district for the past eight years. He has painted an urbanist vision of a high-rised downtown, serviced by modern mass transit and populated by artists and technology companies, with young creatives sitting at wifi-enabled sidewalk cafes, pedaling bicycles and zipping around in electric vehicles. The utopian vision would have tight controls on cannabis collectives, unruly nightclubs, card clubs, hookers and bikini bars in the Liccardian future. At times it sounds closer to Singapore than the urban chaos that American cities embrace.
County supervisor Dave Cortese—who has more enthusiasm for the marijuana industry and gambling clubs—comes from a fruit-picking, land-owning, valley political family and his thinking is a bit more old-school. He says he wants to bring everyone together. Translation: The city will stop fighting with its cops and firefighters, whose unions are going all out to elect him. Cortese came to the San Jose City Council in 2000 with a background in the family business. He was generally considered a moderate, and to his credit voted against a controversial last-minute Grand Prix subsidy.
But since losing the 2006 mayor’s race, he has cozied up to the South Bay Labor Council and its political machine, and he’s now its loyal soldier. He endorsed George Shirakawa Jr. and served alongside him during his stealing spree, failing to speak up when Shirakawa’s misdeeds came to light. Cortese also endorsed Xavier Campos—even after evidence of election-stealing and laundered contributions surfaced and Campos took the fifth before a grand jury.
Cortese's record on the Board of Supervisors includes the approval of a risky multimillion-dollar contract with ambulance provider Rural/Metro, which paired its bottom-dollar bid with some pipe-dream goals. He also was part of the effort to raise sales taxes through Measure A, a tainted effort that was questionably funded by a county-linked foundation. When the tax provided an unexpected bonanza to the ostensibly cash-strapped county, Cortese voted to reward the foundation with $1.16 million.
Liccardo aligned himself with Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform initiatives, which probably saved the city from financial disaster but has left relations between the city and its public safety workers at an all-time low. Liccardo wants to repair the relationship and rebuild the San Jose Police Department into a leaner, more data analytically-driven organization. The same will also need to be done for the fire department.
Beyond sticking to talking points on labor kumbaya promises, it’s hard to tell what kind of mayor Cortese would be. He’s shifted allegiances during his political career, and he refuses interviews. We think it’s really important for a person seeking the mayorship of the nation’s tenth largest city to sit down, go on record and lay out their vision for the public. But for more than two-and-a-half years, Cortese has dodged our repeated requests for in-person discussions.
We find his behavior inexcusable. Both San Jose and the County of Santa Clara have implemented reforms to ensure public transparency in response to scandals, secret deals, corruption and the theft of public funds. By refusing to be accountable as an elected official, Cortese is swimming against the tide.
When it comes to openness and sunshine in government, Liccardo has the better record. Hands down. He also has a plan which he has detailed in a book. He has been accessible during his terms of office and doesn’t dodge tough issues or constituents.
No candidate can guarantee economic prosperity or a safe city. They do have control over their own actions and can behave with integrity and accountability, however. On this score, Liccardo is the clear and only choice for mayor of San Jose.