Football season has a way of sneaking up on summer, but the most important games the San Francisco 49ers play this fall might actually take place away from the gridiron. A City Council majority is up for grabs in Santa Clara, and the NFL club that now calls the Mission City home has designs on supporting more team friendly candidates. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and council colleagues Debi Davis and Teresa O’Neill have been a thorn in the Niners’ side going back to before Levi’s Stadium hosted Super Bowl 50 in February. Gillmor has repeatedly questioned whether city staff and the team’s stadium management companies are providing an accurate picture on revenue and expenses. A civil grand jury recommended a compliance audit after its own investigation turned up inconclusive. But following the mysterious post-SB50 resignation of former Mayor Jamie Matthews and the expedited exit of City Manager Julio Fuentes, 49ers owner Jed York went from having the city on his side—if not in his pocket—to being a whipping boy of fans and electeds alike. It seems the team now wants to change the conversation. Gillmor inherited Matthews’ term through 2018, but Davis and O’Neill’s seats are up for grabs, while council appointee Kathy Watanabe’s seat is also open and Councilman Jerry Marsalli will not seek re-election; councilmen Pat Kolstad and Dominic Caserta term out in 2018 and have been good soldiers for the club. That leaves a council majority wide open. Word is the team has not only recruited Ahmad Rafah, a former policy advisor to Rep. Mike Honda, to run for council but also supports former Santa Clara Mayor Pat Mahan and Councilman John McLemore in coming out of political retirement. McLemore confirmed he’s been an unpaid consultant to the Niners—his phone number even ends in the suffix 4949, similar to the team’s headquarters—and Mahan helped lead the Measure J campaign to build Levi’s. Her return is not without some hypocrisy, though, as Mahan once criticized others for gaming term limits to remain in office. Bob Lange, a spokesman for the 49ers, said the team is merely interested in Santa Clara affairs like any other city business and had no comment on candidates the team may or may not support.
Below is a statement from the San Francisco 49ers:
“The 49ers organization has been a part of the Santa Clara community for nearly three decades and like businesses everywhere, we have a vested interest in the prosperity of our own community. Continuing to develop Santa Clara as an attractive location to visit, live, and conduct business is integral to securing a fruitful future for our city and its residents. That is why our organization continues to make impactful contributions to Santa Clara and the greater Bay Area region; efforts that have garnered recognition on both the national and international levels.”