High above, I looked down on a sea of deep blue. With my last few frenetic days back in Cambridge, Mass., done, I was a minute or so away from touching down at Mineta. It was Saturday, May 26, and only at that point did I make the connection that the mass of indigo I was witnessing was Bellarmine’s graduation ceremony, where five years earlier I had proudly walked across that stage.
Since the time I was about 11, I’ve been active in politics: local, state, and now even national. I got my start volunteering on campaigns when Amy Dean was at the helm of the South Bay Labor Council. That was something else, from the rush of walking precincts and getting to meeting former Gov. Gray Davis back in 2002 to the defeat Democrats suffered the following year with the historic recall election. It was an exciting time to be active in the community. I ended up leading the Bellarmine Young Democrats for several years before heading out east for college.
The San Jose I’ve came home to, however, seems remarkably different from the San Jose I remember leaving. I think back to 2006, when the candidates for mayor—individuals like David Pandori, Cindy Chavez and the eventual winner, Chuck Reed—campaigned on a host of issues that addressed the many concerns a city as large as San Jose requires answered. Now, in this recent June election, there was one issue: Measure B; a litmus test that brought out the most vitriolic, vile, and vindictive politics I’ve ever seen locally.
I’m no lightweight either. I’ve seen what bitter discord can bring from the streets of New Hampshire to working at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. What just happened in San Jose, irrespective of opinion on Measure B, is perhaps the greatest example of how far the level of discourse in local politics has fallen since the days of Susan Hammer, when government was cordial, collaborative and conducive to the greater well being of San Joseans.
I was born and raised out on the border of East San Jose and Evergreen, and upon returning home from college I found seven or eight pieces of attack mail against Rose Herrera—my family hadn’t cleared the mail because they were out of town to see me graduate. The type of attacks being made were frivolous, tangential arguments that any debater recognizes will only occur when the other side is grasping at straws, trying to make any point for the sake of speaking up when they have nothing of real merit to further the discussion. Councilwomen Herrera took a position and was attacked in what seems to be a proxy battle for City Hall.
The Labor Council, which I agree with on probably 80 to 90 percent of issues, unfairly went after Herrera in what seems to be a microcosm of politics as a whole in the valley. Gone are the pragmatic, consensus-driven efforts of a decade ago, when I know Amy Dean would have been able to work out a compromise on pensions. In is the notion that loyalty is orthodoxy to a set of beliefs dictated out from Almaden Road.
I care deeply for San Jose. I am coming back home as a Teach for America corps member, instead of going to work in finance in New York or politics in Washington. I care deeply about the plight many working families face in this city, one of the most expensive in the nation and one in which every single family member of mine was a union member—from my grandfather the boilermaker to my mother, who is a current state employee.
What I think we all care about, however, is placing ideas over ideology, moving San Jose forward and away from the current state of politics in the valley. Might does not make right, and the leaders of San Jose ought to get back on track if we want anything meaningful to get done in the near future.
Jonathan Padilla is a recent Harvard graduate who has worked on local, state and national political campaigns. He is currently working as a Teach for America corps member in the Bay Area.