Newcomer Heats Up District 5 Race

Elsie Aranda has not decided which San Jose City Council candidate she will endorse. Stopwatch in hand, she sits in the front row of the second District 5 candidates forum at the Mayfair Community Center, acting as moderator.

Aranda makes sure that the four people currently battling to represent San Jose’s East Side don’t go beyond their allotted speech times. It is her job to holler at candidates Xavier Campos, Aaron Resendez, J. Manuel Herrera and Magdalena Carrasco if they take too long to make their points.

As chair of the East Valley/680 Neighborhood Action Coalition and a main organizer of the March 15 forum, Aranda’s support would be a great asset to any of them. But for now, as she runs around putting away chairs and yelling at the 70-some event attendees that they need to leave the building by 8pm, Aranda says she’s still weighing her options.

“What concerns me is getting people to come out and hear everybody speak, hear all their answers and then walk away and formulate their own opinions,” Aranda says. “I think they’ve all got their positives. There are some candidates that have caught my interest more than others. There are some candidates that I feel aren’t giving what I call a three-by-five response.”

One week later, Magdalena Carrasco is standing on a concrete slab at Capitol Park, talking in rapid-fire Spanish about her vision for the East Side community. While her competitors are at the National Hispanic University duking it out at another forum, Carrasco is speaking in front of about 20 residents and neighborhood leaders. They’ve gathered at the park to meet and chat with the District 5 candidate over sugar-dusted pan dulce and boxes of Starbucks coffee spread out on a picnic table. The voices of small children fill the air behind her, shouting as they play on new playground equipment and kick soccer balls around the well-maintained field.

Over the incessant jingling of paleteros, Carrasco talks about the history of Capitol Park. A decade ago it was a haven for gangs and public drunkeness, she says, but it has been revitalized into a family-friendly gathering place.

The community members voice concerns about their children. They ask what Carrasco can do to improve the district’s poor graduation rate. They express worries about police, violence and guns in school, and most importantly, how their community will be affected by the city’s imminent budget cuts.

“I want to make sure that the voice of the community is represented on the 18th floor,” Carrasco says. “I want to make sure that the community is sitting at the table making those decisions, and that the person that will be representing them is representing the best interests of District 5. “This is why we’re meeting in these kinds of forums. I want to have intimate conversations with people and hear what they’re thinking, and what their ideas for the future are.”

Uphill Battle

Since announcing her candidacy last January, Magdalena Carrasco has been working to overcome several obstacles. She lacks the street cred of Resendez, the financial backing of Campos or Herrera’s decades of civic experience.

In spite of this, she has managed to garner a significant amount of support, especially for a candidate most people had never heard of before the new year.

Since October 2008, Carrasco has worked as a community advocate for First 5 Santa Clara County, a nonprofit that sponsors programs and services for young children and families. There, she did one-on-one interventions with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, as well as implementing anti-gang programs.

A relative outsider to the local political scene, 42-year-old Carrasco grew up on the East Side, where she attended Independence High School. Though she’s lived in San Jose for years, she moved back to District 5 itself just last year. She is fluently bilingual. She also knows politics: her ex-husband, Kevin de León, served as assemblyman for Los Angeles’ 45th Assembly District from 2006 to 2010. De León, who is now one of her campaign contributors, is currently making his own run for the state Senate.

Carrasco has made strides in the last campaign fundraising quarter. Since February she has raised $20,647, which is $3,925 more than her closest competitor, Xavier Campos, who raised $16,722 since February. All told, she still trails Campos, who has long been the clear frontrunner for the soon-to-be vacant seat on the council, which is currently occupied by his sister, Nora Campos.

Before joining the race last September, Campos had worked at the Mexican American Community Services Agency (MACSA) for more than 20 years. Having started his career there as a child-care worker after college, he was eventually promoted to chief operations officer. He has spent almost eight years on the San Jose Planning Commission, and is currently a policy aide for county Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.

Campos was the second to officially announce his candidacy for the seat, after Herrera last April, but he had been hinting at his intention to run since last spring. In the opening fundraising period ending on Dec. 31, he reportedly raised $32,617. He’s still the most financially flush for the four, with $30,496.17 still in his campaign bank account. 

He has picked up many endorsements, including Shirakawa, state Assemblymembers Joe Coto and Ira Ruskin, and three San Jose councilmembers: Nancy Pyle, Ash Kalra and Madison Nguyen. On top of that, the South Bay Labor Council has sanctioned him, as have local police and firefighter associations.

At the March 15 Mayfair Community Center forum, Campos talked of growing up on the East Side and mentioned his intention to continue the “renaissance” of the District 5 community, once regarded as the most blighted neighborhood in San Jose.

Troubled Neighborhood

Between 1996 and 2007, the intersection of Story and King roads received an infusion of $101 million from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. The three new shopping centers and park that now inhabit the area took 11 years to build and were officially completed in 2007, while Nora Campos was in office. The improved area now serves as an example of success on the part of City Hall in revitalizing the long-troubled East Side community.

“I have seen the transition of this area,” Xavier Campos says. “East of 101 has been neglected for decades. People have pride in their community now, so one of my jobs is to continue to work on our business district and how our streets are kept. People want basic city services here.”

Still, public safety continues to be the No. 1 concern of District 5 residents. The neighborhood is still plagued by crime and slumlords, and last Halloween’s gang-related shooting and stabbing of two boys is still fresh in many residents’ minds. Campos points to transportation and gang intervention efforts as top priorities.

MACSA, where Campos worked for two decades, is a service organization that works to help the local Latino community. MACSA is currently undergoing an investigation by the district attorney’s office for allegedly diverting money from its employees’ retirement funds. In August 2009, a review by state auditors found evidence of “apparent illegal fiscal practices and misappropriation of funds.” Over several years, the nonprofit neglected to put $400,000 into its charter school employees’ retirement accounts. Instead, it used the money to compensate for operational shortfalls, according to the report.

Campos, who is not charged personally with any wrongdoing in the report, refuses to even address the issue. “I’m proud of the work that I did at MACSA,” Campos says of his time at the nonprofit. “I’m proud of the work I did there.”

Whoever wins the opportunity to represent the East Side has a tough job ahead of them. At recent candidate forums, many East Side residents stressed a feeling of disconnect with City Hall. 

Some of them and their neighbors still struggle with the basics: stable shelter, education, and access to healthy food and public transportation. The foundering economy has hit the community harder than any other area of San Jose. In addition to crime and gang violence, the district suffers high rates of home foreclosure, increasing school dropout rates and rampant childhood obesity.

These issues have worsened recently, since the East Side relied so heavily on city services that are fast disappearing under San Jose’s mammoth budget deficit.

“Historically, we see the perception that we’re looking at 30 to 40 years of neglect,” Aranda says. “Programs and services are going to be cut, and that affects the people who can afford it the least.

For their part, the other two District 5 candidates have been playing up their grassroots leadership.

J. Manuel Herrera, who grew up on the East Side, has a résumé of civic service that spans two decades. He’s been a longtime trustee for the East Side Union High School District as well as a county transportation commissioner and director of planning for United Way. He’s been on the boards of numerous nonprofits and political associations. His endorsements include the East Side Teachers Association, the San Jose Federation of Teachers and La Raza Roundtable.

Herrera ran for the District 4 seat twice in the past, losing first to now-Mayor Chuck Reed in 2000 and then to now-Councilmember Kansen Chu. In 2006, he threw his hat into the mayoral race, only to drop out before election day.

Aaron Resendez is a neighborhood activist who chaired the East Valley/680 Neighborhood Action Coalition for five years. Born in Mexico, he earned his citizenship and has lived and raised his family on the East Side for the last 16 years.

While working as a box-printing press operator, he’s found time to volunteer in the community. He coaches kids’ soccer and spends weekends walking neighborhoods erasing graffiti and picking up trash. He was also president of the Arbuckle Neighborhood Association from 2000 to 2005.

Resendez and Herrera have focused their campaigns’ attention on the man that they see as the frontrunner. “The Campos family, they think they are powerful, but they are not so powerful,” says Resendez. “I’m anticipating that he’ll be in last place. People are tired of the same. This is not like passing the crown. He might have all the money, he might have all the endorsements, but we’ll see what happens on June 8.”

Herrera also has some sharp things to say about Campos. “I think it’s just going to become a question of grassroots resources vs. special-interest firepower,” Herrera says. “District 5 is probably one of the most grassroots communities in San Jose. They are not as easily influenced by big-money and power-broker endorsements.

“I can only say that there are going be folks who believe that the legacy of Nora Campos is a basis for her brother to step in, and others who, at a gut level, find that not right.”

Local Gals Make Good

There are several parallels between Carrasco and one of her biggest endorsers—outgoing District 9 Councilmember Judy Chirco.
When Chirco first ran for City Council back in 2002, she was essentially an unknown in the local political infrastructure, having served 11 years on the Cambrian School Board.

The shoo-in for the seat had been a man named Chris Hemingway, an aide for the then termed-out District 9 Councilmember John Diquisto. The 33-year-old Hemingway had been well established around City Hall, and had acquired numerous power-playing endorsements.
But to the surprise of many, when election day rolled around, Chirco won big.

She had worked harder and gained more grassroots connections from her 40 years as a community volunteer and involved resident of the district. She also made clear in her campaign that she wasn’t being handed the seat by any political machine, and that she truly wanted to represent her district’s interests.

Some East Side residents think it’s time for history to repeat itself.
A week after the March 15 Mayfair Community Center forum, Elsie Aranda finally settled on the District 5 candidate she is endorsing: Magdalena Carrasco.

“I didn’t want to come up with my support until I heard all three of them in a forum that satisfied my curiosity, where it wasn’t hosted by any supporting group,” Aranda says. She came out to support Carrasco at her March 22 Capital Park event.

“She’s willing to bring people to the table, and that’s what impressed me,” Aranda says. “She’s invested. Her kids are in the district, they go to our district schools, so I know that what happens to this district is definitely of importance to her.

“She has a clear understanding what people are going through, and that it’s going to take more then just sitting in a council seat and doing business from there.”


  1. Great article.

    I would like to learn more about Magdalena Carrasco and her positions on topics pertinent to the City of San Jose.

    While I live in District 3, I realize that ALL council member’s votes have an effect on me as a San Jose resident.

    I hope Magdalena and her campaign team will post a schedule of events of where she is holding her public forums, public speeches, and candidate “debates” so her potential supporters can learn more. (I did not see anything on her FaceBook page or her website


    • She’s a pretty face and engaging personality, but I’ve heard nothing of substance coming from her. But she can dance around a subject she knows nothing about like a pro.

  2. One issue that has plagued East San Jose since the mid 1960s is the existence of the Reid-Hillview airport.

    In 1962 Santa Clara County (SCC) purchased the 60 acre Hillview airport (owned by the Reid brothers), and which had one runway between Tully Road and Cunningham Avenue.  During the mid-to-late 1960s, SCC closed Cunningham Av, tripled the size of the airport to 180 acres, extended the runway to Ocala Avenue, added a second runway of equal length, added runway lights for nighttime operation, and changed the airport name to the Reid-Hillview Airport.

    Of course, by this time, a large part of East San Jose was already built, or in the process of being built.  To quote from a 1962 San Jose News newspaper article, “Reid’s Hillview Airport, once an isolated Eastside airstrip for light planes, now is nearly ringed by schools, school sites and subdivisions.”  This was years before the county built the current Reid-Hillview airport.

    In effect, SCC built Reid-Hillview in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and East San Jose has suffered ever since the airport was built.  The problem we have in East San Jose is that general aviation (GA) aircraft use highly leaded fuel (2.12 grams per gallon), and 95% of the lead is emitted in the exhaust.  The lead in GA fuel is 4 times the amount of lead that was in car fuel, before it was banned.  According to the EPA, Reid-Hillview is the 25th highest lead polluting airport in the country, out of 3,414 airports.  Other EPA research is showing airborne lead levels on general aviation airport property, and in surrounding neighborhoods, is higher than in areas further away from these airports.

    Unfortunately, during the 1960s we did not know the harmful effects that even a miniscule amount of lead can have on brain development in children, or a fetus.  Medical research has shown inhaled airborne lead is absorbed into the blood, and today we know that virtually any amount of lead in the blood of a child or fetus can result in permanent, measureable, cognitive impairment (brain damage, IQ loss).  Additionally, we also now know even small amounts of lead in the blood can result in aggressive, anti-social behavior in children and adults.

    This coming Tuesday, April 6 2010, the Santa Clara County Airport Commission will vote on a proposal to require groups using county airports for public events to notify the public of their exposure to lead while attending events on airport property.  California law, Proposition 65, requires the public to be notified if they will be exposed to any chemical known to cause cancer and/or birth defects.  Lead is listed in both categories.

    The proposal, and supporting documents, can be accessed at this SCC website link, agenda item 4.
    contentId=afb1b305361b7210VgnVCM10000048dc4a92____&agendaType=Commission Agenda

    If anyone has any interest in this matter please feel free to attend the meeting and provide your input.

    Thank you.

  3. I’m not sure what the last two comments have to do with this article, or this new candidate, but I agree with Tina. Thank you Metro for writing about this new candidate. We really do need more stories like this and NEW people on the Council. Four to eight years seems like a lifetime to endure some of these bad electeds. I hope people rethink their choices this time and vote in NEW! They can’t be any worse than some of what we already have. Out with the old and in with the new. New blood is needed to steer us on a new and more business friendly course.

    • I’m always interested in new faces on the political scene, especially women. However, after seeing Carrasco at two forums, I find her utter lack of experience and knowledge of issues and policy appalling. Problems facing San Jose, especially District 5, need people who grasp them and have had some kind of experience. She has absolutely none. The city council is not a place for on-the-job training. Also, Carrasco is not as independent a candidate as her handlers want the public to believe. She’s connected to some strong insider networks, and she’s not new to the world of politics—her ex-husband is a politician, as the article points out, and he’s helping her raise money. This is not San Jose folks funding her. If you bother to watch her in action, she’s plenty savvy politically. So, who’s puppet will she be if she wins the election without knowledge or grasp of policy and the issues? She will have to rely on someone else’s advice. Whose?

      For me, experience and knowledge trump being a woman and “new” to San Jose politics.

      • Jeanne, you clearly work on someone’s campaign. Care to share with us whose?

        You said, “For me, experience and knowledge trump being a woman and “new” to San Jose politics.” I agree 100%.

        Where I disagree with you is that OLD and so called experienced makes you “better” or more capable of doing the job. Too many career politicians get in and do nothing but vote the ways they are told to by their endorsers. They feed off the trough and enjoy the power because once they are in; they forget why they were put there and by whom. I have yet to see ANY elected who isn’t beholding to someone or some special interest group.

        Vote for whom you think is best,this is America, but don’t bash someone running for office based on two forums.

        • What! Because I disagree with you I must be working for someone else’s campaign? Is this a Freudian slip on your part?

          “Too many career politicians…”
          Excuse me but none of these candidates are career politicians and you seem to have a bias to age (“OLD and so called experienced…”). I happen to have reverence for age and experience.

          “…do nothing but vote the ways they are told to by their endorsers”

          ummmm…. would you like to see who is supporting her? She is someone’s puppet because, if you look at her donations, few people from D5 have contributed to her (and, yes, it’s one of the ways that I determine who to vote for—who contributed to their campaigns because I don’t trust PR BS that comes in the mail). Plus, she’s had utterly NO experience. One doesn’t show up on a job one day and miraculously have knowledge about it if they have no previous experience. Who’s hired you lately? Give me a break!

          “don’t bash someone running for office based on two forums.”

          Kathleen, really. Would you like to find anything else about Carrasco—her views on the issues, etc? Her website consists of nothing but a home page and a contribute page. Her handout is woefully inadequate. Where else would I get info about what she’s capable of if not a forum? GEEZ!

        • Jeanne,
          Calm down kitty and retract your claws. Let’s not make this personal. I don’t disagree or agree with you on this candidate. I don’t even live in that district so my vote isn’t an issue. But like Tina, I think any candidate affects us all so lighten up.

          You said, ““Too many career politicians…”
          “Excuse me but none of these candidates are career politicians and you seem to have a bias to age (“OLD and so called experienced…”). I happen to have reverence for age and experience.”

          I guess you haven’t done your homework on some of these folks, and age bias is something that isn’t even an issue here. By OLD I meant incumbents. Next time asks instead of accuse.

          “One doesn’t show up on a job one day and miraculously have knowledge about it if they have no previous experience.”

          I guess you don’t know City Hall very well. Few candidates know the workings of the City their first or second year. They have to learn the job on the fly. Ask anyone of them and they will tell you. Many hire experiences Council Aides or that very reason.

          Don’t condemn the lady publicly on a blog. As you’ve said you don’t even know her. You said, “Where else would I get info about what she’s capable of if not a forum? GEEZ!” Try calling her campaign and meeting with her. If after speaking with her face to face you still feel so strongly about her, then exercise your right to vote for someone else.

          Running for office is tough. I’ve spent 30 years working on different campaigns. These folks do their best to serve our community and whether I like them or not, I have give them kudos for the effort they put into trying to serve we ungrateful, judgmental members of the public.

  4. Two things are important about this article. The first, is that Jessica Fromm is a fine reporter, and consistently reports the facts and not her opinion. Metro should be proud of her work at gathering the information.
    The second important item is after, attending both forums and listening to the candidates answer the questions it becomes apparent that Magdalena Carrasco has become my choice in this election.
    There are other candidates running in district 5 that I know on first name bases, but after listening to the presentation at Mayfair Community Center and also at Capital Park it became clear that Magdalena was a people person who will listen to the people, gather facts and will act intelligent.
    I believe she will make herself available to the people in District 5 and work well with the other counsel members for the betterment of San Jose. She is knowledgeable, willing to listen and is not bringing any baggage to the table. That is something other candidates seem to be carrying.
    I am also aware of the problems Reid-Hillview Airport has created for our community and know Mr. Beacham’s web site is very factual. As a long time resident of 49 years and father of 5 children that went thought the local school systems. The impact on the residents and 8 schools under the flight path is very damaging.
    I am not sure what can be done at the city level, as this is really a County issue.
    if your interest in the facts and not fiction visit Buds site. It has some valuable information about lead pollution.

    Ted Johnson

  5. Great article. I’m not in Magdalena Carrasco district, but I want to lend my voice to her cause. I know Magdalena through friends and she is an upstanding person of great character and passion. Well worthy of votes and well qualified to lead.

  6. I’ve been to two forums in which all 4 candidates have participated, and Carrasco is by a mile the least knowledgeable about public policy and the issues facing SJ. This city’s problems are complex, especially now. She has utterly no background that qualifies her for such an important position, nor has she spent any time in D5 neighborhood groups, etc. She’s a complete unknown among ordinary folks who’ve been working for years to make District 5 a better place. She has popped up out of nowhere.

    I’m tired of insiders feeling entitled to political offices (as one of the other candidates is), but I also want someone with experience as well as being independent from the insider power brokers. Two of the other candidates (Herrera and Resendez) are as much grassroots as Carrasco, but they are also far more qualified than she is. If she wants to hold such an important political office, show me where she’s come from for the past 10 years. Sorry but working for First 5 for two years, being able to “listen,” and being a mommy doesn’t make her qualified to make serious decisions about public policy.

    • I’m a long time resident of D5, and I teach journalism, and public relations at Mission.
      What you see here is obvious. It’s a PR stunt to 1- Establish Magdalena as a D5 resident 2- Lead people to believe she has the tools, and 3- Generate as much buzz before June as they can. 
      Ironically my family lives on her street (The one she used to register). I really don’t see how you can fit her family of 6 in an 800+ sq home, and why if you generate enough income to live further up the hill (Her other listed address). People have to be careful and look past the paid media attempts.
      The quiet educated man that has dedicated his career to our public schools is the one who can really turn this district around. We don’t want another MACSA scandal, or people that aren’t qualified. We need someone who is ready and willing to fight for jobs and our education system. Look to see who’s endorsed by education, endorsed by grass roots leaders, who isn’t being coached, and look for the candidate who holds no ties to interest groups or developers. That’s the one who is best fit to lead. Don’t fall for these feeble PR ploys. It will only take you one visit, and one reply from these candidates to show you what I’m writing about.  Choose wisely, the fate of kids, and small businesses are your hands.

  7. After going to the first two forum’s where the candidates spoke it became clear that one candidate has nothing more than his sister’s name and political insider scripts to go on. The other three candidates had clearly worked in the district, provided new direction and were unencumbered by embezzlement scandals, special interests or professional handlers.

    Magdalena Carrasco struck me as the best and the brightest. She connected with the audience, knew the facts on many issues and was honest about not having all the answers. She grew up on the East Side, was educated there and has her children in East Side schools. After reading Jeanne’s comments I looked at Carrasco’s donor list, most of them are small donors and come from the East Side – it doesn’t get more grassroots.

    We need fresh voices of change, people who will listen to residents and work with them to get the best solutions. Carrasco is doing the hard work, doing her homework and doesn’t rely on the same old power structure. She’s my choice for our next councilmember.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *