A 29-year-old progressive political newcomer is giving San Jose Councilwoman Dev Davis a run for her money in the race for District 6, which spans Willow Glen, the Rose Garden, Santana Row and The Alameda.
Davis’s young challenger, Peace Corps volunteer-turned biotech engineer Jake Tonkel, gained a slight lead in the latest round of fundraising. From July 1 to Sept. 19, according to campaign filings, Tonkel raked in $49,113 compared to $49,064 for Davis.
Tonkel’s haul came from 692 individual donors—421 of them from San Jose. Davis’ money came from 150 individual donors, with 93 from within the city.
All told, Tonkel raked in $121,831.78 in 2020; Davis, $152,097.
Davis, who worked as an education researcher at Stanford University for 12 years before becoming a councilwoman, seems unfazed by her challenger’s fundraising momentum.
“I was satisfied with how I did,” Davis told San Jose Inside. “I feel really good about the campaign and the connections that we’re making with people.”
The Willow Glen resident took a shot at her opponent for accepting eight donations from political action committees since the start of the contest. “It’s interesting that he’s going on about special interest and he has more PAC money coming in than I do,” she said.
Tonkel’s eight PAC donations total $3,950 and include $600 from the Teamsters Local 856, $600 from Silicon Valley MEPS, $600 from the California Nurses Association, $100 from the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 8, $600 from the Teamsters Local Union 350, $250 from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, $600 from the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council and $600 from the IBEW PAC Educational Fund.
Meanwhile, Davis accepted $4,200 in political action committee donations, including $1,200 from the Build Jobs PAC, $600 from California Real Estate, $1,200 from the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California Chapter and $1,200 from the Silicon Valley Organization.
Tonkel defended his PAC support, saying it largely came from unions—not large corporations. “When IBEW 332 donates $600 and they have 800 members in San Jose everyone is donating 50 cents to me,” he said. “It’s a democratic process it’s not a unilateral control from a CEO or executive.”
The Green Party challenger noted that most of his donations are small-dollar as opposed to the larger checks that went to Davis.
“It’s very exciting we’re at a point in the campaign where we’re hitting a lot of momentum and that really shows,” Tonkel said.
Garrick Percival, a San Jose State political science professor, said raising money is often the “biggest barrier” for candidates trying to unseat an incumbent, which makes Tonkel’s war chest especially notable. “He’s sort of tapping into the small donor base,” Percival observed. “He sounds like he’s done an effective job of reaching out a broader base of smaller contributors. That speaks to the strength of his campaign. He’s appealing to a pretty diverse group on the progressive side.”
The strength of the progressive movement going into the November general election could also bode well for Tonkel’s chances of snagging the D6 seat, Percival added.
Election Day is Nov. 3. To register to vote, visit registertovote.ca.gov.