Cindy Chavez has made it official: The Santa Clara County supervisor and two-time unsuccessful candidate for mayor of San Jose said she will not run for mayor in 2024.
Her announcement came in rather cryptic fashion at the end of a long email sent to supporters Thursday night, and at the end of a 90-second YouTube video posted on Thursday.
“While I have decided not to run for mayor of San Jose, I will continue to help move our city forward and help tackle the critical issues impacting our residents and community,” she wrote in the email. In the video, Chavez said, “While I won’t be running for mayor of San Jose, I wanted each and every one of you to know how grateful I am to you, and that you and your family will stay a priority for me and my family.”
Mayor Matt Mahan formed his re-election committee in August, and has begun collecting campaign contributions. No opponent has emerged to challenge the first-term mayor, who upset Chavez in 2022 for a two-year term. (San Jose voters that year changed the dates of mayoral elections to match up with the presidential, rather than gubernatorial, election cycle.)
The candidate filing period for the March 5 primary begins Nov. 13 and ends Dec. 8. If no other candidate emerges, Mahan will be the first unopposed mayoral candidate since the first popular election of a San Jose mayor in 1966.
Chavez, former staff director of the politically powerful South Bay Labor Council, had hoped in 2022 to leverage her support from public and private sector labor organizations into City Hall – organized labor contributed approximately $3.3 million of her $6.2 million campaign war chest.
Mahan spent about $3.5 million in 2022, much of it from business groups.
Mahan’s 24/7 campaign
The mayor has been in campaign mode since his election, visible at community events across the city and creating his own events and direct communications to build support for his policies outside of City Hall.
He cast a minority vote when the city council approved multi-year raises to end a walkout by city workers, convinced the council to reallocate some housing construction money for emergency tiny homes for the city’s unsheltered residents and pressed for more transparency in city government.
The departure of Chavez from the 2024 race opens the door for a pro-labor candidate to seek to lead the nation’s 11th-largest city. But time is running out, with just four months to raise money for the primary fight. Combined spending by or for Chavez and Mahan in the primary and general election mayoral campaigns in 2022 exceeded $10 million.
Pro-labor cash on hand
Most recent filings with the San Jose City Clerk suggest the existence of a considerable labor war chest – cash balances of about $562,000 in city police and firefighter political action committees – for pro-labor council or mayoral candidates.
Thursday’s comments by Chavez, filled with thanks, reminders of her support and accomplishments and promises to continue to serve San Jose, suggested some future political aspirations in the South Bay. She terms out of the board of supervisors in 2024.
But Chavez’s attention is likely focused on a more immediate election, 450 miles to the south.
A hotly contested special election for a county supervisor seat for San Diego County could decide her fate.
San Diego vote key for Chavez
After months immediately following her defeat by just 6,000 votes, Chavez had left little doubt she would come back in 2024 for a re-match in a third attempt at mayor.
But then sometime last year, at the urging of Lorena Gonzales Fletcher, a former San Diego state assembly member and now head of the California Labor Federation, Chavez applied for the position of county administrator of San Diego, the top executive position in the government of California’s second most populous county.
In 2020, Democrats gained a 3-2 majority on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, ending decades of Republican dominance. One of the new Democrat supervisors was Nathan Fletcher, husband of the state labor leader.
Chavez, because of her relationship with the Fletchers, immediately became the favorite to be hired for the $300,000-a-year job by the Democratic majority, according to multiple San Diego media reports.
A sexual harassment scandal in February involving Nathan Fletcher threw the hiring process into turmoil.
Scandal delayed appointment decision
Fletcher was accused by a female employee of “unlawful employment practices,” then six weeks later announced he was entering rehab. He said he would be resigning as supervisor, but would return in May to vote for the new county administrator – presumably the friend of his wife from San Jose.
Fletcher’s vote was considered key, because the GOP supervisors would not support the choice of the Democrats.
As tensions and uncertainty mounted, Fletcher was forced to resign in May before an administrator was hired, the supervisors scheduled a special election for his seat in August, with a runoff in November, appointed an interim administrator and postponed a decision to hire a county administrator until December.
In the race for Fletcher’s vacant supervisor seat, Democrat Monica Montgomery Steppe faces Republican Amy Reichert. Steppe is considered the favorite because the district is overwhelmingly Democrat and she topped Reichert in the primary, 42% to 29%.
The board said it would reopen applications for county administrator in mid-November.
San Diego County won’t say if Chavez is still an applicant, or whether she needs to reapply if she wants the job. Chavez has not responded to inquiries about any continued interest in the San Diego job.
If Reichert upsets Steppe Nov. 7 and Republicans regain their majority on the San Diego board, Chavez’ chances would be bleak.
As San Diego County Republican Supervisor Jim Desmond said in a statement this summer: “One of the significant tenets of this revised hiring strategy is the explicit absence of input or influence from Nathan Fletcher. By sidelining potential biases, the county is ensuring a hiring process driven purely by merit and the broader welfare of San Diego and its residents.”