The race to replace termed out San Jose Councilman Don Rocha in District 9 has narrowed down to two dynamically different choices for voters: a political newbie with less experience than his opponent and no special-interest alliances or a more seasoned candidate with a recognizable name and establishment connections.
Whoever wins after Cambrian residents cast their ballots Nov. 6 could determine whether the council leans in favor of business or labor over the next four years.
Although not initially considered a threat, Kalen Gallagher, a Campbell Union High School District trustee, surprised political circles back in the June primary when the dark horse shot past favored labor candidate Shay Franco-Clausen to go up next month against business-favorite Pam Foley, a trustee with San Jose Unified School District.
The former UC Davis student body president has no institutional backing but plenty of Cambrian Park residents have thrown their financial support behind Gallagher, who has been busy defending himself against more than $80,000 worth of negative mailers sent out last week by the Silicon Valley Organization PAC, a major backer of Foley’s campaign.
Gallagher, a San Jose native who worked as a middle school teacher for several years before helping launch startup ClassDojo, has been vocal about his refusal to accept endorsements or donations from business or labor groups.
It’s also why he didn’t seem too fazed by the below-the-belt hits when he spoke with San Jose Inside, which he chalked up to establishment power players taking aim at a contender who can’t be bought by monied interests.
“It’s no secret that money in politics is destroying our country and it’s destroying our region as well,” Gallagher said in a phone call earlier this week. “So it’s no surprise that we’re trying to be one of the first campaigns that doesn’t fill out loyalty applications or accept money from special interests.”
With a number of stakeholders representing business or labor agendas, Gallagher said the dynamic at City Hall is like “a chess game between two political gods” that he wants to avoid playing so he can “represent District 9 residents and drive real solutions for people who live here.”
“I’m willing to work with anyone on the planet who’s willing to focus on the issues that matter to District 9,” he said. “I think there’s a difference between having a healthy conversation towards real solutions and being beholden to those groups.”
But Gallagher also acknowledged that being independent goes both ways and could require sometimes compromising with those same groups and possibly alienating some constituents in the process.
“You need to have honest conversations with people and bring people who don’t agree to the same table and work towards finding a solution,” he added. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to necessarily agree with every single person in the district.”
It’s uncertain how Foley plans to balance her relationship with the same crowd that’s thrown thousands of dollars at her election so far and also representing the interests of district residents. Her donors and supporters include Republic Urban, CORE, Schoennauer Co., SummerHill Homes and the California Apartment association, District 10 Councilman Johnny Khamis, ex-Mayor Chuck Reed, and former Vice Mayors Judy Chirco and Madison Nguyen.
Those business-friendly ties and developer support could mean more building in the area and possibly adding more jobs to a city with less than one job per resident. But Foley, who runs a small mortgage company with her husband, has said she thinks the proposal to redevelop the Cambrian Park Plaza is too large for the site and that she would work to downsize it. Even so, it’s impossible to know how much Foley intends to push back on developers who are eager to add to San Jose’s housing stock.
The two-time council candidate (she ran back in 2009 but dropped out for personal reasons) supports building more urban villages but said at a candidate forum in April that the Cambrian Park Plaza lacks the necessary public transit to make it workable.
Foley didn’t respond to requests for comment—possibly because she’s pre-occupied, having walked so much for her campaign this season that she’s nursing a tibia fracture.