Phone Calls, Financial Support Preceded Council’s Dec. 5 Vote

Conversations prior to Monday’s San Jose City Council meeting—rather than the five hours of public comments – appear to have swung the outcome of an historic decision to fill two vacant council seats by appointment, rather than by a popular vote.

Despite passionate pleas from a City Hall audience, the Dec. 5 council action wasn’t about taxpayers’ money or voters’ rights. Contributions, political alliances and private conversations not streamed on Zoom won the night.

The council majority was likely secured before the opening gavel. Vote counters on both sides called the 7-4 outcome throughout the day, and a betting person could have placed odds on the vote and walked away with a pocketful of cash. Most of the council members who voted to appoint watched the proceedings unseen and from afar rather than face constituents who argued for a ballot.

Money from organized labor

The pro-appointment council members—with the exception of unsuccessful 2022 mayoral candidate Dev Davis—have benefited from the financial support or endorsements from organized labor over their political careers.

In 2022, the South Bay Labor Council PAC, another labor-union funded PAC and individual unions spent nearly $370,000 on three council candidates, and another nearly $146,000 for a council member running for county supervisor. This was preceded by a similar pattern in 2020, when organized labor spent nearly $250,000 on four council races, including nearly $145,000 on three current council members, according to campaign spending reports filed with the City Clerk.

Then there was the ask: phone calls last Wednesday to three council members from Jean Cohen, executive director of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. The council had joined other pro-labor groups and the county Democratic Party in calling for appointments to the council vacancies, rather than having a special election.

Labor lobbyist calls

The stated topic (on the city’s Lobbyist Contact report) of the calls? “Council vacancies.” Jean Cohen’s calls were to:

  • David Cohen, recipient of $93,242 in spending by the labor council’s Committee on Public Education (COPE) PAC in his 2020 council race, plus $20,250 in direct contributions from three dozen unions
  • Maya Esparza, who lost her 2022 re-election bid despite $113,980 in spending by the COPE PAC, (preceded by $101,304 in COPE aid in her 2018 win)
  • Sergio Jimenez, whose campaign in 2020 benefited from $2,563 in COPE PAC spending

Five days later, these three joined four other council members in voting for the appointment of two new council members to fill the remaining two years of the terms for District 8 and District 10. The vacancies were created by the election of District 10 Councilmember Matt Mahan as mayor, and the election of District 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas as Santa Clara County supervisor.

The six previous council vacancies for unexpired terms in the past 20 years all were filled by special elections, according to the City Clerk's office.

Jean Cohen (no relation to the council member) said she is glad the council followed her advice on the phone call, and didn’t hesitate to stake out a political stance against Mahan in the process. She called her private lobbying effort against a special election “transparent.”

Selection instead of election

“In what I anticipate being the norm moving forward, incoming Mayor Mahan was unable to convince a majority of his council colleagues to support his fiscally irresponsible idea to waste $11 million dollars trying to elect a corporate centric ally onto the city council,” she wrote in an email response to questions from San Jose Inside. “The process leading up to the council decision was open and transparent, as evidenced by the disclosed conversations where I advocated for the responsible course of action instead of wasting taxpayer dollars—and the council vote confirms that my advocacy for sensible solutions prevailed.”

Jimenez said that in his conversation, the labor leader “shared her opinion just like other organizations do about important topics impacting our city.”

“In fact, the same day I talked with Jean I had a meeting with the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors where they, like Jean, expressed their opinion about the topic of vacancies.”

Arenas, who joined Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Dev Davis and Magdalena Carrasco in the majority that approved the plan to appoint the new council members, also benefited from COPE PAC spending this year. The Working Families for Responsible Leadership in Santa Clara County Supporting Sylvia Arenas for Supervisor 2022, a PAC for labor union donations, spent $145,581 on her supervisor campaign, and individual unions also contributed $47,500 directly. In her 2020 council campaign, Arenas was the beneficiary of $28,487 in COPE PAC spending.

A spokesperson for the supervisor-elect defended her vote against a special election.

“Councilmember Arenas has consistently been concerned about ensuring continuity of representation in District 8 without any gaps,” said Patrick McGarrity. “She has had many conversations with a wide variety of constituents and advocates about the best way to move forward with filling this vacancy, as she came to her own independent position.”

Cohen said that conversations with his financial benefactors didn’t prevent him from acting independently.

In response to questions from San Jose Inside, he said, “In the weeks leading up to the City Council meeting on vacancies, I spoke with various leaders from neighborhoods and community organizations.”

“For example, the day after the call you referenced,” said Cohen, “I spent an equal amount of time speaking with a representative of the Realtors Association. These calls were important to me as I considered the process moving forward. I think it’s important to listen to folks with varying opinions in order to make my own decisions in a thoughtful way.”

Cohen will lose a few pro-labor allies this month, but he will be joined by some new council members next month, just in time to fill the vacancies. Two of the newly elected council members who will be voting on the actual council appointments next month—Omar Torres and Peter Ortiz—benefited from labor PACS in their successful elections last month: $114,368 for Torres, and $140,921 for Ortiz.

The Chavez factor

The presence of Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez looms large as well. Mahan’s colleagues on the council endorsed the mayoral candidacy of Chavez, herself a former executive director of the South Bay Labor Council.

The council's COPE PAC spent $1,232,768 on the county supervisor’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign.

"It’s hard to ignore the irony,” said Liccardo in an email response to questions from San Jose Inside. “This council majority—the same council members that uniformly endorsed the mayoral candidate rejected by a majority of the electorate four weeks ago—believes itself qualified to select the council representative for 200,000 residents they don't know and have never represented.”

“That's more than hubris; it's delusional."

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. It’s no secret that some districts are politically distinct from the other districts in the city. Perhaps San Jose should split into parts in a LAFCO process. Here’s some bad things that have happened to D10.
    (1) Some parts of D10 (Almaden) hardly get any effect police services in practice with the lowest per-capita police patrols in the western hemisphere, (2) D10 gets the big landfill, (3) D10 resident interests get railroaded when trying to maintain transit-oriented zoning density over developer special interests to prevent traffic-clogging sprawl, and (4) D10 got to celebrate the BART extension with a huge VTA service cut specifically targeting it. While some can say D10 has a lot of nice homes and stuff and should just shut up, we have to ask why do the other districts want to even be part of it at all? Taxes come from a variety of sources and services are spend on a variety of things. Sure splitting up may crimp the size of a few ambitious downtown trophy projects, but it won’t fundamentally change the per-capita tax/services ratio.

    It really would be a good thing for people to be governed by whom they really elect rather than coercively be bound together just because someone drew a map that way.

    In the mean time if the city council appoints someone that clearly is intended to railroad over D10 interests for a record-setting 2 year period, that person is clearly going to be subjected to an instant recall. The sentiment of feeling disenfranchized is not going to sit well. It’s just the political reality of thwarting representation.

  2. Essentially labor unions who vote to unionize for representation are now opposed to voting for the rest of us.

    It is not sitting well with us Ms. Cohen.

    There is nothing wrong with starting multiple recalls at the same time for the remaining CM’s who opposed a ‘special election’, as well as newly appointed CM’s. You think a special election is expensive? Just you wait and see how much multiple recall elections cost.

    I strongly suggest the city council meet and reverse their decision, opt for a special election for D8 & 10 as soon as possible.

    We now have 120,000 candidates and 9 voters! Anyone and everyone in San Jose should fill out an application as soon as possible.

    Here it is:

    Note you maybe subject to immediate recall.

    They are going to appoint in 21 days and in 22 days there will be an avalanche of recall petitions started. Just wait… We are getting organized.

  3. I think if the anti-democratic city council thinks they are being clever in this maneuver, they may just be like the poverb about the “dog that finally catches the car”. They can possibly avoid a recall and secession campaign by allowing Khamis and Mahan and other community leaders such as AVCA board members, etc… suggest a couple candidates. But a 2 year maneuver just to stack the council against D10, D1, and D8 … this will get San Jose split into pieces. They will be the end of San Jose.

  4. tip of the hat for more good reporting

    but if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

    these “politicians” do what they want, however they want, whenever they want and these idiots still vote for them

    the voters haven’t cared, don’t care, and won’t care – so they deserve the garbage schools, high rents, regressive taxes, terrible roads, and low wages they get


  5. Hi SJ Inside,

    Can u tell me why my comments haven’t been posted? I submitted them yesterday. I believe before the last 2 comments.
    Thanks, Patty
    America the Beautiful

  6. Someone should inform Mr. Holtzclaw that every city council vote, every county Board of Supervisors vote, every State Assembly and State Senate vote, every U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate vote is almost always a done deal before the actual vote. The Manchurian political class that manages the state on behalf the propertied classes–and I am not talking about organized labor which is at best a junior player in these affairs–are enabled by wealth and cultural power of the propertied. On matters of material substance, there are rarely any surprises regarding how the votes will go.

    In this case, there is unease about the particular combination of tech capital nodes and real estate capital nodes that have been brought together by upstart Mahan. That particular combination is new and “legacy” elites aren’t quite sure what to make of it yet. Once organized labor figures out how they might benefit from the owners behind the Mahan candidacy, they too will fall into line. After all, organized labor was 100% behind the City’s Google plan because that project entails thousands of prevailing wage jobs over an extended period of time. That it will almost certainly result in intensified housing affordability hardships for hundreds of thousands of non-union working people did not figure into organized labor’s calculations.

  7. @America

    SJI is notorious for their censorship, their journo-activism (Wadsworth basically won awards every year for your propaganda), and their deception (power polls), and then there is “The Fly”

  8. @Making Trouble – we all know you are econoclast – why even try to seem like two people?

    Are you trying to imply many people think like you? You don’t need to make such efforts; many people think like you in San Jose. Except for the “everyone live in dorms” dreams and your obsession with how well SJSU manages their housing. Which is outrageously over-priced, btw. Ever landlord’s dream is to charge rent per occupant.

  9. Just an Observation,

    Just consider this as a question, how much does the author here have in a way of a conflict of interest?

    Barry was a media relations officer with Coamerica ( Which means he cannot possibly report or author anything regarding the economics of the area without having a conflict of interest. He actually was a Vice President of it from 2004-2010. If you think he divested any shares of stock of it, I doubt it.

    All I can say is he has a right to express his opinion especially in a forum he owns. But the readers should be made aware that it appears that this publication may have issues with financial conflicts of interest.

    But to be fair, I would like the action to be transparent, and all communication must be disclosed under the Brown Act.

    But understand that SJSU dorms are not apartments, they are far more than that. I lived in them for the time I went to college. They had 24hr services on hand in every building. They provided food services also. They also were responsible for safety so much they had their own police station. In my time there they provided broadband internet services which was in 1996. They also provided many forms of entertainment for free. You simply don’t understand the costs of this.

    A studio rents for San Jose are $2500/month, the dorm rooms are charging $7,500 for a year or if you take into account that 8 months might count as a year they are charging only $940/month. I had what was called a super single, and it was charging me about $1,200/mth, a 2 person unit for one person. It looks like you are ASSUMING that the housing costs are inflated. I guess this proves otherwise.

    So where is the overpricing? You get a decent place to live for HALF the price of a studio unit.

  10. What about “per occupant rent” do you not understand? 4 people living in a two-bedroom property at $1000 per person is $4000. There are currently 230 listings in San Jose for 2-bedroom house or apartments for $3000 or less. And those are service-exclusive units. In a dorm – you share bathrooms, kitchens (refrigerators), thermostats, etc.

    The only thing more dehumanizing than being a rent-wage-slave is to be a dorm-rent-wage-slave.

    But please, convince the market they should pay rent per occupant…

  11. Just an Observation,

    Your attempt to try to increase INDIVIDUAL prices by trying to say it is the “collective” charge is not correct. As I pointed out the cost PER INDIVIDUAL is currently only $940/mth.. Even if there are units in San Jose for $3,100/mth with 270 units available(per Zumper analytics) for 2 persons in a 2 bedroom apartment would cost $1550/mth. that is an increase of 40%.

    That savings of $600 does account for the change of services you described, but for many out there, this is all they can afford. You are attacking the only solution regarding affordable housing. You are not providing any alternatives, just complaining.

    What you really are afraid of is that more housing alternatives like this will drive down rents because of competition. The vacancy rates for most available units are rising already, and since 2016 when there was 740,000 tech workers and now there is only 400,000 in the area, these units are stuck empty.

  12. Of course they colluded on manipulating the vote, and literally wasted the communities time – all of the brave and articulate community members who voiced their concerns. They knowingly let all of these people talk, with the understanding none of what they would say mattered. This is par for the course for false leaders like Sergio, Davis, Arenas, Peralez, etc. It’s another instance where this Council shows a lack of integrity, and disregards the community concerns in an effort to retain some level of power to undermine the next Mayor. It’s pathetic.

    And to talk about wasting money? An election would be a good use of money – and if this incompetent Council cared, at all, about being fiscally responsible – they would’ve been more accountable for the tens of millions spent on homeless programs each year that goes unchecked. That is a far bigger waste of resources.

  13. Just an Observation,

    Time, you do not have the authority to authorize the expense of a election. The 2022 election for mayor alone was the most expensive in history reported here (

    It was the most expensive mayoral race in San Jose history. A newcomer won it
    Shwanika Narayan Raheem Hosseini Nov. 16, 2022 Updated: Nov. 17, 2022 10:35 a.m.

    What you want to do is MAKE MONEY off of elections, elections are a for profit industry now, whether you win or lose. This is simply not worth the cost that the taxpayers are stuck with. If you want the election, you fund it, since you want to privatize everything anyway.

    And to bring up the homeless was a nothing MAGA Burger again.

  14. California with its poor governance and low information electorate continues to evolve to resemble a 3rd world country every election cycle, every year and every day.
    Comments on Political Redistricting, Elections (campaigning, voting and tallying votes) and mandates, decisions and restrictions on citizen freedoms and choices it appears like San Jose Politics (and CA as a whole), more and more, resembles some of Mexico’s Challenges and Citizen/ Resident Perceptions.
    Many parallels exist and are growing more common between corrupt, south of the border politics and CA politics and governance.
    (SBarbash Spring 2019) “The Mexico Tragedy – America’s southern neighbor confronts Metastasizing Violence & Institutional Corruption that Threaten its Future.”
    “World Values Survey, the percentage of Mexicans who say that
    Most of their Countrymen can be Trusted has fallen from 34% in 1990 to 11% in 2017,
    the lowest rate ever recorded in Mexico and among the lowest rates in the world.”
    “… 4 in 5 Mexicans say that Almost Everyone in Municipal Government is Corrupt. ”
    “There are two Mexicos – the good Mexico and the bad Mexico,”
    says CEO of the nation’s most admired companies.
    “The problem,” he adds, “is that the bad Mexico is winning over the good Mexico.”
    the newly elected government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador…
    “…..has also reversed Peña Nieto’s reforms of
    Public Education,
    including a requirement that Teachers take Competency Exams.
    The Teachers’ Union, which supported AMLO’s election,
    Opposes the exams and Anything else that might
    Hold Educators Accountable for Student Achievement.
    Reforms that improved productivity in the energy sector by opening it to more private and foreign investment have also been weakened.”

  15. Just an Observation,

    Going on a tangential rant, and not discussing the topic much CA Patriot.

    Education was not the topic, And the Mexican government is not the topic either.

    Trying to change the subject AGAIN.

  16. Enjoy your stay on the Council while you can… We will remember each and every one of you when you next come up for re-election — if not on this Council due to term limits, then wherever you go within this County.

  17. Recall Davis- Sour grapes because she did not make it through the primary. She betrayed her principles, limited as they were, to side with the liberal block. But then what can you expect from someone who did not have the guts to stick with the Republican Party lest that label cost her an election in San Jose. Recall Davis.

  18. Liccardo’s comments are laughable at best. They are not speaking for a represented class. 2022 midterms showing is hardly representative of our fellow neighbors lmao. Everyone knows turnout is higher during Presidential election years, this is why they themselves even changed the SJ Mayoral election term to align with the Pres election cycle. Holding a special election is an absolute waste of time, money, and energy. Sounding like a Trumper IMO.

    All you will have is ‘interested’ voters showing up, meaning ardent Mahan supporters, why? Because why would any of Chavez voters show up, for an ADDITIONAL election if she or her cohorts already lost? How is that a fair, ‘special’ election either? Oh wait, it is not.

    That’s why appointments work, bc the selection is happening by a group of people already designated and that voters have already showed up and voted for at a pre-designated election, and not ‘special election,’ where only interested folks would show up at polls. It’s elementary. Mahan obviously knew what he was doing, and did this to get the council majority. Similar to decrying annd questioning election results like a Q-follower.

    All those saying “oh the voice of the people, what about the vote!?” The people have spoken. The question asked on the ballot, “should Mahan be mayor?” Not “should marry select to choose replacements.” That wasn’t asked to the majority of folks who showed up that day to the previously held elections. It was not advertised for weeks on end as the other questions at hand had been.

    You’re all missing an important element of voting here. Whether voters are actually informed or not, it is up to institutions to make an attempt to do so to inform, or it is corrupt. The council felt as if the representation the previously had was enough. Disagree?

    See them at the ballot box next election. I know I WILL. Stop wasting money, when people are homeless, and businesses/people are paying crazy taxes. I thought Mahan was elected to put a stop to things like this? If he is so popular, and his ideas are THE WAY, then he should have no problem convincing his new cohorts. That’s politics.

  19. Labor unions contribute to candidates and so do so called business councils. You don’t think Liccardo or Mahan haven’t received any donations which may or may have not affected their votes.

  20. Just an Observation,

    Given that an appointment would likely be not the person that many here would want, due to the composition of the Council. I was promoting the election because at least it is assured to be a fair process regarding who makes the decision.

    Mountain view has a similar problem but because of the existing composition of the City Council, very likely a person with “like” minded political interests would be chosen. We currently have a 5-2 power profile where only 2 are promoters to cut off rights under the CSFRA, and tried to get voters to amend it, but they lost by a 2 to 1 vote, the ballot measure was Measure D.

    It looks like no matter what, either by appointment or election, many here would simply be disappointed with whoever is assigned the tasks


    You are exactly right!

    Both sides do it and since you obviously look for any reason to rationalize it is what makes your life suck so bad. That is why you have high rent, low pay, bad roads, and crappy schools.

    Congratulations! You have played yourself.

  22. Just an Observation,

    SJ Kulak, why are you always personally attacking people. Especially when they accurately point out the REALITY of the situation?

    The GOVERNMENT has no control over high rent and low pay, that is the PRIVATE markets, who have failed to efficiently provide either quality jobs or fair rents due to market manipulation.

    With regards to bad roads, I do see some chronic road quality problems, but in a tectonic area like ours, the costs of maintenance are SKY HIGH. There has been more than 10 quakes in CA in the last 2 weeks.

    As far as schools are concerned, the introduction of charter schools and vouchers has created a major deficit in funding for them. Especially where “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND” cause more damage than helped.

    But in the long run, politics is a POPULARITY contest, and those that spend money on candidates or ballot measures that FAIL simply must pay it. And again I know that only about 23.9% are republican and the rest 76.1% are independent and democratic. That make Republicans either provide CLEAR and UNDENIABLE evidence of have better solutions or they are bound to lose every time.

    Get your teams act together and provide better solutions, or you will never gain anything in this state.

  23. I am not sure it makes any difference for appointing vs. electing, especially with an enormous cost of having a special election.

    Matt Mahan, the man who wanted to fire police officers for refusing to take a COVID shot. Also, very close to and endorsed by Liccardo – himself a complete failure.

    What competent and clear-thinking person can realistically get elected here in this area? May as well appoint. They are all more or less the same, just saves SJ taxpayers millions of dollars at the time when the economy is about to go off the cliff.

  24. In response to a police officer’s refusal to take a COVID shot, Matt Mahan called for their dismissal. Also very close to and supported by Liccardo, who was a total failure himself.

    What intelligent, logical candidate has a chance of winning an election in this place? Appointment is preferable. They are all essentially the same; the only difference is that SJ taxpayers are saved millions of dollars at a time when the economy is on the verge of collapse.

  25. Funny that nearly a year later we see the real intent of this move. First, a labor controlled council to saves a measly $1 million. Then we have city labor threatening a strike. Then the city council approves raises that will cause $10 million budget deficit. Could have been fiscally responsible and push the increases over a larger amount of time, but hey, at least we see the whole intent nicely played out. Well played labor, your ROI – a couple hundred grand in political donations turns into millions in higher wagers, which results in closed libraries and fewer police officers.

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