Okay, San Jose Insiders, sharpen your knives. We’re ready for the customary evisceration reserved for those who’ve earned the ire of San Jose’s public employee unions. This week we divine the betting pool for the mayoral prospects of our very own San Jose Inside columnist. Call us crazy, we know, but one shouldn’t count out the dark horse candidate who in 2006 overtook Chamber of Commerce and Labor darlings to clinch the District 6 San Jose City Council seat.
Just two years away now, and the usual suspects have thrown stakes in the ground. Dave Cortese has cast himself as the union guy. Sam Liccardo has claimed the downtown business turf (though attempts to find middle ground on minimum wage raised eyebrows amongst the take-it-to-the-mat crowd). And Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen has published an autobiography of her short life.
The game’s not over though, and several shadow candidates lurk. The improbable Pierluigi Oliverio, on closer inspection, could be a game-changer. Even political strategists in the opposing camp admit he would be “a formidable candidate.”
Oliverio’s insanely popular in the Willow Glen-Rose Garden district, where he received 68 percent of the vote over credible South Bay Labor Council-supported challenger Steve Klein, who waged a serious campaign. Voters in these high turnout precincts disproportionately affect mayoral races, which are sometimes cliffhangers.
Sure, Sam Liccardo won re-election in 2010 with 80 percent of the vote, but that was against, well, Tim Hennessey, who didn’t raise money, wage a campaign or really even live in San Jose. In the face of that marshmallow of a challenge, Liccardo received 6,305 votes. Compare that with the 11,209 Oliverio scored in June — a 77 percent larger base of previous voters if Oliverio decides to run for mayor. Oliverio’s 11k in votes also nearly lapped Ash Kalra’s harvest of 6,671 votes in June, when he squeaked by to get re-elected with 53 percent of the vote over Tim Murphy. (We know, who?) Madison Nguyen was re-elected with 7,625 votes — 54 percent — and she had to fight her way through a recall and a runoff before her November victory. So, any way you look at it, by vote totals, percentages or being ideologically in sync with voters who overwhelmingly passed Measure B in June, Oliverio is not a force to be dismissed.
He maxed out his fundraising without breaking a sweat and threw a well-attended victory party June 24, at which Mayor Reed credited him as a key player in the Measure B landslide.
Oliverio’s independent ways may irk council colleagues, but voters don’t seem to mind. Chuck Reed and Ron Gonzales were lone wolves before they became mayor. P.O.’s strong suit, however, may be his well-established fiscal conservatism. While Cortese, Liccardo and Nguyen have shifted positions over the years to claim the elusive middle, Oliverio has remained a tight-fisted budget hawk and a social liberal. So business seeking a predictable landscape will likely throw money to an Oliverio run.
He has written more than 250 columns for San Jose Inside, so his positions are better documented than pretty much anyone in local political life. And while the others will likely hire political consultants to help draft their positions, Pierluigi keeps his own counsel and manages his own schedule.
His biggest downside may be that he doesn’t project a mayoral image. Then again, neither have most of San Jose’s recent mayors.
Asked to discuss his own electoral prospects, Oliverio waved off speculation in a predictably cavalier fashion. “I’m not participating in this conversation,” he said.
Then he corrected a waiter who mistakenly called him “Pierre.”