San Jose voters won’t be deciding whether to realign the mayoral election with the presidential election cycle this November after all. Now, they’ll have to wait until 2022.
The San Jose City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon for the Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices commission and a new charter commission to review whether the next mayor should be elected for a two-year or a six-year term in 2022 to realign the election cycle.
San Jose’s mayoral election currently takes place during the midterms and has historically had a lower voter turnout. In an effort to boost turnout—particularly among people of color—labor groups and five council members have spent the better part of two years now pushing to realign the mayoral election with the presidential election cycle.
After a two-day-long meeting in June, the council voted 6-5 to move forward with a ballot measure to realign the mayoral election, expand the mayor’s powers and enact a number of campaign finance and conflict of interest reform.
But that all fell apart Monday morning when Liccardo pivoted his position and decided to scrap the ‘strong mayor’ part of the initiative in order to gain more community feedback. That left the council to decide whether to move forward with other parts of the proposed measure or to send it to a charter commission to be reviewed first.
Ultimately, the council on Tuesday came to the conclusion that the city should convene a charter commission to review potential changes to the way San Jose is governed. In other big cities across the country, the mayor has executive powers such as hiring and firing the city manager and department heads and vetoing council decisions. But in San Jose, the mayor is just another vote on the council while the city manager acts as the executive branch.
The charter commission will also discuss the best way to go about aligning the mayoral election with the presidential election cycle. During the meeting, council members tried to come to a consensus for a November ballot measure by floating three ideas around of how to bridge the gap between the midterm and the presidential election cycle. They included: extending Liccardo’s term two more years until 2024, electing a mayor in 2022 for two years or electing a mayor in 2022 for six years
“I think that it’s pretty clear that people want democracy, especially right now and there needs to be an election in 2022,” Councilwoman Maya Esparza argued.
Esparaza pressed Liccardo on whether he’d run again if they created a special two-year term. But the mayor said it wasn’t about him and that a two-year term wasn’t in the city’s best interest.
“If there’s going to be an extension of the next mayor’s term for 6 years or an extension this year this term to six years that would make sense from a government standpoint,” he said. “I would not want to put anyone in the position where they’re running for mayor, they win election and they’re running again for mayor really months after the election. I think it’s just bad for governance.”
Liccardo added that he was “agnostic” on whether he got the extra two years or the next mayor did.
Downtown Councilman Raul Peralez, who has expressed interest in running for mayor in 2022, said he was indifferent about whether they ultimately decide on a two or six-year term for the next mayor.
“I think that the response from our community echoes this as well that they want to see an election in 2022,” he said. “It’s important to them what they had voted on for the term of our mayor and that that holds true and that there’s an election in 2022.”
The charter commission is expected to bring back a recommendation on electing a mayor for a two-year or six-year term by the end of 2021. It would then be placed on the 2022 primary election ballot.
The commission will be made up of 23 members with each councilor nominating two members who reside in their district and the mayor nominating three at-large members including the chair of the commission who will only vote in case of a tie.
The council also opted to send a slew of previously discussed campaign finance and conflict of interest reforms to the Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices. The reforms include barring lobbyists and city contractors from making campaign contributions and prohibiting council members from accepting donations of $250 or more from a person or group that has a license, permit or entitlement pending or in the three months after the vote.