Former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee is likely heading to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors following a nine-year hiatus from public service.
Lee, who faced off against Assemblymember Kansen Chu for the District 3 supervisor seat, is in the lead with 60 percent of the vote as of Thursday morning.
The two candidates sought to replace Supervisor Dave Cortese, who termed out of office and is now moving to the state Senate.
“It has been a two-year process, or maybe 12 years,” Lee said.
The supervisor-elect started his campaign in January 2019, but ran for the same position in 2008, losing to Cortese. He said it was the relationships he built over those 12 years that helped ensure the votes.
He will now be representing District 3, which encompasses North San Jose, Milpitas, Sunnyvale and some unincorporated areas of the county.
“I wanted to be a county supervisor because it’s the job that can really make a change in people’s lives so directly, there isn’t anything parallel to it,” Lee said.
Chu echoed similar sentiments and said that is why he chose to run for a position in local politics after serving on the state level.
But for Chu, this race may mark an end to his 18-year political career.
“I haven’t really decided yet, maybe I will come back in four years,” Chu said. “I really felt like I was running 100 miles per hour and now all of a sudden I hit a big wall.”
The 68-year old assemblymember has name recognition after serving on the Berryessa Union School District and San Jose City Council, but noted that he was at a disadvantage because he was working full-time and did not have the money to keep up with Lee.
“The county allows rich people to put in as money as they want in a campaign, but I think we need to prove that this money is not channeled through a third party,” Chu said. “We need clean money campaign rules.”
Chu held a three percent lead in the competitive March primaries despite the now-dissolved Silicon Valley Organization PAC funneling thousands of dollars of ads against the assemblymember.
In October, Chu asked Lee to release his income taxes after Lee loaned his campaign $460,000.
The personal addition allowed Lee to outspend Chu by $400,000. As of Oct. 17, Chu raised $249,098 for his campaign and spent $296,438. Lee raised $663,100 and spent $710,110.
Chu said the personal loan didn’t make it a fair fight, but Lee disagreed.
“In order to communicate with the voters, the mail is easily $60,000 to $70,000 a piece so really it’s the amount of money needed to get the word out,” Lee said. “But the county should have publicly funded campaigns so that anyone can run.”
However, Chu was also under the radar for his campaign finances. A few months prior, he was also accused by former Assemblymember Paul Fong of using his assemblymember campaign bank account to get around campaign contribution limits, leading to an investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Chu denied the allegations and said he had nothing to hide.
For Lee, his main priorities are making residents whole after Covid-19 economic impacts on jobs and small businesses, addressing homelessness and building more transitional housing and housing affordability.
As Sunnyvale’s mayor, Lee championed more environmental practices and pushed for a single-use bag ban in stores and for more green guidelines for developers.
Lee, who calls himself the “unity candidate” was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, the South Bay Labor Council, housing advocates South Bay YIMBY, Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the Silicon Valley Organization.
Chu was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), San Jose council members Raul Peralez, Maya Esparza, Sylvia Arenas and Magdalena Carrasco, the South Bay Labor Council, Santa Clara County Firefighters IAFF Local 1165, United Farm Workers and the San Jose Police Officers Association.
There are still 38 percent of ballots that need to be counted but it seems unlikely that Chu can catch up.