With resounding victories in their respective Sunnyvale City Council races, Alysa Cisneros and Omar Din reflected on the gravity of the moment when the results showed them emerging as frontrunners on election night.
Cisneros, 33, became the first-ever Latina and openly queer person to be elected to the Sunnyvale City Council. Din, 23, became the first Muslim, South Asian and youngest person ever to join the seven-member body.
“You’ll never have anything quite like the feeling of your first election,” Cisneros said in an interview with San Jose Inside. “You’ll never get this back, so it was a great moment celebrating with my family, friends and all my supporters.”
Din said he also experienced a feeling of unmitigated joy when the returns started to stack up in his favor. “I was excited and elated, but also felt very humbled that the community was willing to place its faith and trust in me to push for the causes and platforms I was putting forward,” said Din, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1983.
Cisneros is poised to capture District 2 in the city’s first election since switching from at-large to district races, while Russ Melton looks victorious in District 4 with more than 70 percent of the vote and Din is winning by a comfortable margin in District 6.
In a momentous election, incumbent Larry Klein is projected to become the city’s first directly elected mayor after he won a council position in 2016 and appointed mayor by his colleagues this past year. It was a close race, but Klein managed to eke out a win against Vice Mayor Nancy Smith and Councilman Michael Goldman.
A program manager at Qnovo—an intelligent battery management software company in Newark—Klein has totaled 17,801 votes (36.3 percent) to Smith’s 16,422 votes (33.5 percent) and Goldman’s 14,820 votes (30.2 percent).
The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters released their latest update at 5pm Tuesday, with 92 percent of ballots counted. Klein has yet to declare victory, but said Smith called him on Saturday and conceded defeat.
“From a directly elected mayor standpoint, the task is not changing,” Klein said. “One of the mayor’s main jobs is to bring council members up to speed and make sure they hit the ground running and making sure we have a functional council.”
Klein emphasized inclusion and diversity as part of his campaign message, recognizing the fact that over 50 percent of Sunnyvale residents are foreign-born. “At the end of the day, being inclusive and listening to our community and making sure they feel they have a part and voice in the future of Sunnyvale has been one of my goals,” he said.
The mayor-elect said he has visited over 170 restaurants in Sunnyvale since the pandemic hit, wanting to celebrate small businesses and the vast diversity of culinary faire in Sunnyvale. He insisted doing a citywide tour of the restaurant scene wasn’t a part of his campaign strategy, but it couldn’t have hurt his standing in the community.
He also focused on traffic issues, housing and finishing downtown, which recently completed Phase 1 of a longstanding project that figures to be completed by 2024. Klein started going to city council and planning commission meetings 18 years ago when he bought his first home in Sunnyvale. Completing Sunnyvale’s downtown was one of the key factors in why Klein got involved in the city’s local political scene.
The councilors-elect each ran on a promise to tackle Sunnyvale’s biggest problem: the cost of living. The Bay Area’s affordability crisis invaded the Silicon Valley region years ago, and cities like Sunnyvale struggle to balance an affordable housing shortage with increased traffic and environmental concerns amid a tech-growth boom.
“I’m very lucky and pleased that all my fellow council members and I are on the same page,” Din said. “We all see this as the biggest issue to be addressed. It’s not just about increasing affordable housing, but building housing across every spectrum in Sunnyvale.”
With 3,310 votes (43.2 percent), Din holds a comfortable lead over Charlotte Thornton (2,510 votes) and Leia Mehlman (1,847 votes) in the D6 contest. Din became Sunnyvale’s parks and recreation commissioner when he was 18, portending a bright political future. A Cornell University graduate, Din formerly worked for former Congressman Mike Honda and current Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell).
“I was lucky enough to work for Mike Honda,” Din said, “and I fell in love with politics because I saw how it could bring communities together for the right reasons. And working in Evan Low’s office inspired me to run myself.”
Din used his own personal experience to put a poignant touch on his campaign slogan of “fighting for a more affordable and livable Sunnyvale.”
After graduating from Cornell, Din had to move back in with his parents' place and spend three hours a day commuting back and forth to his job in San Francisco because he was priced out of the city where he grew up. “My family has been renting the entire time I’ve lived in Sunnyvale due to how unaffordable it is to buy a house,” he said. “I know how important it is to see change in this area.”
So does Cisneros.
Campaigning as a community and social justice YIMBY candidate, Cisneros had a strong team behind her that utilized a two-pronged approach—a digital and ground platform—as part of a campaign to raise awareness of her candidacy.
“I hired a person to do each, but they worked together to coordinate a very strong digital and ground presence,” said Cisneros, who totaled 4,101 votes (53.6 percent) to easily outdistance Josh Grossman and Hina Siddiqui for the District 2 seat.
Cisneros sent out flyers, visited farmers markets and had myriad conversations with residents on their front lawns (practicing social distancing). She reached out to community leaders who tapped into their networks to get a good sense of the community’s needs and gravest concerns.
“Then it was up to me to address those concerns in my campaign,” she said.
The feedback revealed that Sunnyvale residents are most concerned with skyrocketing housing prices and the safety of the roads. Cisneros never thought of running for local elected office until after the March primaries, when she was approached “by a couple of folks” who badgered her to run for the District 2 seat.
“I thought it was a really important time in history and a critical moment to show leadership,” the councilor-elect remarked.
Though it seemed daunting at the time, getting laid off from her job at the start of the pandemic actually helped Cisneros devote all of her energy and resources into campaigning, which she said has paid off with a milestone election.