Voters in north San Jose's District 4 will be able to cast ballots for their chosen City Council candidate as early as this week, as mail-in ballots were sent out today in a contest that could shift the balance of labor and business influence at City Hall.
The Berryessa district's 40,577 registered voters have until June 23, the date of the special runoff election, to pick from two candidates: business-backed Manh Nguyen and labor favorite Tim Orozco. According to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, nearly 70 percent of the district's voters have opted for mail-in ballots.
Orozco and Nguyen hold very different views on jobs, housing, homelessness and the city's ongoing battle to reform public employee pensions. Nguyen endorses San Jose's pension reforms, which voters passed in 2012 as Measure B to scale back retirement benefits. Orozco considers those changes a violation of public employee rights.
To improve public safety, Nguyen says he would make police salaries more competitive and offer incentives to officers who have stuck with the city through tough times.
"But I will also respect the will of the people and continue the fight to reform our broken retirement system," he explains on his website.
Police unions, however, have blamed the city's controversial pension reforms for the years-long exodus that's left the San Jose Police Department critically understaffed and unable to fill its academy classes.
San Jose should restore its burglary and gang prevention units, Orozco states.
On transportation, the two both agree that the city should improve pedestrian and bicycle pathways. Both also support raising the citywide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, according to a candidate Q&A by transit advocacy group I Walk, I Bike, I Vote.
Nguyen, 62, runs his own Vietnamese-language media company and received endorsements from Mayor Sam Liccardo and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. After finishing second to Orozco in the April 7 primary that edged out eight other candidates, he received about $59,000 in independent expenditures from business groups.
A Berryessa native, Orozco, 56, moved back to San Jose after taking on a job as legislative aide for state Sen. Bob Wieckowski in 2013. Union groups have spent upward of $180,000 in independent expenditures to support his campaign to replace Kansen Chu, another labor candidate, who left the council for the state Assembly last fall.
Both men experienced legal troubles. Orozco was convicted twice of drunken driving—once 17 years ago and the other 30 years back—which he chalked up to youthful poor judgment. In 2009, in the midst of economic recession, Nguyen's media company failed and he filed for bankruptcy. Ultimately, the company pulled through and he still runs it as CEO.
Nguyen has leveraged his media company to boost his chances in the council race, eschewing the city's voluntary expenditure limit and granting his campaign $73,000 in in-kind advertising donations. While Orozco claims greater independent expenditure support, Nguyen has out-raised him four-to-one. According to campaign reports, Nguyen has raised $148,000 and spent $133,000 against $35,000 raised and $23,000 spent by Orozco.
Residents will have a chance to hear from the candidates in person at a forum hosted by the Independence High Neighborhood Association, which takes place 7pm Thursday at the Berryessa Branch Library.
June 8 is the last day to register to vote, which can be done online through the Secretary of State website. Ballots can be returned anytime through election day at any one of these locations.