The Once and Future San Jose

High above, I looked down on a sea of deep blue. With my last few frenetic days back in Cambridge, Mass., done, I was a minute or so away from touching down at Mineta. It was Saturday, May 26, and only at that point did I make the connection that the mass of indigo I was witnessing was Bellarmine’s graduation ceremony, where five years earlier I had proudly walked across that stage.

Since the time I was about 11, I’ve been active in politics: local, state, and now even national. I got my start volunteering on campaigns when Amy Dean was at the helm of the South Bay Labor Council. That was something else, from the rush of walking precincts and getting to meeting former Gov. Gray Davis back in 2002 to the defeat Democrats suffered the following year with the historic recall election. It was an exciting time to be active in the community. I ended up leading the Bellarmine Young Democrats for several years before heading out east for college.

The San Jose I’ve came home to, however, seems remarkably different from the San Jose I remember leaving. I think back to 2006, when the candidates for mayor—individuals like David Pandori, Cindy Chavez and the eventual winner, Chuck Reed—campaigned on a host of issues that addressed the many concerns a city as large as San Jose requires answered. Now, in this recent June election, there was one issue: Measure B; a litmus test that brought out the most vitriolic, vile, and vindictive politics I’ve ever seen locally.

I’m no lightweight either. I’ve seen what bitter discord can bring from the streets of New Hampshire to working at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. What just happened in San Jose, irrespective of opinion on Measure B, is perhaps the greatest example of how far the level of discourse in local politics has fallen since the days of Susan Hammer, when government was cordial, collaborative and conducive to the greater well being of San Joseans.

I was born and raised out on the border of East San Jose and Evergreen, and upon returning home from college I found seven or eight pieces of attack mail against Rose Herrera—my family hadn’t cleared the mail because they were out of town to see me graduate. The type of attacks being made were frivolous, tangential arguments that any debater recognizes will only occur when the other side is grasping at straws, trying to make any point for the sake of speaking up when they have nothing of real merit to further the discussion. Councilwomen Herrera took a position and was attacked in what seems to be a proxy battle for City Hall.

The Labor Council, which I agree with on probably 80 to 90 percent of issues, unfairly went after Herrera in what seems to be a microcosm of politics as a whole in the valley. Gone are the pragmatic, consensus-driven efforts of a decade ago, when I know Amy Dean would have been able to work out a compromise on pensions. In is the notion that loyalty is orthodoxy to a set of beliefs dictated out from Almaden Road.

I care deeply for San Jose. I am coming back home as a Teach for America corps member, instead of going to work in finance in New York or politics in Washington. I care deeply about the plight many working families face in this city, one of the most expensive in the nation and one in which every single family member of mine was a union member—from my grandfather the boilermaker to my mother, who is a current state employee.

What I think we all care about, however, is placing ideas over ideology, moving San Jose forward and away from the current state of politics in the valley. Might does not make right, and the leaders of San Jose ought to get back on track if we want anything meaningful to get done in the near future.

Jonathan Padilla is a recent Harvard graduate who has worked on local, state and national political campaigns. He is currently working as a Teach for America corps member in the Bay Area.


  1. Ahh another Harvard grad that clearly skipped their ethics course.

    Lying to get elected should not be condoned, lying in office should be condemned, and being a liar should have consequences.

    I know you want to believe that Rose Herrera’s position on Measure B was the reason she was opposed by unions but that would not be true.

    Several unions supported candidates that supported Measure B, Edesa Bitbadal and Joe Coto to name a few.

    Let’s not forget that a majority of voters rejected Rose Herrera for re-election because she has not been truthful in her dealings with constituents, has lied about her past, and has been unethical in her public actions, for instance; Voting to support projects for a company she owns stock in (Even a Junior College educated individual should see the ethical transgression with that) and please don’t forget Rose signing up for a lifetime defined benefit pension a mere month before publicly supporting cutting pensions for city workers…remember, she was in a 401k city sponsored plan with a 100% match for several years and then decided she wanted a guaranteed lifetime benefit starting at age 55 with automatic COLA’s.  What she voted for earlier this week provides benefits for new hires below what she signed up for behind closed doors.

    You ought to go to the city website and see the dozens of pension cost cutting proposals made by unions before alleging that no compromise was sought by unions, that is just not true.

    As with the former CEO of Yahoo that lied on his resume and was shown the door, the same outcome awaits Rose Herrera for her ethical lapses.  Please ensure as you teach in this valley that ethics and honesty are required subjects in your class.

    • Hey Truth Patrol,

      Instead of launching into an ad hominem attack that denigrates the fact I worked my behind off to get into and graduate from Harvard, how about you watch the following by Professor Michael Sandel, the ethics course I took and thoroughly enjoyed.

      Now this might be a tangent, but it seems that most of the posts from you on this site have directed to Pro-Labor websites. As I said, I agree with Labor on most issues, but the tone you take only strengthens my argument and proves the point the points I made.

      I can only assume someone from the Labor Council or one of its affiliates is behind this response based on the commentary and pattern of comments made. How about this, we throw out the talking points and have a frank conversation that does not go for the jugular. I think San Jose would be much better off in the long run if folks started moving in that direction.


      • JP,
        You went on the attack first and had your facts wrong.  You accuse the Labor Council yet offer absolutely nothing in the form of proof to back up your claim that they were behind the mail exposing Rose Herrera.  Did you read the little disclosure on each of the pieces you looked at, was the labor council on any of them?  I know the answer and it is no.  So don’t whine now that you are being attacked, it was your stone you threw first.

        You also take a swipe at the current leadership at the Labor Council with your pollyanish “if only Amy Dean were around” nonsense.  Fact is, bargaining units, each and every one of them except one (ALP) presented proposal after proposal to lower pension costs and they were rejected each and every time.  These were legal and lawful pension reform proposals and they are all on the city website for your perusal. 

        The reality in the real world is that public employees are being attacked, they have had their lives upended by lies propagated by elected officials and big business that want nothing but to have government on the local level to cater to them and their needs.  Rose Herrera is their poster child and her record speaks for itself.

        As for throwing out the talking points and having a frank discussion that does not go for the jugular, that is what this is.  If you think comments on a blog are going for the jugular stay teaching because politics is not for you.

  2. Good to have the perspective of one who has left the area and returned. I did not leave, but can attest to the difference between the atmosphere at City Hall when Mayor Hammer presided over the City during hard economic times with significant cutbacks including many layoff notices. There was little animosity between employees and Council/City Manager. The tone was depressed but conciliatory. There is none of that now. Callous demeaning actions of this legislative body has truly unnecessarily poisoned the espirit de corp with filtered manipulated data to mask the true impacts on the municipal workforce.

    A balanced collaborative high road was possible. But the polarizing low road became the fashionable route. Left out here however is the incredible biased regurgitating of the party line by the local media never experienced in my lifetime. Ironic in a region with the highest salaries in the nation, San Jose has become the first to relegate its Public Servants to 2nd class status. Don’t be fooled, the end product is far below the private sectors provisions for personnel of reputable local corporations.

  3. Truly a response worthy of Karl Rove. Bravo, but here’s a hint – the public likes someone who grins when they fight, not some angry shadow out for vengeance. Take the weekend and cool off, we need rational folks with level heads to fix San Jose.

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