The city of Santa Clara’s success is largely due to its political leadership, which is why voters are likely to re-elect Mayor Jamie Matthews, Council member Pat Kolstad and former Council member Dominic Caserta.
Elected leaders in Cupertino, on the other hand, have been an embarrassment, and none of those incumbents should be allowed to return to office. But because few people focus on down-ballot races, erratic and irresponsible Council member Barry Chang, who is the worst of the bunch, could be re-elected.
Currently, candidates Savita Vaidhyanthan and Darcy Paul are the best options running in Cupertino. But their messages are being lost in the avalanche of mail. Their inability to define the incumbents’ shortcoming, combined with a system that simply elects the top-three vote getters, is a recipe for disaster.
The process in Santa Clara makes it easier to determine who the qualified candidates are, as they vote at-large by seat number. In the mayor's race, Deborah Bress is a paranoid gadfly who sees conspiracies everywhere. (She’s even accused the city of killing her dog.) At a recent forum she declared she was ready to leave the city. The public would do itself a favor by taking up a collection to help her.
Bress is a candidate from the misleadingly named group Santa Clara Plays Fair. This collection of irrational individuals came together to oppose the new 49ers stadium. Because the cameras and news media gave them public attention, their myopic views were given an oversized voice and they decided to run candidates in an effort to seize political power. All of this occurred after they were crushed at the polls in the stadium vote. But because few people pay attention to down-ballot races, their candidates have succeeded at the school board level. Their divisive nature can currently be seen on the dysfunctional Santa Clara Unified School Board.
Santa Clara Plays Fair has now set its sights on the City Council. They have endorsed Bress, Karen Hardy and Kevin Park. None deserve to be elected.
Councilmember Kolstad is a straight shooter and will be reelected. The former police officer is a reasoned voice on the council and his clear understanding of the issues facing the city makes him a wonk worth retaining. Hardy is perennial candidate and her enlistment in Santa Clara Plays Fair is apparently a last ditch effort to gain enough support for public office. Dr. Mohammed Nadeem is also in the race. He is an earnest member of the community, but he lacks the political gravitas of Kolstadt. But Nadeem is a person to consider in the future.
Caserta has a record of service that is unmatched by his opposition. Both of his opponents have little resources and seem to be running for purely personal reasons. Park is the choice of Santa Clara Play Fair; he is simply out of his depth in terms of public service. Rosann Alderete LaCoursiere is the third candidate who doesn't seem to have a cogent answer as to why she is running.
While neither Santa Clara Plays Fair candidate—Hardy or Park—seem as unbalanced as Bress, her endorsement of their candidacy is not a plus.
Juxtapose the situation with Cupertino, however, and it’s obvious things could be much worse. Chang is the poster child for what is wrong with local government. His unstable behavior got him a reprimand from County Executive Jeff Smith, and his antics are well chronicled for those who actually follow the city. But in a race with several people, where a contingent will vote mainly based on ethnicity and name identification, he may well return to office.
The other incumbent is Mark Santoro, whose has exhibited less egregious behavior in public. But his record in office can best be characterized as undistinguished.
Though Cupertino’s council, especially Chang, mortifies many city leaders, few are willing to take on the challenge or expense of educating the public. Cupertino, like Palo Alto, is a polite town and the idea of engaging in a political brawl is reserved only in times where Apple's interests are at stake. As a result, the majority of the electorate in Cupertino remains unaware of this council and Chang's repeated displays of uncivil behavior. Chang also has the personal resources to get a benign, positive message out that simply ignores his own record.
Cupertino’s most credible leaders are heavily backing Paul and Savita (the latter emphasizes her first name). But that may not matter if Chang's record remains hidden to the public at large. So long as Apple remains in Cupertino, the status quo can win the day. Thus, term limits may become the public’s best friend for the likes of Chang, who can only serve one more four-year stint.
Sadly, not so long ago it was Cupertino who had the good government moniker with leaders like Dolly Sandoval, Sandy James and the late Don Burnett. During that same time, Santa Clara had a dubious cast of characters, including the former convicted Councilmember Jim Arno. Santa Clara voters became so embarrassed by the antics of their council that they swept in ethics leaders that include former Mayor Judy Nadler, Councilmember Rod Diridon Jr. and the late Councilmember Aldyth Parle. The results of that change speak volumes for how Santa Clara’s government performs today.
One can only hope Cupertino will return to its roots as a good government city. But that won't happen until people like Chang are no longer anywhere near municipal power.