A Tale of Two Polls

The recent poll showing Dave Cortese in first place—and Madison Nguyen in second—for the San Jose mayor’s race must have been a shock to the Sam Liccardo camp. So much so, that Liccardo released his own polling information showing that he was rising and now in second place by one percentage point.

But is Nguyen’s current political strength real or illusory?

The Liccardo camp would have you believe the latest polling is simply a reflection of demographics. Nguyen is a member of the fast-emerging Vietnamese community, she is a woman and the general public has not focused on the mayor’s race yet. Liccardo’s people may be right.

However, Nguyen has political strengths. As vice mayor, she is close to Mayor Chuck Reed, who is still popular despite heavy criticism over pension reform. Nguyen’s consultant, Victor Ajlouny, a Republican, is the same as Reed’s, and that is important to the primary race. Nguyen also has some big name supporters in San Jose, including former President Eisenhower speechwriter and KLIV radio station owner Bob Kieve.

Liccardo’s poll shows just how much Republicans matter, as it included Pat Waite, who never even joined the race. Waite polled at 7 percent, and both Liccardo and Nguyen need those folks.

With Waite and conservative Councilmember Pete Constant out of the race, Republican voters will have to choose from almost entirely Democratic candidates. Republican voters like Reed. In fact, a good friend of mine, a right-wing conservative, recently approached Reed in a restaurant to tell him what a good job he was doing. This is a man who rarely says anything positive about local politicians, but he likes the mayor.

If Nguyen can capture that bloc and hold part of the women’s vote, as well as carry the Asian community, she could manage to beat out Liccardo, who is currently better funded. But she has problems galvanizing votes from women and the Vietnamese community.

Rose Herrera’s candidacy may split off people who would only vote for a woman. And many strong women leaders have already endorsed Cortese, who is ahead in the first polls. Nguyen also has problems with some in the Vietnamese community over the “Little Saigon” fight—an emotional yet unnecessary issue that hurt her standing.

Nguyen has focused on those she can persuade to come back to her side. She refuses to stay mired in old battles, which is a must for any politician who seeks a larger constituency and wants to enhance their electability. In fact, those outside the Vietnamese community who don’t care or understand why it was such a flash point hail Nguyen’s stance as reasonable. And the electorate likes people who will stand up against their own natural constituency when they believe it is the right thing to do.

Finally, the historical significance of electing the first mayor of Vietnamese heritage could be alluring. San Jose was the first big city to elect a Japanese-American (Norm Mineta) and woman (Janet Gray Hayes) as mayor.

So, Liccardo’s camp may be more worried than they let on, and it could explain their willingness to release polling data.

The race for mayor remains wide-open, but out of the gate it looks like a three person race. There are pathways for Herrera and Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, who are currently garnering single-digit support, but it is a tough hill to climb. Either or both could play the role of spoiler, or king/queen maker, if a political deal is offered.

That’s what makes this race so interesting.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. Maybe voters don’t want a mayor who consistently voted to reduce public safety then has magic “plans” to restore it now that he wants to be mayor.

    • Voting to curb public employee pensions is not the same as voting to reduce public safety, if that’s what you’re referring to- and don’t forget, it was 70% of San Jose voters who passed Measure B. It’s also pretty telling that you have no real criticism to offer regarding Liccardo’s public safety reforms, other than calling them “magic”.

      • 70 percent of less than 12 percent who voted. 95,716 votes to be exact. That’s right 95 thousand in a city of 984,000+. Not so remarkable during an off year election when traditionally, only the most conservative, affluent, and retired people vote. And don’t forget, the overwhelming majority of people told Christopher Colombus the world was flat. And lo and behold, look what happened. And for your clarification, this ” voting” to illegally modify pensions (affirmed illegal in court now) was the proximate cause of reducing public safety. As for identifying Liccardo’s magical reforms, no need to look any further than his anemic “proposal” to add 200 officers yet failing to ” propose” or enact any measures to retain the public safety in place now. Not surprising for the silver spoon boy from Saratoga who now claims he grew up in San Jose. More magical plans abound but for the sake a brevity, we can just conclude with the fact that Sam has done nothing to fix his mess other than make proposals and smile for cameras.

        • We live in a democracy, where the public is invited to weigh in on the use of their tax dollars. You are dismissive of what was an overwhelming electoral mandate for pension reform, and in your flat earth remarks you display a doubt in the ability of reasoning citizens to provide direction to government. Yes, it’s true that more fiscally liberal voters would have come to the polls had measure b been up in November, but measure b clearly was popular enough that it would have passed at any time of year.
          Sam Liccardo’s plan to put 200 more police officers was more than a proposal, it was adopted by the city council in a ten to one vote. I have no idea how you can try to spin that into a negative. Putting more police on the street is exactly what San Jose needs.

          • Carthagus..

            You have an opinion and that’s great. Captain Obvious completely invalidated any “factual” basis for your opinion, yet you still argue. Sam Liccardo IS PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PUBLIC SAFETY CRISIS SAN JOSE IS CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING.

            I don’t care what any single poll says right now.. If any of these current council membera are elected, San Jose is in for more trouble.

            Your claim of Measure B simply being an avenue that aimed to “curb public employee pension costs” is ludicrous. Measure B was, and currently is an illegal piece of legislation that was pushed to the ballot in lieu of bargaining. It is completely possible that if Sam, Chuck, Madison, et al did not relinquish majority control of San Jose’s two pension funds over to “people with backgrounds in the financial industry” and they didn’t put the money into hedge funds and “alternative investments”, the two funds would not be recovering so slowly (at the slowest rate of ANY public employee pension fund in the State of California).

            Go read about this issue. Our current city council, with the backing of parasitic investors, played the shell game with public employees pensions. This was a strategic move to fabricate a crisis and it back fired. Everything every union said would happen if Measure B was passed, has, you guessed it, HAPPENED.

      • Please, why do you think they pushed so hard in Jan. of that election year to get it on the June ballot rather than push it back until the Nov election? Duh …..voter turnout? Also, they voted to put it on the ballot even though they knew all the “pension reform” provisions would be deemed illegal advised by their own city’s attorneys. So 70% of a record low voter turnout out voted yes on an illegal ballot measure. How much money has Measure B saved the city to date? How much has it cost the city?

  2. Wow, an entire diatribe from the guy who got the stadium in Santa Clara all on his own minus anybody else. Gee, what insight. 75% what you could find by reading the Mercury News, 24% by looking at it all through common sense, and 1% Robinson blarney.

  3. An Eisenhower speechwriter endorsed Madison Nguyen, but where will the all-important Sam Seaborn endorsement go?

  4. What Sam Liccardo and the Mayor have done is shameful. They have caused a mass resignation of officers aprox 500 since 2007. Once a city with 1400+ officers now less than 800. Why the mass resignations? They cut the pensions salary and workers comp benifits to police and firefighters. San Jose has the worst benifits and retirement in the state. Crime has risen drastically Thanks Sam you have ruined the best dept in the U S

  5. Every member of San Jose city council including the current Mayor have been invovled in lying, cheating and stealing. While Mayor Reed was caught with his hand in the cookie jar to the tune of $30,000 only when it became public did he return the cash to avoid a criminal investigation. There was not a single Peep from anyone on the City council. Reed was caught making illegal campaign donation and he paid the whopping $1 fine for making $100,000 donation to secure his pick for city council stayed in office and voted his way. Reed was caught lying and using made up figures about the pension debt, not a peep from the elected. One council member was caught red handed stealing opposition signs during an election, still not a peep Licardo was caught taking money/Gifts and not reporting it, not a peep. Reed is backed to the tune of $20,000,000 to push his state wide Pension grab. Who gave Reed the money none other than those who brought California the Enron scandal. This is what you will get if you vote for any of the current members of San Jose’s elected. Lying, cheating and stealing. Stop voting for people, sure they talk great and as soon as they are elected they lie, cheat and steal.

  6. Impossible! Sam Liccardo can not be in third place. After all, he should be credited for the brilliance of narrowing busy city streets to make room for hardly used bike lanes. And wasn’t he the one who invented the Internet? He has already reached his level of incompetence. Go away Sam, while you are still ahead.

  7. Really 70% of voters voted for Measure B. Look it up only 9500 or so voters voted for Measure B so go ahead and spin it in your favor! Numbers don’t lie!!

  8. Over in Santa Clara, Dominic Caserta, who left under a cloud, is running for election to the City Council. Can anyone forget the dashing political soldier, who sort of stumbled out of the boat when it hit the beach a few years ago.

  9. We live in a Republic, not a democracy. You will find no mention of democracy in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. The Founding Fathers were wisely skeptical of a democracy.

    • And that means what? There were many things mentioned and not mentioned in these documents, it was over 200 years ago. There is a reason why they have had to amend them 36 times.

  10. Sam lLiccardo is responsible for bringing lightrail to the south bay. Look at the traffic on 85 at dinnertime and you will see what the obvious choice for mayor is. Dave Cortese is a union boy who will undermine the vote we had regarding pension reform

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