Mayor Liccardo Met Challenges of His First Term, Wrestled with Pandemic in His Second

Mayor Sam Liccardo’s final State of the City address was a recap of the accomplishments of his administration and a look forward to the future of San Jose.

I specifically say “the accomplishments of his administration” rather than “his accomplishments” because sprinkled throughout his speech are shout-outs to many city employees whose hard work and leadership enabled those achievements. He clearly wants us to remember that his administration was a team effort.

Some forget that the mayor’s first term began during a very difficult and consequential time for San Jose.

Our city’s finances were in shambles, wrecked by the double whammy of the Great Recession and a sizable, and growing, unfunded pension liability. Employee morale was at a nadir after years of being blamed for the city’s financial woes, core services had been devastated, crime was spiking, the quality of our roads was declining, and the homeless population was increasing. The net result was that quality of life was falling and people were clamoring for change.

Liccardo hit these issues head on during his first term.

He struck a deal with police officers that provided more competitive pay, helping to reverse the exodus of officers from SJPD. Voters approved a measure codifying a pension settlement that ultimately led to a reversal of the inexorable increases in the city’s unfunded pension liability. Another ballot measure provided funding for street repairs and yet another provided revenue to support affordable housing projects. An improved city budget forecast with modest surpluses for the near term is allowing an expansion of library hours, after-school learning programs and tutoring.

Many people, myself included, have faulted Liccardo for putting too many balls in the air instead of focusing on one or two objectives, as his predecessor had done.

In retrospect, his approach was exactly what was needed at the time. Metaphorically speaking, San Jose’s fiscal house was on fire. Focusing efforts on one aspect of that, the kitchen, for instance, would not have helped. San Jose’s situation required myriad simultaneous attacks. “Broken Arrow,” a phrase from the movie We Were Soldiers, springs to mind. All available resources were needed to beat back the problems San Jose faced.

Liccardo did a very good, if somewhat chaotic, job of marshaling them. He successfully halted, or at least significantly slowed, the decay of our city.

Unfortunately, it seems that will be the extent of Sam Liccardo’s legacy, for just as San Jose was poised to move forward to better, broader improvements in our quality of life the pandemic hit.

Under his leadership the city deftly pivoted from a focus on improving core services to doing everything it could to help the community survive the resultant hardships; closed businesses and schools, stay-at-home orders, health mandates that were in a constant state of flux, and the massive fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding the COVID-19 virus. The final two years of his second term were subsumed by fighting the virus. We’ll never know what could have been.

Liccardo gives us a glimpse of that in his State of the City address. He talks of the promise of recycled water to help with our drought-prone region. He cites the growth in jobs and revenues as businesses expand their San Jose presence. He shares coming changes in how we deploy our police, fire and medical resources to better serve the community. There is plenty for San Joseans to look forward to.

Over lunch a while ago, a friend and I pondered whether Sam Liccardo’s mayorship should be looked on as successful or failed.

His take was that it would be seen as a failure: There were too many unresolved issues. We are still not the safest big city in the U.S., many people are unhoused, housing prices are out of the reach of many residents, graffiti is everywhere.

My friend is correct on every account, yet I believe he is wrong about how the future will judge Liccardo as mayor.

Such judgment must be situational. Sam inherited a dire situation. He worked tirelessly throughout the first half of his administration to right the ship. Thanks to those efforts, the next mayor has a much better chance at being viewed as a successful one.

Pat Waite is President of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.


  1. I have a lot of respect for Pat Waite, but I disagree with his assessment of Liccardo’s tenure.

    Our mayor could have exercised leadership opposing the inhumane lockdowns which crushed small businesses, caused countless lost jobs, a mental health crisis, devastated education for a generation, and infringed all of our liberties. Instead he piled on with authoritarian vax and booster mandates of an emergency use authorization (i.e., experimental) gene therapy (mandates that he backtracked from without apology after meeting resistance from the Sharks). The vax and booster mandates involved invidiously discriminatory scapegoating of a discrete minority. The vax and boosters do not prevent the spread of the virus and they are neither fully safe nor effective. They were utterly unjustified and cruel. Governmental mandates, including Liccardo’s, will be seen by history as what they were — crimes against humanity.

    Adding insult to mendacity, Liccardo told us to skip family holiday gatherings while he visited his family in Saratoga. Not merely appalling hypocrisy but a tacit admission by him his fear-mongering was pure theater. He was never afraid of the virus. He merely wanted to virtue signal.

    Liccardo was tested by the pandemic. He failed. Not only as a mayor but as a human being.

  2. Not sorry to see him go. He drove the city into the ground with more pedestrian deaths than homicides, an onslaught of home encampments, unenforceable laws and a general disregard for the public that he allegedly served.

    One of the most expensive place to live in the world and he can’t manage to keep a safe drug free habitat for the next generation? Not sure if anyone remembers but San Jose was one of the safest cities in the US for decades. That was all lost when he was took the reins.

    The next mayor has a low bar to be better than him and giant mess to clean up.

  3. Don, once the County decided to shut things down, it essentially screwed all other leaders. Yes, Sam could have railed against such draconian measures, but to what end?

  4. Pat —

    The County didn’t force Liccardo to coerce cops and bus drivers to become jabbed and boosted or lose their jobs.

    The County didn’t force Liccardo to enlist the Sharks and the Rotary Club as de facto code enforcers of the ban against the unvaxxed and unboosted in City facilities.

    Unlike “all other leaders”, Liccardo didn’t just fail to speak out against Covid authoritarianism, he piled on. Liccardo actively sought out divisive measures to increase misery. Liccardo promoted the booster mandate he proposed as the first of its kind in California (before it was revoked a month after taking effect). Liccardo wanted to position himself as being at the forefront of combatting Covid and did not care whose rights he violated to do so.

    Liccardo knows how immoral his behavior was and wants us to forget it. If Liccardo was proud of his record on Covid authoritarianism he would have said so at his State of the City. Yet he said nothing.

  5. Don’t forget. SLAVERY TOWERS. he presided as the Mayor over the building of units built by ENSLAVED people. There was a man who jumped from the building. Liccardo was reprimanded by the president of the NAACP before the president left town saying this is no place for black people. And of course most of the Native Italians hate him and think he’s an embarrassment. He’s irrelevant now. Just like Ron Gonzales.

  6. Sam Liccardo has proven himself a very capable and competent leader in spite of inheriting a lot of structural problems that were not his fault to begin with. Easily one of California’s powerhouse mayors and a model for what competent, innovative, high-quality governance can be in the Bay Area.

    I am incredibly honored to have his endorsement for Milpitas City Council.

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