The November election will either shift the body politic in San Jose toward change or provide a continuation of the status quo. With the problems facing the city, change should be in the air.
Consider the primary results and council members who will remain for at least the next two years: Ash Kalra and Don Rocha are experienced progressive members of the City Council; Rose Herrera, Pierluigi Oliverio and Johnny Khamis have been strong votes for Mayor Chuck Reed—although Oliverio has an independent streak that baffles even some of his supporters.
Kansen Chu is headed for a state Assembly victory, leaving a potentially progressive hole in the mix. Magdalena Carrasco replaces Xavier Campos, who was a reliably progressive vote. Carrasco won’t be a rubber stamp for either side. While she received support from the business community because of their antipathy toward Campos, her natural political leanings and those of her district are progressive.
So the new council members in Districts 1, 3 and 7 will have a major influence on which side has the majority. In District 1, Assemblyman Paul Fong is well positioned to win. He finished first in a crowded primary of mostly progressive candidates. Charles "Chappy" Jones is a Sacramento transplant and has little experience in government. His support, including the endorsement of Mayor Reed, comes as a result of the fact that he is not Paul Fong. It is tough to win on an "I'm the other guy" basis. Fong has the edge, but we shall see.
In District 3, Raul Peralez shocked everyone with his first-place finish. Again, this primary race was full of progressive candidates and held in a progressive district, despite being currently represented by Reed ally Sam Liccardo. Don Gagliardi is the choice of big downtown businesses, but Peralez has the backing of most of the neighborhoods. My money is on Peralez, who as a San Jose cop can speak confidently about the issue of crime. Edge to Peralez.
In District 7, Maya Esparza came in second in the primary. She has experience in government, the backing of the local Democratic Party and seems to be the progressive favorite in the district. Tam Nguyen surprised many people when he came in first, with several other Vietnamese candidates splitting the vote. A patriot in his community, Nguyen’s life's work has been that of an anti-communist advocate. Based on demographics and turnout, he very well could win. But his city agenda is mostly unknown. By the looks of his website, he is staking out a progressive agenda. It will be an interesting race to watch. Edge to Esparza.
If Fong and Peralez win, and assuming both Esparza and Nguyen are truly progressive, there is a strong chance the council will receive a dramatic makeover. If you count Carassco as a progressive, and I do, there will be six solid votes on policy matters and only four disparate individuals in opposition. Without Reed to unite them, they could potentially become even more splintered. You might even get Herrera, who has been known to cross the fence, to begin supporting more progressive policies. And Oliverio will always be that wild card.
Of course, I could be wrong, which would make the district 4 race essential for both sides of San Jose’s current body politic. Suddenly the next mayor, either Dave Cortese or Sam Liccardo, would have much more influence over the future agenda of San Jose. But in a weak-mayor system, the ability to rally six votes determines the direction of the city.
Regardless of who becomes mayor, what divides us is not that significant—in fact, it’s mostly personalities. The real issue in the mayor’s race isn't crime, though it will be the focus of both candidates thanks to polling. No, it is the ability to bring this city together in a shared vision.
There was a time in the not too distant past when mayors Norm Mineta, Tom McEnery, Susan Hammer and Ron Gonzales could govern with consensus. Not since Janet Gray Hayes was mayor and the infamous gang of four ran roughshod over the council has this city been so divided. That group included Larry Pegram, David Runyon, Al Garza and Joe Colla, and their excesses led to a new era of reform politics in San Jose. That era also resulted in district elections, binding arbitration for essential personnel and a positive working relationship between labor and business. The result was a progressive consensus that allowed San Jose to flourish.
It would be nice for that spirit to reemerge in the Capitol of Silicon Valley.