I finished third in the San Jose mayoral primary, so I won't be in the race for mayor in November. But the exhilarating experience of running for the city's top political job taught me quite a bit about where we are as a city, what the possibilities for us are and what kind of leadership the moment requires.
Simply put, the opportunities in front of us are exceptional – more economic growth, more equity, more urban excitement and a cleaner, safer city for us all.
But those opportunities won't just fall from the tree. We need to nurture them and harvest them, and it will take a special kind of leadership to make that happen. To my way of thinking, there are the two interrelated traits a successful mayor of San Jose will have to embody.
The first trait is post-ideological leadership. For years, local media, pundits and fundraisers have characterized our politics as a blood sport between Business and Labor. Haves and Have-nots. West and East. These are false dichotomies that bear little resemblance to reality. These narratives only inflame tensions and division. They don’t help anyone craft workable policy compromises and solutions.
Our next generation of leaders needs to move us to a politics of real inclusiveness – one willing to listen to, take ideas from, and work collaboratively with people from all parts of the political spectrum. Truly inclusive politics will require an independent spirit and a focus on solutions, not sides; on bringing people together, not driving them apart. I believe this kind of independence derives from the experience of creating winning compromises within local government.
Our next mayor must also hold an expansive, inclusive sense of equity. Highly paid single tech workers can buy new homes with all cash offers. In contrast, the average dual-income couple in San Jose has trouble paying the rent, which leaves little ability to save the required $200,000 down payment to purchase a home.
This affordability crisis is chasing away our middle class and pushing our lower-income neighbors into poverty circumstances. The answer to this ongoing debacle is not to create programs that favor one group or another; it's to create programs that work for everyone. We must create an economic ecosystem that drives equity across the whole spectrum of our city.
My experience on City Council has taught me loud and clear that one cannot underestimate the profound value of a politically engaged middle class that trusts its local government. To maintain their trust and engagement, we must deliver not just safety, but the parks, libraries, and amenities that improve their quality of life. While there is no doubt that historically oppressed groups continue to suffer under the legacy of past discrimination, solely focusing on those legitimate concerns only creates more division. We need leaders who sees us all as interconnected and who reach across the aisle as a matter of habit, because bridging divides is what real leaders do.
San Jose is poised to experience its most exciting and prosperous period of growth and change ever, as the Google Village and a flurry of innovative new developments move from dream to reality. But their success is not guaranteed. If we follow our old divisive patterns, we will certainly squander this opportunity. But a leader who prioritizes relationships above ideology, who creates solutions instead sound bites, and who listens rather than demonizes--that's the leader who can lift San Jose into the top tier of cities in the world.
We have had enough of assigning blame, avoiding responsibility, and chasing the news cycle. A new era deserves a new type of leadership that can grab the opportunities of the moment and put the politics of division in our rear view mirror. This new era also deserves vigorous discussions and debate amongst a City Council composed of independent voices. And the people of San Jose should demand it.
Councilmember Dev Davis represents District 6 in San José. Before being elected in 2016, she spent 12 years as an education researcher for Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes. She was a candidate for mayor and came in third in the June mayoral primary.