What Kind of Leadership Does San Jose Need?

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.

San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis, District 6

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.



  1. Dev Davis for Vice Mayor with Cindy at the helm. It’s time for two strong, smart women to govern our city. We’re Silicon Valley. Let’s lead!

  2. Good grief! “…two strong smart women to …” You cannot be serious. We will be bogged down in union giveaways and politically correct thinking ad nausea.

  3. Most residents of San Jose just want to be able to take a walk in the numerous trails and parks in the city without having to step over bums, tents, burned out cars, and human waste. Most residents just want to be able to drive or bike to the store without having their parked car broken into or bicycle stolen. Most San Joseans just want to enjoy the temperate breezes without having smoke from encampment fires billowing through their windows. Everyone should be entitled to comfortably park their cars outside their homes without the threat of the catalytic converter being stolen. The problem is, none of this is occurring. Because of the shiftless politicians that run this city and ignore their constituents, this city has become a festering pustule of blight and crime. Most people just want to be able to live safely and comfortably here, but the politicians we have don’t do ANYTHING to address this. More police and no encampments is the first place to start, not writing an opinion article filled with rhetoric.

  4. Easy to blame policians — considering we voted for them or failed to vote altogether.
    We do get what we deserve. This article addresses the issue of how to achieve solutions to our problems and using blame and partisanship seems to engender more of the same.
    How can we do better? Mahan schemes for power and glory doing zero for district 10 in one term but to serve his own interests and Chavez is beholden to the unions.
    Sigh, neither seems like the best choice imo.

  5. My vote will be for Matt Mahan. He has done a great job as our district 10 council person and is a fresh new face in our local politics, with proven skills to run the city.
    Enough of the same old same old that Cindy Chavez would continue with. She has had her chance to improve the city with numerous government positions. A lot of nothing accomplished for the general populace.

  6. Historically, San Jose has been run behind closed doors, not by those elected. As a result, we have billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, financial promises made to employees, based upon future revenues, placing a financial burden on San Jose amounting to 22-26% of each years budget. (based on data 8 years ago). Too little has been done to correct this problem. The results will continue to, drive police and fire into early retirements; which only compounds the problem.
    The short answer is San Jose desperately needs true/real accountability to prosper and resolve the myriad of existing problems. Mostly, an overall employment plan that motivates police and fire to stay working here longer, and not looking for early retirement . This will never happen by choosing politically popular career candidates already vested in the current failed system.
    A vote for Matt Mahan may bring accountability, that will allow SJ to fiscally deal with the problems currently facing our City and not continuing to “kick the can”.

  7. Ms. Davis’ opinion certainly causes pause, but it is more words we have all heard. We need action and we need accountability. Her words are politics as usual without an outright endorsement so that she does not upset those who so strongly believe one way or the other. Not surprising. The good news is that it reads like an endorsement of Matt Mahan and it’s refreshing to believe that at least there will be new ideas supported as she continues her time on the council. I would remind readers that the health and human services within this county are the primary function of the County Supervisors, not the City Councils and Mayors within it. Candidate Chavez has been in public office for over over 20 years (SJ City Council and currently County Supervisor) and has been the Chair of the Board of the County Supervisors for the past several years – while our homelessness has increased, safety as deteriorated, and wasteful public spending has grown exponentially. One major example of what we can expect more of if she were elected: the $76M in ‘hero’ bonuses paid to county employees for doing their job during Covid – a job they at least had. Could that money have been spent better – maybe improving health and human service issues for the general public they are supposed to serve? Matt Mahan says it could have been spent much better – serving the needs of the homeless, or providing for children’s health, or helping the mentally ill through struggles few of will ever understand. Having said that, it was unanimous, or near unanimous, to spend this wastefully so all the current Supervisors should be held accountable for that poor decision when the time comes. That’s not to take away from all those on the true front lines of services in the county during very difficult times – but this bonus was not right.
    All in all, I will vote for Matt Mahan, but I remain hopeful to whomever is elected our next Mayor, and to all those whom are ‘elected’ to public service, that they may grow wiser to the issues before us and ahead of us, and our children, and our children’s children. That they will think about the decisions they make now as if they will still have an impact 50, or even 100, years from now.

  8. The primary narrowed it down to 2 choices and there are more cons for both candidates than pros.
    Matt Mahan is the obvious choice, unless you are just the normal uninformed vote on name recognition or perceived identity grouping.

    How can Cindy Chavez profess on her website:
    “Cindy Chavez is the Change San Jose Needs”
    when for over 2 decades (since 1998) she has had her hands in the decline of San Jose and Santa Clara County?
    What is her definition of “Change”?
    electing to same ol’ same ol’, over and over again?

    After over 20+ years it is time to ‘Term-Out’ Cindy Chavez!

  9. Not endorsing is not an option, Dev, is my position going forward in supporting you in the future. We need leadership, which I believe you possess.

    We also need statesmanship, which requires willingness to stand up for your core principles and declare allegiance to who can best resolve the needs of the constituency you represent.

    Clearly Chavez has been part of the problem, because she has helped guide that constituency to where its at, ever since staffing the Bay Area Labor Council so many years ago. That organization has been a constant in the division….She is its mother, Amy Dean its Grandmother….Her time needs to end, and new blood needs to flow. Thats Mahan, (or darn near anyone else).

  10. These comments are so disappointing though not surprising. They are exactly opposite what I believe you were trying to convey, council member. Thank you for attempting to create space for inclusive dialogue and collaboration, the kind of leadership we need for the future. I think both candidates have their qualities but one has demonstrated a command of the actual issues and that she can work with anyone to achieve results. None of these issues are easy to solve; making them sound like they are is appealing but will only yield even more frustration. I hope San Jose voters will reject the simplistic and sexist smears on Cindy Chavez who is clearly the more competent and capable candidate to lead our city.

  11. Not sure the point of Dev’s piece. But I am sure that Cindy has the decades of government experience that our next Mayor should have. Mahan wants to be “Man in Charge” but barely knows where the City Hall bathrooms are. He has ZERO track record of government success and just wants to “be somebody.” His own campaign website talks about press releases and memos he has written – not actual outcomes that benefit us. Cindy has built affordable housing, community centers, and vaccination sites, among other results. Experience matters.

  12. Dev’s point is that Dev’s opinion is that Dev or anyone in her image would be the best mayor. I think we can all agree that that is her opinion.

  13. Cindy has had her chance, and no one likes where that got us. So why would anyone vote for her?

    Mahan is really the only option.

  14. “ But I am sure that Cindy has the decades of government experience that our next Mayor should have. Mahan wants to be “Man in Charge” but barely knows where the City Hall bathrooms are. He has ZERO track record of government success and just wants to “be somebody.” His own campaign website talks about press releases and memos he has written – not actual outcomes that benefit us. Cindy has built affordable housing, community centers, and vaccination sites, among other results. Experience matters.”

    We could not agree more! In fact, not one Council member has endorsed Mahan. That tells you a lot.

    We will be voting Chavez for the exact reasons you have stated.


  15. I am not sure what Dev is trying to say that hasn’t been said before by other politicians. Vote for Matt because our council doesn’t support him and in my mind that means he is different which is a good thing. We need a new generation of politicians.

  16. Some say that “EXPERIENCE MATTERS” –
    but if it is 20 or more years of bad and worsening experience then your vote is for CHANGE and not the same special interest politician that has given the taxpayers and residents a BAD EXPERIENCE since her initial foray, in 1998, into San Jose and Santa Clara County elected office.

    Even a child knows if you burn your hand on the stove to not touch it again for the same Experience.

    Time to Term-Limit Out Cindy Chavez,
    and elect someone new. And that is Matt Mahan.

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