To Run or Not to Run: Examining Dennis Kennedy’s Pledge

A man is only as good as his word, and some South County farmers are putting Dennis Kennedy to the test. Last year the Santa Clara Valley Water District had to name a new board member after Don Gage was elected mayor of Gilroy. Filling his seat proved to be easier said than done, as the board deadlocked in more than a half-dozen votes at 3-3. The top-two candidates—Kennedy, a former engineer and mayor of Morgan Hill, and farmer Ralph Santos—had equal support until Kennedy announced that, if it made the choice easier, he’d agree to only serve out Gage’s term and would not seek re-election. Immediately after that statement, board chair Nai Hsueh changed her vote and Kennedy secured the seat. A little more than a year later, Kennedy changes his mind and ran for re-election. Kennedy says he powwowed with Hsueh and came away with the impression he’s not a flip-flopper. Hsueh, who spoke with Fly, says the main reason she changed her vote is she didn’t want to cede control of the decision to the county Board of Supervisors. “As a chair, I have that personal responsibility to make sure that this board makes a decision and is moving forward,” she says. Once Kennedy, who’s run for just about every elected seat up to state Assembly, broke bread with Hsueh, he decided to make a move to retain his seat. “I would not run if I didn’t think I had her support,” he says. But not everyone is on board. In the last few weeks, Kennedy has reached out to agro-agriculture honchos George Chiala, who has an eponymous farm; Mitch Mariani, who has an eponymous orchard; and he has plans to meet with Joe Aiello, a major player in the farm community. Kennedy admits most farmers consider him more of a city boy, but he’s committed to dealing with water issues as the drought ravages the state. “The more I get into the work that we’re doing I realize this is a good fit for me,” he says.

Send a tip to The Fly

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.


  1. Ralph Santos was also given the chance to vow not to run for re-election too. He said he couldn’t promise not to run. Mr. Santos is an honest man – a farmer.

    I agree with others. Kennedy is not a farmer.

  2. With massive work needed on an emergency basis on Anderson Dam to prevent dam failure in an earthquake, with potentially hundreds of deaths; with 5 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Reports since 2000-2012 focused on continuing management failures to reduce unnecessary costs; and with the present drought which is an imminent threat to the very survival of agriculture in South Santa Clara County and unprecedented rate increases pending due to that drought; we all need Dennis Kennedy as District 1 representative on the Water Board. Your superficial “inside” reporting Is misleading and let us get the facts straight as Mr. Kennedy has spent over 50 years in public service, 12 years as Mayor of Morgan, and has never received a 6 figure salary for that work. Mr. Kennedy has never been accused of any improprieties, such as conflicts of interest in public service. The amount of salary paid to Mr. Kennedy as Mayor of Morgan Hill and as a Member of the Water District Board are and were extremely small. We are lucky to have such a dedicated, knowledgeable and experienced citizen who is willing to serve at all, much less for a salary that is grossly disproportionate to the importance of the position. Of all times; we need Mr. Kennedy as District #1 Director of the Santa Clara County Water Board.

    At this time of actual crisis due to the drought, need to complete the Anderson Dam seismic safety improvements, and continuing efforts for the Water Board to comply with over 12 years of urgent calls to correct management failures at the Water Board by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury; that Mr. Kennedy would change his mind and act contrary to his pledge not to run for reelection, is a blessing for every consumer of water in Santa Clara County. At this time, it is critical that we elect someone who does not require on the job training, Mr. Kennedy is uniquely qualified and experience to do the job.

    Mr. Kennedy has a constitutional right to change his mind and the public: consumers, property owners, farmers and all citizens have a constitutional right to vote for the “best man”. I endorse Dennis Kennedy unequivocally. I believe your article is extremely misleading. You seem to characterize Mr. Kennedy as a typical perennial candidate who runs many times with no chance of success and no relevant experience. That is false and misleading.

    Mr. Kennedy was elected in the first direct election for Morgan Hill Mayor in 1998 and was re-elected and served as Morgan Hill Mayor from 1996-2006 as well as1991-1992. Morgan Hill provides water to thousands of residential customers and hundreds of commercial and agricultural customers. The Morgan Hill Water Department is as efficient as any water company in the County and the State. Mr. Kennedy was the chief elected officer that supervised with the City Council that Water Department for 12 years. As a customer who lives in North Morgan Hill adjacent to farms and other agricultural land uses, I have yet to hear a complaint from neighbors who have farmed their land for generations or any resident about the Water Company.

    As Mayor of Morgan Hill, Mr. Kennedy was also responsible with the City Manager and City Council to supervise over 250 Morgan Hill employees. As a concerned citizen, my opinion is that based upon any metric of performance , Morgan Hill is the most efficient and responsive municipal government. Mr. Kennedy is intimately familiar with the process of raising money for municipal projects by the use of bonds.

    During Mr. Kennedy’s terms as Mayor; Mr. Kennedy was the catalyst in making the millions of dollar needed to update and improve Morgan Hill’s infrastructure. Examples of Kennedy’s wise use of bond financing for. among other projects; the Morgan Hill Aquatic Center; the $5.675-million Morgan Hill Financing Authority Revenue Bond issued in 2006 to finance the Morgan Hill Library, the new police facility as well as the Morgan Hill Civic Center. Please compare the cost of the projects, the real benefit to the public, and the resulting total debt under these bonds with any City, especially Gilroy; whose library and police station alone incurred over $75-million in increased long term debt. Morgan Hill during the period which Mr. Kennedy was Mayor built more vital infrastructure for the City of Morgan Hill for the use of the public at less than half, if not 40% of what Gilroy spent and developed more useful projects than the Library and Police Station. When you realize that the County Water Board may have to incur up to $100-million in infrastructure costs, who do you want analyzing those bonds, that future indebtedness essential to the water supply for all, a rookie, or Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy has a track record of getting vital projects built for less, minimizing property tax bills now and for future generations.

    Mr. Kennedy has, as much as any citizen or elected official, contributed to the success of Morgan Hill and the larger South Valley area.Dennis has lived in Santa Clara County for over 50 years and in Morgan Hill for the last 37 years. He has served in a variety of capacities in public service and community organizations as well as in professional and business organizations. He retired in December 2006, after serving as Mayor of the City of Morgan Hill for nearly twelve years. He was appointed to his first term in 1992. In 1996, he became the first directly-elected Mayor, was re-elected in 1998,2002, and 2004 . For over 50 years. He has served in a variety of capacities in public service, in community organizations as well as in professional and business organizations. Dennis earned his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Santa Clara University and is a registered professional Mechanical Engineer.

    I endorse Mr. Kennedy. He is clearly the best choice for the District # 1 by reason of expertise and experience.
    A famous federal judge by the name of Learned Hand when explaining why he was going to reverse course and over rule a prior case stated “Wisdom so often never comes; that it would be unwise to reject it because it comes too late”.
    Anyone who would vote against Mr. Kennedy solely because he deviated from a promise that the would not run; is entitled to.

    To suggest that Mr. Kennedy is a perennial loser in elective politics who has no relevant accomplishments or experience, or to suggest that somehow that he is dishonest for exercising his constitutional right to run for an office and changing a pledge that is not and cannot be legally binding, is presenting false and misleading information to the public.
    The media have a First Amendment right to publish anything. Under existing law, the media are immune from lawsuits for libel or defamation, when the media report, even demonstrably falsely information about a Public Figure. I am no friend of Mr. Kennedy. We have no business ties. I have met him only on one occasion when he was selling tickets for the Aquatic Center Foundation 4th of July event. But given the completely misleading post and the importance of the election for this position as District 1 Director of the Santa Clara Water Board thank you for allowing me to comment and raise these facts.

    L. Steven Goldblatt
    210 A Ginger Way
    Morgan Hill, CA 95037

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *