One day after San José Spotlight reported a developer funneling money through the Santa Clara police union to elect allies of Mayor Lisa Gillmor, her archnemesis — the San Francisco 49ers — threw in six figures to defeat them.
The 49ers on Sept. 30 dropped $250,000 into a committee called Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, which is sponsored by the NFL team and its CEO Jed York.
The committee is supporting Harbir Bhatia in District 1, Kevin Park in District 4, Suds Jain in District 5 and Anthony Becker in District 6.
Each of those candidates face opponents supported by Gillmor and criticized by groups such as the NAACP for being an all-white slate.
Bhatia is attempting to unseat Councilmember Kathy Watanabe while Park is challenging Councilmember Teresa O’Neill. Jain is going against Bob O’Keefe and Becker faces Robert Mezzetti and Gary Barve.
The 49ers established the committee Sept. 18 and made a contribution of $51,500 days later. The committee’s officers are ex-Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers, former Councilmember Patricia Mahan and former Congressman Mike Honda.
The hefty donation is the latest salvo in nearly a decade of high-stakes battles between Santa Clara City Hall and the team. After campaigning for Measure J, which brought Levi’s Stadium to Santa Clara, Gillmor reversed course and began accusing the franchise of taking advantage of residents.
The two sides sparred over the team’s rent for Levi’s Stadium, its curfew for weeknight events or concerts and its ability to manage stadium operations, including hiring vendors.
On the political stage, they fought over holding district elections to ensure more diverse representation on the City Council, which is currently dominated by allies of Gillmor.
After being sued in 2017 for its at-large voting system, Santa Clara was ordered by a judge to split into six districts. Gillmor and her allies in March pushed Measure C, which would have halved the number of districts to three.
Critics, including the 49ers, said the measure attempted to disenfranchise minorities and hold the power for Gillmor. They also said it would expose Santa Clara to more litigation.
The only person of color on the council, Councilmember Raj Chahal, was elected after the city was forced to split into districts.
Gillmor could not immediately be reached for comment.
49ers spokesman Rahul Chandhok said the mayor is stripping minorities of equal representation and ignoring court orders.
“Our civic duty is to take steps towards equity and equality by supporting those who defend voting rights,” he said, adding that former Congressman Honda urged the 49ers to get involved.
Chandhok also said the San José Spotlight report about a developer — The Related Company — funneling $25,000 to the police union PAC made it necessary to “make our support swift, open, and transparent.”
“The Honorable Mike Honda requested our support in bringing fair, balanced and diverse representation to Santa Clara, and to ensure we continue to protect the civil and voting rights of all Santa Clarans,” Chandhok said. “We are proud to answer his call.”