Three Santa Clara County politicos lead a double life as policy advisors and researchers by day and elected officials at night.
Omar Din, J.R. Fruen and Lucas Ramirez help San Jose councilmembers research and implement policy, while also governing in the cities where they live. Din serves as Sunnyvale vice mayor, Fruen as a Cupertino councilmember and Ramirez as a Mountain View councilmember. These officials believe their day jobs at San Jose City Hall aid their leadership roles in their hometowns by giving them a deeper lens into how policy decisions can affect their cities.
Growing up in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Din felt a strong pull toward politics and defending the rights of Muslim Americans and other minorities.
“Coming from that identity, you’re almost involuntarily politicized,” Din said, as he recalls going with his family to protest against the Iraq War and waking up early on weekends to create signs with his sisters.
Though Din just started as a council policy aide for San Jose Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei this year, he’s gleaned a deeper understanding for what an elected official needs to know before voting on the issues. Din is able to study topics in depth and provide relevant information to Kamei, a different approach than the way he works as an elected official in Sunnyvale, he said.
“If you want to implement a better policy, you need that depth of understanding that comes with seeing how bureaucracy functions,” Din told San José Spotlight.
Fruen also works for Kamei as a policy and legislative director. He became acquainted with her as the policy director for Cupertino for All, a pro-housing advocacy group. Kamei sought an endorsement from the organization in her District 1 City Council race.
The Cupertino councilmember said he became interested in politics after seeing the public backlash toward a mixed-use project that was proposed to replace the now-defunct Vallco Shopping Mall in 2006.
“To watch it become an empty shell was a sad experience, and it was already very bad in 2006. So it seemed like this was something that we should want to see happen,” Fruen told San José Spotlight. “I was proven horrifically wrong.”
Fruen previously ran a private practice as a trademark prosecutor, but wound down his business as he focused on his run for Cupertino City Council. Soon, he needed a new full-time job. He heard that Kamei was looking for policy staff, and since Fruen was already familiar with San Jose issues, he thought he’d be a good fit and applied.
“It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship in terms of cross-pollination of ideas and experiences,” Fruen said.
Ramirez works for San Jose Councilmember Sergio Jimenez as a policy and legislative analyst. The Mountain View councilmember and former mayor said it’s challenging to keep on top of work in his dual roles, but thinks the experience provides him with an advantage.
“I’m doing work here that has relevance to the work I’m doing in the city of Mountain View,” Ramirez told San José Spotlight. “It’s demanding, there’s a lot of work outside of business hours… but personally I’ve found it very helpful.”
Ramirez didn’t have any immediate job prospects after graduating college with a music degree. But he volunteered with local political campaigns in the hopes that he could connect to a full-time job.
The political world in Santa Clara County is small, Ramirez said, partly because the cost of living is so high. Those who may be motivated to try to solve some of the region’s problems simply don’t have the means to stay around long enough to make a career of it.
“They don’t have the ability to start a family here, or purchase a home,” he said. “So they end up leaving the community, unfortunately.”
Jimenez said he chose Ramirez as his staffer back in 2017 because of his intelligence, in-depth policy knowledge and work ethic. Though Jimenez hired Ramirez before he became a Mountain View councilmember, he said there are benefits to having another elected official on his staff.
“When he wanted to run for council for Mountain View, I was extremely excited,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “When we’re approaching a particular problem, and we’re trying to figure out how to solve it, I’ll often inquire with him, ‘Hey what are you guys doing in Mountain View?'”
Din said he finds it hard to imagine working in a career outside of politics.
“If I didn’t get to make peoples’ lives better, I would not have any purpose anymore,” Din said. “I’m so glad and grateful that I get this opportunity through Sunnyvale and San Jose to impact so many people.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: A past version of this story identified Lucas Ramirez as still being mayor of Mountain View and Omar Din has been appointed vice mayor in Sunnyvale.
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