After leading supporters in a chant in front of her home near downtown, Supervisor Cindy Chavez announced she’s running for mayor of San Jose.
“Equality has been my North Star. And so many of you here have shown me the way,” Chavez said. “I wanna live in a city of equals. A city where birth place and birthright and birth gender don’t make a difference.”
Chavez confirmed Thursday what had become one of the worst kept secrets in Silicon Valley politics. As Chavez for months sought endorsements and even participated in a candidate forum, insiders speculated the veteran politician was eyeing the city’s top political job — but she avoided questions and dodged reporters.
Now, she’s in the race with a new campaign slog–city of equals.
Chavez joins a handful of others vying to replace Mayor Sam Liccardo after he terms out in 2022: Councilmember Raul Peralez, who was the first to announce in April, and his two council colleagues, Dev Davis and Matt Mahan, who joined the race days ago. Also running is former Congressional candidate Jonathan Royce Esteban–a long-shot in the race.
Chavez has become a household name in South Bay politics and has earned a reputation for calling the shots in the valley’s labor movement.
She was joined Thursday by more than 100 supporters — one of the most notable being former Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino, who often supports candidates from the business faction and those aligned with his close friend, Liccardo.Liccardo has not officially endorsed a candidate but he reportedly encouraged Mahan to run. The mayor’s chief of staff was overheard calling Mahan the city’s next mayor at the councilmember’s campaign launch.
“Cindy combines visionary goals with the attention to detail to bring those goals to reality,” Guardino said, citing accomplishments such as the affordable housing Measure A and the children’s health care initiative. “Cindy steps forward to do the work, then steps back when it’s time to take the bows. She’s selflessly driven by the goal rather than the glory.”
Chavez picked off two labor-friendly supporters from the San Jose City Council: David Cohen and Magdalena Carrasco, though it’s unclear if they’ll also support Peralez.
Assemblymember Evan Low, who said he’s known Chavez for close to 20 years, said she supported the fight against Prop 8, which eliminated the rights of gay people to marry. Low noted that there are no elected representatives in San Jose who are Asian, but he said Chavez has been a strong ally, including amid the uptick of violence against Asians during the pandemic.
“I am deeply committed to Cindy as mayor,” Low said. “During the pandemic, the person who called my phone the most to try to get state resources was none other than Cindy Chavez.”
The longtime politician was first elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2013, and won another 4-year term last year. She also served as the board president.
Chavez has deep ties to labor in San Jose, having previously served as the head of Working Partnerships USA and the South Bay Labor Council—the latter being a critical source of endorsements in the 2022 race. She also served on the San Jose City Council from 1997 to 2007 and as vice mayor from 2005 to 2007. She sits as a member of the VTA Board of Directors, where she has helped oversee assistance to the families of victims of the mass shooting in May.
“I knew Cindy always had our back, and would never be afraid to take charge,” Gilroy Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz said Thursday.
But this isn’t her first shot at running San Jose. Chavez ran for mayor in 2006 and lost to Chuck Reed.
Chavez and Peralez recently squared off in a forum to discuss civic issues in San Jose that the next mayor should prioritize. Both will be competing for labor endorsements and dollars, while Davis and Mahan seek support from business groups.
Chavez for decades has positioned herself as a progressive Democrat.
“I’m deeply committed to Cindy as mayor,” said Assemblyman Evan Low. “But let me just tell you something, it’s been a difficult time for all of us during the pandemic… the person who calls my phone the most to try to get state resources was none other than Cindy Chavez.”
She recently co-authored a memo with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg seeking to improve jail conditions and joined her colleagues in a vote of no confidence in Sheriff Laurie Smith.
One of her signature issues is affordable housing and she championed Measure A, a $950 homelessness bond measure, in 2016. But a recent audit showed the county is woefully behind on getting the projects off the ground — and the funding might not be enough as building costs rise.
Chavez was also a vocal leader in the fight to close Reid-Hillview Airport amid concerns that leaded fuel was poisoning the community.
Chavez told San José Spotlight that she’d like to expand affordable housing options for people living in the city. Even though the city, county and various partners have housed 19,000 people over the past five years, she said progress is hard to appreciate when people are still living on the street.
“One of the opportunities there is really to take a look at how to expand housing for extremely low-income people,” Chavez said. “We have to expand being able to build affordable housing at the lower end of the spectrum.”