Councilmember Dev Davis races ahead of Jake Tonkel in San Jose council race
Councilmember Dev Davis and her husband Chris patiently wait for election results to come in. Photo courtesy of Dev Davis.

San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis faced the biggest re-election challenge of her career — but she appears to be headed to back to City Hall for another four years.

With 100% precincts reporting by 5 p.m. Nov. 5, Davis held the lead with 53.9% of the vote. Tonkel has 46.1% of the vote. There is 2,441 votes between them with 67% of the total ballots counted.

Davis spent a quiet election night with her family watching the results trickle in. “I’m hopeful that these results hold as every ballot gets counted, and I’m grateful for everyone who voted,” Davis told San José Spotlight.

Though Tonkel is trailing behind, he said he remains optimistic. He spent election night eating pizza with friends at a small masked gathering in his backyard.

“I’m extremely proud of all the work we put in, it’s probably not a secret to most people, but running against incumbents in the city of San Jose is historically very challenging,” Tonkel said. “Me and the team put every last ounce into this so we’re excited how things will move from here knowing how much work we put in.”

This morning, Tonkel tweeted the remainder of the race would be an “uphill climb.”

“Obviously the results haven’t moved much but at the end of it all I am so proud of my team for everything they put into this campaign and humbled by all the community support,” Tonkel told San José Spotlight Nov. 3. “Who knows how things would have turned out if the Silicon Valley Organizations, San Jose Police Officers Association and other organizations had run a clean and honest campaign?”

Tonkel said ultimately, his team highlighted the “broken nature of politics in San Jose.” He pledged to keep fighting for a better system.

The race between progressive biomedical engineer Jake Tonkel and conservative incumbent Councilmember Dev Davis has been a battleground for conversations on affordable housing, police reform and the influence of corporate and developer funds in local politics.

District 6 encompasses Willow Glen, Shasta Hanchett, the Rose Garden and the Alameda.

Davis and Tonkel both said addressing the city’s housing crisis is a top priority, but on the campaign trail one issue divided the two candidates — opportunity housing.

That proposal would allow developers to build up to four homes on a single parcel in neighborhoods limited to single-family homes. Tonkel supports it as a way to increase the city’s housing stock and address its affordability crisis. Opponents used that as fodder for attack ads, claiming he wants to end single-family zoning. The mailers were widely condemned by housing advocates.

Davis said she does not support opportunity housing because she wants to preserve and protect single-family homes in San Jose neighborhoods.

She is also in favor of building new homes for working class families and homeless residents. On the City Council, she has backed efforts to create accessory dwelling units, tiny homes and mixed-use urban villages. Her efforts to secure housing for San Jose’s homeless residents won her praise at a Project Homekey news conference from Gov. Gavin Newsom and longtime ally, Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Tonkel has criticized Davis and the council majority, which includes Liccardo, for favoring big developers and not doing enough to create housing for low-income individuals. Currently 94% of residential land in San Jose is zoned for single-family homes and only 6% is for multi-family homes.

Tonkel and his supporters wait for election results at a small gathering on Nov. 3.

As of Oct. 26, special interest groups in Silicon Valley spent $836,247 to ensure the success or defeat of the two candidates. The California Apartment Association, The Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) and California Real Estate expenditure committee spent upwards of $200,000 opposing Tonkel.

South Bay Labor Council, on the other hand, donated $77,000 to get Tonkel in office.

Days before Election Day, The SVO posted a racist image on its website in an attack on Tonkel. The ad pictured a photo of Black men surrounded by tear gas in South Africa and the caption read, “Do you really want to sign on to this?” referring to Tonkel’s goals for reforming the police department.

The issue led to The SVO’s PAC, one of Davis’ biggest supporters, dissolving in the crucial lead up to the election. CEO Matt Mahood resigned after being placed on administrative leave. Advocacy groups, including the NAACP, told San José Spotlight The SVO’s attack on Tonkel fanned the flames of Trumpism and promoted fear of low-income families. They also said the SVO has a history of targeting people of color, including current city council members.

On Oct. 27, Davis rebuked the SVO and donated $1,200 in SVO campaign contributions she received to NAACP.

The candidates also differ on police reform in San Jose. Davis takes pride in the fact that 300 new officers were hired during her time in office and has called for a greater police presence in San Jose— a somewhat controversial opinion at the height of the BLM movement amid calls for defunding the police.

Tonkel, on the other hand, has called for reallocating some police funding to mental health and social services.

That position led to the San Jose Police Officers Association spending $231,939 on anti-Tonkel ads.

Despite claims that he wanted to cut police budgets by 80%, Tonkel said he never wanted to slash police funding, but does want the city to investigate areas where professionals may be used to diffuse situations more effectively than officers. He cited schools as one example.

Davis has acquired hefty longtime support from business organizations, including SJPOA, who spent more than $200,000 to promote her reelection.

Tonkel said the situation with The SVO highlights how big spending in local elections can be dangerous for public trust— something his campaign has been trying to draw attention to since the March primary.

Davis won by more than 5,000 votes in the March primary. If Tonkel unseats Davis, his win would shift the 6-5 majority on the council, which favors Liccardo and his business-friendly allies.

To date, Davis has raised a total of $174,472 for her campaign while Tonkel has raised $147,671.

Tonkel is endorsed by the San Jose Teachers Association, California Nurses Association, San Jose Firefighters Local 230, Bay Area Rising Action, South Bay YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America, Santa Clara County Single Payer Health Care Coalition and the Green Party of Santa Clara County.

Davis is endorsed by BAYMEC, League of Conservation Voters, Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, three former District 6 councilmembers — Nancy Ianni, Frank Fiscalini and Pierluigi Oliverio — former Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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