After 30 years in Santa Clara County politics, Dave Cortese aims for state Senate
"I have no illusions about what I’m headed into. I’m not planning on taking any vacations,” says Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese regarding his bid for state Senate. Photo courtesy of Dave Cortese.

California politics is in Dave Cortese’s blood.

His maternal grandfather was a Santa Clara councilman. His father was Santa Clara County supervisor and a state assemblyman. For nearly 30 years he’s been serving as an elected official in San Jose.

Now he’s hoping to put that experience to work as a senator representing California’s 15th district.

Dave Cortese

Cortese got his start as a trustee on the city’s East Side Union High School board in 1992. He was elected to the San Jose City Council in 2000 and made his first run for mayor in 2006. He was elected to the county Board of Supervisors in 2008 and made a second run for mayor in 2014, narrowly losing to Sam Liccardo by a little more than 2,700 votes.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Bay Area two weeks after the March 3 primary, Cortese told San José Spotlight his focus shifted to protecting public health, then to economic recovery.

At first, “trying to save lives, protect people and be of assistance to the public health department was all consuming,” Cortese said.

Since March 17, when public health officials issued the first shelter-in-place order, the supervisor says he’s spent 90 percent of his time on coronavirus response efforts.

Fostering an economic recovery

Seven months after the first public health order — with the city, county and state all forecasting continued budget deficits due to COVID-19 — Cortese says he’s also thinking about finances and how government can give the economy a jolt.

“I don’t know if the public has fully realized yet, but our governments haven’t yet felt the financial impact of the pandemic,” Cortese said. “The state is not going to be in a position to raise taxes, we’ll need to use capital investment.”

Simply put, Cortese said, the state and local governments will have to borrow money to continue providing services and foster an economic recovery. That’s going to require a lot of effort on the part of legislators in Sacramento, he said.

“We’re going to have to buckle down,” Cortese said. “I have no illusions about what I’m headed into. I’m not planning on taking any vacations.”

Limiting the spread of the virus, reopening businesses and finding ways to help people who are hurting financially because of the pandemic are all part of the job as Cortese sees it.

“My job as an elected official is to get people feeling good again,” Cortese said. “Whatever we need to do to right the ship and give people confidence that we’re going to be able to recover.”

Justice and police reform

Cortese said this spring’s protests against police brutality have resurfaced the issue of justice reform in the public arena.

He touted his record spearheading a push for a juvenile justice reform program in Santa Clara County that diverted children from the penal system and reduced recidivism.

“The social unrest after George Floyd’s murder have brought the issue of justice reform to the surface again, but it has always been there, and it has always been a priority for me,” Cortese said.

If elected as a senator, Cortese says he will continue to find ways to put fewer people behind bars and change how society views public safety by “redirecting funding for mental health crisis intervention outside of law enforcement.”

‘His work speaks for itself’

In the March primary, Cortese finished first in a seven-way race to replace termed-out Jim Beall in the state Senate.

Beall, who is retiring after 40 in Silicon Valley politics, including 14 years in the legislature working on issues including housing, transportation and mental health, has endorsed Cortese.

“He’ll carry the torch for me on those issues,” Beall told San José Spotlight.

Citing his record on the school board, Beall said Cortese won’t shy away from “uncomfortable subjects that require our attention” including social justice and institutional racism.

“He’s not a guy who goes out and gives extravagant speeches,” Beall added, praising Cortese’s work ethic. “Public service requires real work. He works at it and his work speaks for itself.”

According to campaign finance reports, Cortese has raised $922,307 and spent $1,009,241 this year until Sept. 19.

On Election Day he’s facing off against Ann Ravel, an attorney, former Santa Clara County counsel and Obama administration Federal Election Commission member.

IN HIS OWN WORDS

“What’s the most important lesson you learned in 2020 and how has it prepared you for this role?”

AT A GLANCE

Name: Dave Cortese
Age: 64
Family: Married, 4 kids
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: BS Political Science UC Davis, JD Lincoln Law School San Jose
Profession: Businessman, attorney, elected official
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: ESUHSD School Board Member, San Jose City Council Member, San Jose Vice Mayor, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Silicon Valley Clean Energy Director, BART Regional Connector Board, Committee for Housing the Bay Area, Veterans Affairs Liaison (partial list)
Top 3 priorities: Housing/homelessness, public safety/justice reform, climate restoration
Top 3 endorsements: California Democratic Party, Dolores Huerta, Senator Jim Beall
Special talent: I was once a championship men’s fast-pitch softball player
In one sentence, why vote for you? “Because I am a tireless fighter for those who need help.”

Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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