A man holding a microphone
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan has claimed the city faces $60,000 in daily fines per pollutant if homeless people aren't cleared from living along the waterways. But a water board official says potential penalties aren't that high. File photo.

The door for filing to run in the March 2024 primary election closed mid-December, and San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan has just one little-known challenger. His reelection to a four-year term should be a lock, even though his political sway may not be.

That’s because the mayor is only one of 11 votes on the San Jose City Council. The city ditched switching to a “strong mayor”system—which gives the mayor more decision-making power—after former Mayor Sam Liccardo unsuccessfully tried to push a ballot measure during his last two years in office. The San Jose Charter Review Commission knocked down the idea, which makes the five council seats up for grabs even more important than Mahan essentially running unopposed.

Those five seats could result in little change from the last two years with Mahan at the helm—or they could shift the governing strategy. Odds are the council will likely retain five to six pro-labor votes, with one to two swing votes potentially coming from Districts 1 and 4. That leaves an approximate four-seat minority supporting business interests, handing labor a solid majority to shape future policy.

Mahan will need to make concessions on his policies, as was the case this year with his controversial budget plan that would have carved out significant funds intended for affordable housing toward short-term homeless housing.

Could the voters tip that concession balance in favor of business? Perhaps.

Two seats up for grabs—District 8 represented by Domingo Candelas and District 10 represented by Arjun Batra—were filled by appointment last January, a controversial decision that took power out of voters’ hands. Candelas leans toward labor and Batra is pro-business, with both seeking full four-year terms.

Candelas looks like a shoo-in and if Batra loses, challenger George Casey, a city planning commissioner, should keep the pro-business vote intact. The status quo is likely the same.

District 4 incumbent David Cohen is vying for a second four-year term and has been more of a swing vote. He has a good chance of retaining his seat, incumbents usually do. So nothing would shift politically.

Districts 2 and 6 will have fresh faces on the dais as Sergio Jimenez and Dev Davis term out. The balance should stay the same with labor and business respectively, depending on who wins.

San Jose residents should pay attention to all the candidates because the real race to fill these seats and how the city is governed happens in March. Unfortunately, primary elections tend to see lower turnout compared to the general election in November, which skews toward a minority deciding for the majority. Of the candidates running, the top two will move into the November runoff—unless a candidate wins outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote.

The primaries have a greater effect on the city council races than the November elections. If residents are partial to a particular candidate, they should make that choice in March, their preferred candidate may not be there come November.

Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. Contact Moryt at  or follow her at @morytmilo on X, formerly known as Twitter. Catch up on her monthly editorials here.

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