The fight for an East San Jose City Council seat is bound to be one of the most contested races this election season, as five candidates compete for voter support.
With District 5 Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco terming out at the end of this year, some longtime community leaders and politicos are running for a chance to represent some of the most vulnerable populations in San Jose. Santa Clara County Board of Education President Peter Ortiz, San Jose Planning Commission Chair Rolando Bonilla, former Assemblymember Nora Campos, Alum Rock Union School District trustee Andres Quintero and small business owner HG “Hanh Giao” Nguyen are all vying for the seat.
District 5 includes the Alum Rock area with Mabury Road outlining its northern boundary and Reid-Hillview Airport to its southern border. During the COVID-19 pandemic, East San Jose was also one of the hardest hit areas in Silicon Valley.
After last year’s redistricting process redrew political boundaries, District 5 in East San Jose is home to more than 100,000 people—with roughly 40.5% of voters being Latino and 38.2% Asian.
Here are the five candidates hoping to better the lives of East San Jose residents—in alphabetical order.
A planning commissioner who has not held elected office, Rolando Bonilla believes the current reality in East San Jose is the result of decisions made by former and current lawmakers—some of whom are also running in this race.
“Where we are today is we’re having to dig ourselves out of the generational neglect from City Council,” Bonilla told San José Spotlight. “We need to fight back to take back our community.”
Bonilla, 44, works for Voler Strategic Advisors. His campaign has raised $90,601 and spent $11,085, according to the latest filing. Bonilla has scored endorsements from Sen. Josh Becker and San Jose Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and David Cohen.
The candidate wants to see more police in the district. He’s calling for a new precinct where officers could participate in youth programs and community policing. Bonilla also wants to prioritize homeless services in the area, including mental health services such as court-ordered psychiatric treatment programs such as Laura’s Law.
Bonilla said the most consequential city policy is the budget. He called out Campos, a former District 5 councilmember and opponent in the current race, and incumbent Carrasco for failing to allocate necessary resources in East San Jose.
“One of my opponents has had almost 20 years in public life,” Bonilla said. “When she talks about what she’s going to do, the question that needs to be asked to her is, ‘why haven’t you done it?'”
As a planning commissioner, Bonilla led the effort to reform the commission to include 11 members and increase diversity. He also boasts to have approved thousands of homes to be built in San Jose. During the pandemic, Bonilla set up a grant program for small businesses in East San Jose—weeks after a near-death experience brought on by COVID-19.
“What you see with me is someone who’s not going to get caught up or being beholden to any group,” Bonilla said. “I’m motivated to change this community because this is where I’m raising my three kids.”
A household political name in East San Jose, Nora Campos is running for her old seat to build on the work she started a decade ago.
Campos, 56, is a public policy advocate. She has raised $46,761 and spent $1,335, campaign filings show. Campos has secured endorsements from South Bay Labor Council and state Sen. Dave Cortese.
Campos represented East San Jose between 2001 to 2010—and was succeeded by her brother Xavier. She then went on to serve as a state assemblymember until 2016. The former lawmaker wants to see more resources for small businesses, more police on East San Jose streets, more housing and more city officials who could help streamline those efforts.
“I’m known to be bold and think outside of the box about what our community needs,” Campos told San José Spotlight. “I served in this capacity to make real changes so that people could feel proud about where they live, and that they could have the services that every other community has.”
During her time on the City Council, San Jose was considered the safest large city, Campos said. She is calling for more firefighters and more investments for housing around transit corridors. As an assemblymember, Campos successfully pushed through a bill that allows for tiny home communities with wraparound services to help address the homeless crisis.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Campos helped advocate and bring COVID-19 testing and a vaccination site to the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Under her leadership as a councilmember, East San Jose gained new libraries, parks, a youth center and a fire station.
“My leadership has a proven track record of getting things done,” Campos said. “One of the most important things that the community has said to me—and that’s one of the reasons why I’m running—is that they want someone that can get things done.”
HG “Hanh Giao” Nguyen
A small business owner and a community leader of many years, HG “Hanh Giao” Nguyen puts families on the East side at the center of her campaign.
“When you have a strong, happy (and) harmonious family, you take care of all of these social issues,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight.
Nguyen, who produces and hosts the popular Vietnamese radio show San Jose Co Gi La, hasn’t reported any fundraising efforts. She has the support of Nguyen Khac Binh, major general of the armed forces of the former Republic of Vietnam, and retired Lt. Col. John Swensson.
Nguyen doesn’t have the same name recognition as other District 5 candidates, but she’s no stranger to East San Jose. She founded the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce of Santa Clara Valley, which helps fill the gap in services and assists small Vietnamese businesses.
Nguyen also worked for San Jose’s redevelopment agency in the 1990s, helping to relocate businesses in downtown to different areas in the city. Former Assemblyman Manny Diaz recruited her as a consultant when he left San Jose City Hall in the early 2000s.
Nguyen said the city already has the necessary programs and services to improve the quality of life in District 5, but current leaders lack commitment and neglect East San Jose. Her top priorities include public safety, homelessness and business revitalization.
During the pandemic and a rash of anti-Asian hate crimes, Nguyen helped Vietnamese businesses recover from vandalism and break-ins, and worked with the San Jose Police Department to prevent such crimes. She has also helped lift some unhoused people in the area off the streets.
“To me, no problem is a big problem when we work together,” she said. “Every single one of us have to go all in.”
Peter Ortiz is the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education. He said addressing the thinly-staffed police department, growing homelessness crisis and the rising cost of housing are his top priorities.
Ortiz, 32, also serves as public policy advisor for the Alum Rock Santa Clara Street Business Association. He’s raised $42,470 and spent $4,859 so far. He has the support of South Bay Labor Council, State Sen. Bob Wieckowski and former State Sen. Jim Beall, among others.
Growing up in East San Jose, Ortiz has a troubled past with gang activities—now the trustee hopes to use his life experience to address the most pressing issues in the area.
“I am born and raised in East San Jose, having grown up in a working-class home, and come from a family that was both impacted by domestic violence and gang activity,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “Luckily, I was able to overcome these barriers thanks to the support of my mother and neighborhood mentors.”
Ortiz said East San Jose has seen an uptick in car break-ins, armed robberies and public drug use. He wants to attract more police officers to the city by undoing Measure B, which he said “gutted pensions and staff benefits.” Measure B, passed by voters in 2012, reduced pension benefits for city workers.
As an education leader, he also wants to address gang activity through people-centered approaches—providing youth programs and opportunities that prevent them from falling into a destructive path.
To address the growing homeless crisis, Ortiz calls for more humane treatment of unhoused residents, advocating for more temporary housing, safe parking programs and mental health and substance services. Ortiz is also the only candidate naming anti-displacement policies such as rent control as his priority.
“I am not someone who was ever supposed to hold elected office or even make it out of the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said. “I am running for City Council as a grassroots community organizer who will be a steadfast advocate for our working people of East San Jose.”
An Alum Rock Union School District trustee for a decade, Andres Quintero is another political heavyweight in the race to represent District 5. He is currently the president of the school board.
Quintero served as San Jose Councilmember Maya Esparza’s chief of staff from 2019 to 2020, and had a stint as chair of the San Jose International Airport Commission. He also sits on the board of the Latino Leadership Alliance, a nonprofit that helps Latino leaders in business, government and education.
Quintero has raised $41,180 and spent $280, according to the latest filing. He has scored endorsements from District Attorney Jeff Rosen, county Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Assemblymember Marc Berman.
His priorities are public safety, improving quality of life and housing. Quintero wants to see more firefighters and police officers, as well as more support for mental health crisis response. He blames current lawmakers for the long wait for emergency calls. He also calls for more services for the unhoused population, but said the city can’t tolerate blight and unsanitary conditions on East San Jose streets.
“When voters look at me, they’re looking at somebody who’s from their community, who’s passionate about rolling up their sleeves and getting work done and bringing solutions to the problems that we’re facing,” Quintero told San José Spotlight.
Quintero touts his record of finding creative ways to solve problems as a school trustee. Alum Rock provided 6.5 million meals to students and families during the early months of the pandemic. As a trustee, he also helped the district navigate a three-year investigation into the district’s contract with a construction company. The board is also exploring options to house its teachers in subsidized housing, Quintero said.
“I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done there,” Quintero said. “It’s really taught me a lot in terms of what the needs are of our community beyond just anecdotally.”
The primary is set for June 7. Hear from the District 5 candidates during San José Spotlight’s candidate forum on April 7.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Perla Rodriguez, spouse of District 5 candidate Rolando Bonilla, sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.
Join San José Spotlight's election reader panel
We’re looking for readers to talk about what they want to see in city government and their next leaders. If you’re interested, email [email protected].