Six candidates are competing to become mayor of San Jose—a coveted political position in Silicon Valley that comes with a host of complex problems.
Mayor Sam Liccardo, who was elected in 2014, terms out at the end of the year, and a gaggle of councilmembers and political unknowns are fighting to replace him and lead the largest city in the Bay Area and third largest in California.
The new mayor will face a bevy of hot-button political problems at the start of their term, including the homelessness crisis and the city’s dire lack of affordable housing—Liccardo encountered major obstacles with both issues during his time in office. The new mayor will also be under pressure to improve public safety, streamline permitting for various kinds of homes and businesses, reduce roadway deaths and oversee major economic development in the downtown core.
Here are the six candidates running for San Jose mayor in alphabetical order.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, a Democratic candidate who serves District 2, which covers portions of San Jose and unincorporated parts of the county, is counting on her experience tackling systemic problems to win voters.
Chavez, 58, officially entered the race last September after spending months seeking endorsements and participating in a candidate forum. Chavez has close ties to San Jose, having served on the City Council from 1998 to 2006. In 2009 she took over as head of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, which represents more than 100,000 union members in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. Voters elected her to the Board of Supervisors in 2013.
As a supervisor, Chavez has taken point on several key county initiatives, such as funding affordable housing projects and pushing for the closing of Reid-Hillview Airport over concerns about lead poisoning. Chavez said she’s proud of her work helping San Jose and Santa Clara County offer children under 18 access to health insurance and getting the county to achieve a high vaccination rate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My experience is what sets me apart the most, and I’m an active leader—I engage,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “Those are real accomplishments that impact real people’s lives in our community.”
Like several of her opponents, Chavez believes a multi-faceted approach is necessary to address the thousands of homeless San Jose residents who lack permanent shelter. She believes the most cost-effective approach is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place and rapidly rehousing people who are living on the streets.
She wants to partner with VTA to build more affordable housing around transit areas and make it easier for small businesses to get licenses from the city. She said the city must hire more police officers and mental health clinicians who can handle crisis calls.
Chavez has endorsements from the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, Bloom Energy executive Carl Guardino and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. As of January, Chavez has raised $479,346. San Francisco 49ers football team executives have also endorsed Chavez, and recently put $300,000 into an independent expenditure committee toward her campaign.
“Results matter, and government can work for our community—I know it can,” Chavez said. “I’m running for mayor of San Jose because I believe we can make government work for the city again.”
San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis is laser-focused on protecting single-family neighborhoods from development.
Davis, 44, was first elected in 2016 and reelected in 2020 to represent District 6, which includes several west San Jose neighborhoods, including Willow Glen, Avis-Cherry and Buena Vista. A former Republican who left the party in 2018 and claims to not be politically affiliated with any party, Davis announced her intent to run last April. She worked for 12 years as an education researcher for Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. She also served as chair of San Jose’s Early Care and Education Committee.
In recent months she’s distinguished her campaign by calling for the repeal of SB 9—a state law that eliminated single-family residential zoning—and signed a voter initiative to put this demand on the ballot in November. Davis cast the only council vote against proposals to let non-citizens vote in local elections and require gun owners to carry liability insurance. She was one of the only councilmembers to oppose an ordinance requiring gun owners to pay an annual fee.
Davis also played a role in facilitating conversations between Google and neighborhood representatives as the tech giant planned its major Downtown West campus. She said her proudest achievement was getting funding for automated CPR devices on all city fire engines.
“I am extremely proud to have been the person to lead that effort,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “It saves a lot of lives.”
Davis believes the city needs to use more “tough love” with homeless residents by making it clear people can’t camp near waterways, in parks or on sidewalks if they want to use supportive housing and other services. She wants to add at least 250 more officers to the San Jose Police Department, including traffic enforcement officers and staff to handle community service issues. Davis also believes the city’s planning, building and code enforcement department must be completely revamped to streamline the permitting process.
Davis counts among her endorsers former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and Families & Homes SJ, a group that supports preserving single-family zoning. As of January, she has raised $169,971.
“I have the background, the experience, the knowledge and the willingness to learn to be a good leader of our city,” Davis said.
San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan wants to make the city’s government more accountable to its residents.
Mahan, 39, is a newcomer to the council, voted into office in March 2020 to represent District 10 in South San Jose. Before entering politics, Mahan spent 11 years working at two tech startups to boost civic engagement—Causes and Brigade—where he served in various roles, including as CEO. He also served on the executive board of Silicon Valley Leadership Group and as a commissioner on the San Jose Clean Energy Advisory Commission.
Mahan, who is running a campaign around a “revolution of common sense,” has called out non-city agencies for perceived fiscal waste, including the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Valley Water. As a councilmember, Mahan has urged the city to solve homelessness by building prefabricated modular homes on public land, and pushed to reexamine the county’s pretrial release program to address rising violent crime. Like several other candidates, Mahan opposes SB 9.
“We’re failing to deliver the results we need,” Mahan told San José Spotlight, noting Silicon Valley has abundant information technologies to address various policy issues the city isn’t taking advantage of. “We’re in the most technologically advanced place in the world, but our public sector is operating like it’s a couple decades behind.”
Mahan wants to establish hard goals for the city to meet on some of its biggest issues such as homelessness and public safety—and have raises for top officials tied to performance metrics. He said the city should focus on achievable goals, such as reducing the number of people living on the street by 25%. Mahan added he would lead a multi-agency master plan to identify public land throughout the county on which to build different kinds of housing.
He also believes if the city is providing services, it should crack down on encampments. Mahan wants the city to make it easier to build dense residential housing downtown to address the lack of affordable homes. Mahan also wants to increase the size of the police force.
Mahan has received endorsements from former Federal Election Commission chair Ann Ravel, billionaire real estate developer John Sobrato and the Silicon Valley Biz PAC. As of January, he has raised $504,169.
“I have the experience, energy and fresh perspective required to create a culture of focus and accountability at City Hall,” Mahan said.
San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez is focused on fixing inequities in San Jose.
Peralez, 40, was the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the mayoral election. Peralez was elected to the City Council in 2014 to represent District 3, which covers a large swath of downtown, and reelected in 2018. Before becoming a politician, Peralez worked as a teacher and later as an officer in the San Jose Police Department, where he still serves in the reserves.
As a councilmember, Peralez has pushed for policies to address inequities in San Jose. He’s a vocal proponent of sanctioned homeless encampments. He supports the city adopting a policy known as the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, which would give nonprofits first right to purchase housing property up for sale to protect tenants from displacement.
Peralez claims he has implemented and built more affordable housing than any other candidate in the race, and helped build the first tiny home village and overnight parking in San Jose. Peralez has supported development in the downtown core, and worked with Google and local neighborhood associations to accommodate concerns about the tech company’s plans for a massive campus near Diridon Station.
“The No. 1 priority is addressing homelessness,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “I recognize the next mayor is not going to end homelessness in the city of San Jose, but I am completely committed to reversing the trend we’re on today, and the success of the next mayor is really going to be heavily weighed on how well we address this single crisis.”
Unlike most of his opponents, Peralez supports SB 9. He said he wants to partner with the county and the state on programs to address mental illness and drug addiction. He also wants to hire more police officers and reimagine public safety by engaging in police reform. Peralez plans to provide more resources and staff for the planning department to smooth the application process for developments.
Peralez has been endorsed by several of his colleagues on the City Council, including Sylvia Arenas, Magdalena Carrasco and Sergio Jimenez. As of January, he has raised $267,544.
“As the son of a working class, immigrant family, and as a police officer, teacher and councilmember, my experiences have prepared me to tackle our urgent issues of public safety, homelessness, affordability and mental health,” Peralez said.
Former San Jose Police Department Sgt. Jim Spence is running for mayor on a hard conservative platform.
Spence, 74, served in SJPD for 31 years before retiring in 2001. Since then, he has run a private investigation company and serves on the board of directors of the San Jose Police Amateur Athletic Foundation. He holds a realtor’s license but is not a realtor.
Spence, a registered Republican, has never served in office. He claims he stands out from the other candidates because he’s not one of the elected officials “who have stuttered and basically destroyed our city.”
“Just being able to make a budget and pay my own bills, that’s something that sometimes politicians forget when using taxpayer dollars,” Spence told San José Spotlight.
Spence wants to clear out homeless camps and end the distribution of “free stuff” to unhoused residents. He believes the next mayor should build up the city’s business base to provide better services to residents, and in a similar vein wants to grow the San Jose police and fire departments. He is an opponent of mask mandates and believes COVID-19 public health orders have contributed to the economic turmoil in San Jose’s downtown. He is concerned about Google’s Downtown West campus.
Spence said he has not received any official endorsements from public figures, although he has received support from residents. Spence said he’s loaned himself nearly $10,000 to fund his campaign.
“With my police experience, the experience I’ve had directing my own business, I know how to lead,” Spence said. “And as a leader, I’m willing to say no, I’m willing to stand up and take on hard issues, and I’m also able to admit if I’m wrong and correct a direction.”
San Jose State University student Marshall Woodmansee believes the city’s next mayor needs to see things through a more existential lens.
Woodmansee, 21, is a San Jose resident working on his bachelor’s degree in global studies at SJSU. He has experience working as a field director for state Sen. Dave Cortese’s senate campaign. He also worked on Jake Tonkel’s unsuccessful City Council campaign and as a legislative intern for Assemblymember Ash Kalra. He is the founder of Project Now SJ, an advocacy group he started with a friend, and served for several years in the California YMCA youth in government program.
Woodmansee, who is not registered with a political party, is an advocate of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, local agriculture and developing safer streets. As mayor, Woodmansee said he would prioritize addressing the most urgent demands of his constituents.
“I will focus on the people’s needs, and our needs are so great,” Woodmansee told San José Spotlight. “I’m going to focus on protecting our health, our wellness and most importantly, acknowledge and seriously act on the global need for a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Woodmansee said he would immediately engineer safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists and invest in alternative means of transportation to help people get to schools, hospitals and grocery stores. He also wants to use vacant lots for building farms and sanctioned homeless encampments.
As a formerly unhoused resident, Woodmansee said he’s committed to ending homelessness in San Jose, and he wants to expand the number of drug and alcohol treatment clinics. Woodmansee stands out as the only candidate who wants to reduce funding for the San Jose Police Department, and he believes a portion of the department’s funding should be invested in unarmed community officers.
Woodmansee has not received any official endorsements and said he has raised roughly $700 in campaign contributions.
“People should vote for me because I’m not experienced with the current status quo of political leadership,” Woodmansee said. “Maybe we need a person in office who is solely committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking care of people’s needs, and that’s it—that’s my life.”
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