The fight for the Santa Clara County Supervisor District 1 seat is bound to be one of the most competitive races this election season.
Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who has held the seat since 2010, terms out at the end of the year—and five candidates are vying to replace him.
The newly drawn District 1 boundaries have been extended to include several San Jose neighborhoods such as Evergreen and Silver Creek. The district no longer has the conservative stronghold areas of Almaden Valley and Los Gatos in its borders. Local politicos see this as an opportunity for progressive candidates to take control of a seat held by conservative lawmakers since 1997.
The new boundaries, adopted through a redistricting process, disqualified some candidates and opened doors for others. At least one candidate moved to remain in the race. District 1 still encompasses Coyote Valley and the cities of Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy.
The redrawn region also shifts the voting power to San Jose—two out of every three district residents live in the city.
Here are the five candidates running for District 1 in alphabetical order.
San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, a Democrat candidate serving in District 8, wants to continue her work championing families, children and communities of color at the county level.
Arenas, 49, jumped into the race after the county redistricting process shifted the Evergreen area into District 1. Arenas has respresented the area since 2016. She served on the Evergreen Elementary School District board of trustees prior to her time at City Hall.
As councilmember, Arenas has spearheaded a myriad of social services and policies including San Jose’s Family Friendly Initiative. The program helps increase access to early education, after school programs, safe housing and paid family leave. Arenas also touts her work in reforming the city’s response to rising rates of sexual assaults and improving public safety.
“I have been a tireless champion for the needs of children, families and those underserved,” Arenas told San José Spotlight. “I want to ensure that working families have the opportunity to succeed in Silicon Valley.”
Arenas wants more safety net systems for young children and families by establishing universal pre-K programs and creating a county office dedicated to family policies. She wants to create more government job programs and fight wage theft to protect workers. She also calls for more mental health programs and housing-focused solutions to address homelessness.
Arenas has secured support from San Jose Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza, Raul Peralez and former Assemblymember Kansen Chu. Arenas has a dual endorsement for the seat from the South Bay Council Labor with education leader Claudia Rossi. She has not reported any campaign contributions since January.
“As a first generation Mexican American woman, fighting for underserved individuals and families is at the absolute core of my values,” Arenas said. “I have never been afraid to put up a fight.”
Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine, 58, wants to address pressing South County issues.
Constantine, a Democrat, has served on the Morgan Hill City Council since 2010 and as mayor since 2018. He was also a firefighter with the San Jose Fire Department and volunteered with the search and rescue unit of the United States Air Force Civil Air Patrol. Constantine has also served on the Santa Clara Valley Water Commission, Santa Clara Habitat Conservation Agency and VTA board.
Constantine plans to expand on the collaborative work between the county and cities in the South Bay to address priorities such as protecting open space, expanding health care access, building more affordable housing, conserving water and increasing fire prevention.
“The 15 cities in the county and the county itself have all the same concerns,” Constantine told San José Spotlight. “We should be pooling our resources together and working together similarly to how we did during COVID.”
As mayor, Constantine increased the number of affordable homes in Morgan Hill. The city now has more affordable housing per capita than any other city in Northern California, Constantine said.
Constantine has spent years advocating for more investment in recycling water to address the ongoing drought crisis. He also wants to expand safety nets in health care.
The District 1 candidate has the support of Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and former Congressman Mike Honda. Constantine raised roughly $61,000 in 2021, according to his campaign fillings.
“Twenty-four years and 10 months as a firefighter has given me insight on the how the health care systems works and the empathy for people and their plight,” Constantine said. “I treat everybody—like all my firefighter brothers and sisters do—as if they’re the most important person in the world.”
Denelle Fedor, a district resident with a long history of being a political staffer, is the only Republican candidate in the race.
Fedor, 52, works as a case manager at San Jose nonprofit LifeSTEPS, which provides affordable and supportive housing assistance. She also volunteered as a rape crisis counselor. Over the last two decades, Fedor has served as chief of staff for former San Jose Councilmember and current Planning Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio, and as an aide to former Councilmembers Pat Dando, Ken Yeager and Johnny Khamis.
Fedor wants to prioritize solutions to homelessness, mental health programs, public safety, transportation and farmland preservation. She supports building a new jail that includes mental health services and opposes early release. Fedor supports CARE court, an initiative proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow county courts to mandate a 12-month personalized plan for the unhoused population, and wants to repurpose the old City Hall on North First Street for more mental health services.
She proposes a routine audit of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and setting term limits for the sheriff position.
Fedor also wants to see more assistance to farmers, ranchers and winemakers in South County. She supports an overhaul of the VTA board to include members with transportation experience.
“I’m the only Republican and I bring a fiscal accountability voice,” Fedor told San José Spotlight. “I’ve also been called a budget hawk because of my attention to detail regarding finances.”
As a latecomer in the race, Fedor has not reported any contributions to her campaign. She has the support of East Side Union High School District Trustee Van Le and Evergreen Elementary School District Trustee Jim Zito.
“I have 15 years of experience working in a political environment for the third largest city in California,” Fedor said. “I had to work with people who may not agree with the issues I was bringing up on behalf of my elected person, but I was able to move things through.”
Former San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, 53, wants to bring new ideas to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Khamis termed out of his council seat in 2020, where he touted a record of accountability and fiscal responsibility. His priorities as a supervisor include addressing homelessness, crime and budgetary issues.
“We need to delve into the real statistics and the root causes of some of the problems,” Khamis told San José Spotlight. “We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
To address homelessness, Khamis wants to expand mental health and substance use programs, such as the court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment program Laura’s Law, build more rehabilitation facilities, send unhoused individuals from out of state back to their hometowns and require incarcerated people to take job trainings to qualify for early release. Khamis also supports building the new jail and wants to restore funding to the sheriff’s office.
Khamis also wants to see more oversight and scrutiny in how Santa Clara County spends its budget, especially with contracts for homeless services and mental health programs.
Khamis, who spoke out against the county’s new political boundaries last year and threatened to sue as the new map disqualified him for the race, had to move to continue campaigning. He currently works as a consultant for Benefit Experts.
One of the more conservative candidates in the race, Khamis raised nearly $200,000 in 2021, according to his campaign filings. He’s not affiliated with a party. Khamis has gained the support of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, former Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, the Taxpayers Association of Silicon Valley and a number of police chiefs in the district.
“I have a long list of law enforcement support that I’m very proud of,” Khamis said. “They know that I’m trying to work on new ideas.”
Longtime South Bay education leader and practitioner nurse Claudia Rossi hopes to bring progressive views to District 1.
Rossi, 54, is a lifelong Democrat with plans to address equity and increase safety nets in the South Bay. She has served as a trustee on the Santa Clara County Board of Education since 2014.
Rossi wants to invest in more health care prevention measures to prevent families and residents from falling into homelessness. She also wants to find ways to preserve farmland in South County.
“No other candidate in this race is as well-versed in the intricate systems of the county as I am,” Rossi told San José Spotlight. “I’m someone who’s ready to serve on day one because I’ve been serving at that level for almost a decade.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rossi joined 19 other education leaders across the county in signing a letter sharply criticizing Liccardo for politicizing school reopenings before vaccines were fully distributed. She also helped bring mental health services to school sites during her tenure as a trustee.
Rossi said early prevention measures of chronic diseases will keep the population healthy and save the county money in the long run. She also wants to see more scholarships and apprenticeship programs for young people—especially for youth of color—to help them stay in the area. To address climate change, Rossi wants to increase incentives to preserve land for agriculture.
She has scored endorsements from Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Otto Lee, former Supervisor now state Sen. Dave Cortese and former state Sen. Jim Beall. Rossi raised roughly $76,000 in 2021, according to her latest campaign fillings.
“The endorsements of those that have served with distinction on the county board are the most telling because they know what candidate understands the actual work of a county supervisor,” Rossi said.
The primary is set for June 7. Hear from the Santa Clara County Supervisor District 1 candidates during San José Spotlight’s candidate forum on April 13.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
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