San Jose-Evergreen Community College trustee running for council
Omar Torres speaks about the East Side Rescue Plan in June 2021. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

A longtime San Jose politico is throwing his hat into the race to represent the city’s downtown core.

Omar Torres, a San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board trustee, director of the California Democratic Party and Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s former deputy chief of staff for nearly seven years, is running for the District 3 City Council seat.

Torres’ main drive to run is his community, with a goal to ensure all residents, especially those in historically disenfranchised parts of San Jose, are involved and benefit from the growth in the tech capital of the world.

“I come from the Washington neighborhood that has not seen the beauties, and the drive of Silicon Valley trickling into our neighborhood,” Torres told San José Spotlight. “As a councilmember, I’m going to make sure that our underserved, under resourced communities have a pathway to success in Silicon Valley.”

He said his main areas of focus are housing, small business resiliency and job creation. Torres also wants to replace the school to prison pipeline he believes is present in the East Side, with a pipeline that would allow youth to study at local universities, find jobs in the area and buy a house in San Jose.

District 3 is unique because its representative must balance the needs of large immigrant communities hit hardest by COVID-19, while also maintaining the interests of businesses in the downtown core. It’s a district that encompasses a wide range of socioeconomic levels, ethnicities and professions.

But Carrasco, the first to publicly endorse Torres, believes he has the lived experience and the professional know-how to do so.

“The lived experience, which I think is really important and I don’t want to ever undermine that, I don’t think anyone has the lived experience Omar has,” Carrasco said.  “The experience he has through his career choices and his ability to build coalitions is unmatched by anyone that I’ve seen jumping into this race.”

She pointed to the community organizing he did in her office, going door-to-door canvassing in ZIP codes with the highest COVID cases and economic losses.

“The community loved Omar, and that’s really a reflection of who Omar is and his dedication to people,” said Carrasco, who terms out of her District 5 seat next year.

Terry Christensen, a retired San Jose State University political science professor and host of Valley Politics, echoed the sentiment.

“I think he will be a pretty strong candidate in that race,” Christensen told San José Spotlight. “Omar certainly has some advantages.”

He said Torres’ nearly two decades of work in the community, along with his Latino background in a heavily Latino district, will help him get votes. But it’s not necessarily going to be an easy race, Christensen believes.

“He’s well known at City Hall and he’s connected to activists in a lot of different groups, and (the) Democratic Party and labor and so on, but that is a very small community,” he said. “Other candidates have different sets of connection. And it really depends how you can extend those connections to voters who don’t already know who you are.”

Torres believes he is more than equipped to do so, pointing to his current role as the business resiliency manager at the San Jose Downtown Association.

“We have to balance the needs of our business community and our neighborhoods, because without our business community, we have no local jobs. And without beautiful, clean neighborhoods, no one wants to come into the city of San Jose and live here,” Torres said. “My passion and my commitment to my community—both our businesses and neighborhoods—is what sets me apart.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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