A progressive young newcomer believes he’s got what it takes to be the next mayor of America’s 10th largest city.
Former congressional candidate Jonathan Royce Esteban, 26, made his political debut last year when he ran for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District as the Libertarian nominee. Esteban is now running as a Democrat in Silicon Valley with a focus on promoting affordable housing and developing a green economy.
“I truly believe that we need someone who is going to stand up for working-class families. And I think that is something that we have been greatly missing from San Jose,” Esteban told San José Spotlight. “I’m inspired by generations of my family that have put themselves into public service, primarily military service. I live with that being my north star.”
The Hawaii native went to high school in Nevada and worked several blue-collar jobs there before running for Congress. As of last August, Esteban works as a workplace operations supervisor at Tesla’s Fremont factory, where he manages and supports facility technicians.
“Working at Tesla has given me a lot of experience in the innovative sectors of clean energy,” he said.
While Esteban just moved to San Jose last year, he believes that is a positive aspect of his candidacy.
“A lot of these people will talk about living in San Jose their whole life. I may be new to the city, but to be fair, I’m bringing new ideas, new solutions,” he said. “And these folks who have been in office for so long have done nothing dramatic to change our town.”
Esteban volunteers with Community Got Us, a mutual aid group helping homeless residents in East and South San Jose. He’s also learning about the city from his partner and campaign advisor Esteban Medina, who was born and raised in San Jose.
The couple met early last year through social media thanks to their posts supporting Black Lives Matter. After learning about Esteban’s political past and social activism, Medina encouraged him to run for mayor.
“I used to be a recruiter for these top tech companies here in the Bay Area so I’ve grown a sense for finding talents and I really felt like (Esteban) would do great as mayor,“ Medina told San José Spotlight. “This is a grassroots campaign, we have nothing to start with except (Esteban’s) experience with his congressional campaign and our passion for it.”
Esteban joins San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez who announced his candidacy to San José Spotlight last year and officially jumped into the race in April. Councilmember Dev Davis has also confirmed she’s running for mayor. Other rumored candidates include Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who’s avoided questions on the topic, and Councilmember Matt Mahan who recently told San José Spotlight he isn’t in the race but hasn’t ruled it out.
Retired San Jose State University professor Terry Christensen says it’ll be an uphill battle for Esteban, who is unknown in local politics.
Candidates who have never held public office must gain support from neighbors and endorsements from diverse local organizations to have a shot, Christensen said. A San Jose mayoral campaign could cost at least $2 million which means they also need the ability to fundraise.
He also mentioned that earning the support of groups such as the South Bay Labor Council will be instrumental because the organization can provide hundreds of volunteers to do phone banks and canvass for candidates.
If elected, Esteban would become the first openly gay mayor of San Jose, a city where more than 32,000 residents belong to the LGBTQ+ community. He would also be the second Asian American and first Black mayor of the city since he is of Black, Filipino and Turkish descent. Esteban would also be the youngest mayor in the city’s history.
Christensen, who is also gay, said a candidate of color who also belongs to the LGBTQ+ community could build strong coalitions within those demographics.
“San Jose would be totally accepting of somebody with the right credentials who also happens to happens to be gay,” Christensen said. “(Minority) constituencies might be happy to vote for somebody who is one of their own.”
Besides Esteban’s commitment to a green economy and affordable housing, he wants to make San Jose a safe and inclusive space for the community.
“We need from the top up to promote the fact that this is a diverse and accepting and inclusive city,” Esteban said. “Making sure that people know that this is an LGBTQ+ friendly community, and also making sure that we’re promoting safe spaces for people in that community.”