While several San Jose City Council candidates are in the final stretch of campaigning, Rosemary Kamei is already setting up her office.
District 1 Councilmember-elect Kamei, a Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee, won the seat outright in the June primary election. She spent the summer with her sisters and 90-year-old mother, but now she’s rolling up her sleeves and preparing for public office come January.
“I feel so fortunate to have this time because those who are in the general election don’t have this time to be able to ramp up,” Kamei told San José Spotlight. “The other councilmembers, even those who are exiting, have been kind enough to reach out (and help) with the transition or lessons learned.”
She’s spent the last few weeks staffing her office, setting up meetings with department heads and shadowing Vice Mayor Chappie Jones. Jones, who endorsed Kamei in the primary, is the current District 1 representative who terms out at the end of the year. The district encompasses the Winchester neighborhood and Santana Row to the north, down to the Westgate area.
“Having those extra months to prepare makes all the difference in the world, ” Jones told San José Spotlight. “The real in-depth understanding of how things operate, who the key players are, all the development proposals, would’ve had to be compressed.”
He said his goal is to teach Kamei “everything we did right and everything we did wrong,” but trusts District 1 residents will be in good hands after he leaves.
The councilmember-elect is retaining Jones’ chief of staff, David Gomez, who’s staying on to continue building on the community relations work he started as an intern in Jones’ office in 2014. Kamei has yet to fill other positions and said it has been difficult because pay is not competitive—a problem rife through City Hall.
“Having the same staff means having that institutional knowledge not only within City Hall, but also within the district,” Gomez told San José Spotlight. “It helps knowing where the neighborhood leaders are, knowing the different types of personalities out there. Having familiarity with the different roles.”
Gomez has known Kamei for more than eight years. He helped with her campaigns for the Santa Clara County Board of Education and San Jose City Council.
“I think change is good and I’m really excited about (Kamei) taking office,” Gomez told San José Spotlight. “We align on so many issues, and the ones that we don’t, we find common ground and I think that is where good policies are made.”
The primary priority for Kamei is to continue building relations with District 1 residents and neighborhood groups—getting them involved in decisions early on and helping them navigate City Hall to get needs met.
“I have found the neighborhood associations are at different levels,” Kamei said. “The Winchester Orchard Neighborhood Association is very engaged. They had their own candidate forum, they do cleanups, but then there are others that are sort of emerging like the Cadillac Winchester area. So I want everyone be able to understand how to access services, how to get things done. As a councilmember, I see it as my responsibility to help facilitate that.”
She hopes to build on projects from Jones’ time in office, including a massive transit project in the Stevens Creek corridor. Kamei wants to continue work on the Innovation Hub, a facility dedicated to youth-oriented informal STEM learning and neighborhood business incubator in the historic Century 21 dome theater in West San Jose.
Kamei also wants to focus efforts on public safety and homelessness—working with other agencies to find more comprehensive solutions to the city’s top problems. Despite San Jose’s efforts to provide shelter, homelessness has increased 11% since 2019. The city has also struggled to retain and hire police officers.
“I would like to take on looking at public safety in a broader sense, where we bring in more community services and other entities to get things done,” Kamei said, pointing to the county’s initiative to have mental health experts respond to calls with law enforcement agencies like the San Jose Police Department. “It’s the same with homelessness, it’s a regional problem.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.