San Jose City Council candidate Jim Zito is regularly asked where his thick accent comes from. Proud of his Brooklyn roots and Italian-American heritage, he is quick to reply.
“I’m happy to share my answer,” Zito says on his campaign website. “In the very early 1900s both my mother and father’s parents came to America as immigrants through Ellis Island from Southern Italy. They settled in Brooklyn, where our families lived for the next 110 years.”
But the 61-year-old’s heart lies in California, deep in San Jose’s Evergreen district where he has lived since 1984 and has raised his three children. Zito worked for more than 30 years in tech before he ran for the Evergreen School District Board in 2010 for a seat that had been uncontested for nearly a decade.
Zito, who declined to be interviewed, is challenging Councilmember Sylvia Arenas in the March 3 primary.
As the school board’s current longest-serving trustee, Zito has maintained his commitment to San Jose’s schools for more than 10 years. Zito also works as an eighth-grade substitute teacher at the Downtown College Prep-Alum Rock Middle School.
The self-described fiscal conservative has said he wants to rein in irresponsible government spending and promises to tackle homelessness, housing and traffic without raising taxes. Zito also says he wants to create more housing, responsible economic development and improve public safety.
“Because I learned early about the value of a dollar, I am committed to balancing the budget and ensuring that public dollars are spent wisely and effectively,” he states.
Housing and homelessness
Zito said he supports incentivizing housing construction across all income levels. He does not support a commercial linkage fee on new development to spur funds for affordable housing and has said that new fees and taxes will discourage businesses from opening in San Jose. Instead, he said the region’s largest companies need to do more to help alleviate the housing crisis.
“We need to make sure money is spent to build the kinds of housing necessary,” Zito said during a candidate panel this month. “Corporations recognize that they have to build housing. They don’t want their workers to be two-hours out.”
To address homelessness, Zito said that more emergency beds and mental health and substance abuse treatment centers are needed. He’s an advocate for homeless children, working with school administrators to ensure they have food and uniforms, met. Zito has also called for more research about the cause of homelessness, rejecting a “one-size-fits-all” solution to solve the crisis.
As San Jose reviews its 2040 General Plan, Zito wants to ensure the District 8 community has a development plan that guides growth in Evergreen by bolstering retail and housing. He’s proposed additional community meetings to engage residents and temper their fears about new development and change in their neighborhoods.
The Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility President Pat Waite said that Zito’s extensive experience in serving residents makes him the right person to represent District 8.
“Jim’s breadth of experience serving the community … makes him better qualified to help guide San Jose through the difficult times that are looming on the horizon,” the group said in a statement. “Jim’s history of fiscal responsibility, along with his fierce independence and willingness to ask tough questions will serve San Jose well when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will.”
Zito calls public safety the government’s “most important responsibility.” He has said he’ll support police departments by implementing “innovative new technology,” increasing staff and strengthening neighborhood associations.
“Crime is on the rise — violent crime, property crime and drug crime,” Zito said. “I am a proud supporter of our local police and I will work to ensure first responders have all the resources they need to protect us.”
Zito’s candidacy has also been embroiled in a scandal after San José Spotlight obtained divorce filings detailing allegations made by his ex-wife. The papers came to light after they became fodder in a series of campaign mailers and a website funded by the San Jose Police Officers Association.
Zito has called the claims “patently and demonstrably false.”
Despite his denial, major influential political and business leaders, including Mayor Sam Liccardo, the Mercury News editorial board and the Silicon Valley Organization Political Action Committee, withdrew their endorsements of Zito.
According to financial disclosures, Zito has raised $41,515 for his campaign.
Zito has also served two four-year terms on the San Jose Planning Commission, appointed in 2002, and later started the District 8 Community Round Table, a districtwide neighborhood association that hosts community meetings.
Name: Jim Zito
Family: Divorced, three children
Political affiliation: Republican
Education: Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering from Stony Brook University; MBA, global support services and marketing from the University of Phoenix
Profession: Biotech executive; eighth-grade substitute math teacher
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: San Jose Planning Commission; Evergreen School District Board trustee