While most candidates are trying to climb the political ladder, Kansen Chu is doing the opposite — he is leaving the state Legislature to seek a local office in his hometown.
Chu, who immigrated to California from Taiwan in the late 1970s to study electrical engineering at Cal State, Northridge, is running against three other contenders for the open Santa Clara County supervisor seat being vacated by Dave Cortese. Chu worked at IBM for 18 years and opened a celebrated Chinese restaurant near the Winchester Mystery House in 1987 with his wife Daisy.
The couple, who now have have two adult children, offered daily dim sum lunch and dinner service for 20 years until 2007 when Chu became the first Chinese-American elected to the San Jose City Council. He went on to become an Assemblyman representing District 25 in 2014.
According to recent financial disclosure forms, Chu’s supervisorial campaign has received $269,902 in contributions.
Chu is facing San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee and San Jose Planning Commissioner John Lebya in the primary election.
The longtime lawmaker pointed out that he and most of his rivals agree on the major issues facing Santa Clara County.
“Even my seven-year-old granddaughter knows that homelessness and traffic are problems,” Chu said.
But he differs with his opponents on how to solve these deep-rooted problems and said his approach is shaped by a deeper understanding of their root causes.
Solutions to homelessness and traffic
“The reasons that people experience homelessness can range from losing a job, to fleeing domestic violence, or necessary expenses beyond their limited resources, to drug and alcohol addiction,” Chu told San José Spotlight in an interview.
A successful approach to a problem with manifold causes requires “a steady and experienced hand,” Chu said. That’s why he believes Santa Clara County needs to invest more in housing vouchers and rapid re-housing programs to prevent people who are teetering on the brink of housing insecurity from becoming homeless. That’s in addition to — not instead of — greater investments in social services, including mental health programs and addiction treatment, Chu added.
When it comes to traffic relief, Chu said the district needs more mass transit options. If elected, Chu said he’ll push to extend the VTA light rail to Eastridge Center to ease congestion on Capitol Expressway and work with the transit authority’s board to improve bus service.
“They can increase ridership and make the organization more profitable by improving service,” Chu said. “Things as simple as taking riders where they want to go, more frequently and more reliably.”
Support in the community
Chu’s supporters say he’s an experienced public servant who engages with his constituents and cares about the community.
“As far as experience is concerned, Kansen is unmatched in the district,” said Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, who endorsed Chu’s campaign after considering running for both the county and Assembly seat. “From his years on the local school board, to his time on the San Jose City Council and then the state Assembly, he’s shown that he’s a leader who knows how to get things done.”
Chu also earned Tran’s endorsement by having “the most Fitbit steps” in the district. Even as he travels back and forth to Sacramento, Tran says Chu frequently spends time meeting with people in the district — which includes Milpitas and portions of Sunnyvale, San Jose and unincorporated Santa Clara County.
The Milpitas mayor also cited Chu’s family ties and roots in the community as reasons to endorse him.
“His children and grandchildren are still residents here,” Tran said. “He represents families who live here today and those that will be here for generations to come.”
Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.
Name: Kansen Chu
Family: Married, with two adult children and grandchildren
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: B.S. National Taipei University of Technology, M.S. in electrical engineering Cal State Northridge
Profession: Retired computer programmer and restaurateur
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: California Assembly District 25 (2014 to present), San José City Council District 4 (2007 to 2014) Berryessa Union School Board Trustee (2002 to 2007)
Top 3 priorities: Mental health, Housing and homelessness, Traffic and transportation
Top 3 endorsements: Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Newark Mayor Alan Nagy
Special talent: Kansen is a great cook
In one sentence, why vote for you? “I am a dedicated, experienced, open-minded public servant.”