Otto Lee charges ahead of Chu in Santa Clara County supervisorial race
Otto Lee talks with an reporter from a Vietnamese television station about homelessness after handing out food to the community. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Su.

After being out of office for nine years, former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee appears to be headed for victory in the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors race.

Chu faced Assemblymember Kansen Chu in the District 3 race.

Lee is ahead with 60.2% of the vote as of 5 p.m. Nov. 5. Chu trailed with 39.8% of the vote, and with 100% of the precincts reporting, it doesn’t appear Chu can catch up.

“It’s really gratifying to see how strong our team has been, how hard they’ve worked to get to where we are now,” Lee said. “Frankly, there have been many people who told me, ‘Otto, I do not see a path to victory,’ way back even a year ago and to get to where we are now, it’s really humbling.”

Chu pointed out that Lee had a distinct advantage in one key area.

“My opponent has outspent me five to one,” Chu said. “We should continue advocating for clean money campaigns. There should be less money in politics.”

The Santa Clara County District 3 seat spans Berryessa, Alviso, North San Jose and the cities of Milpitas and Sunnyvale. Lee and Chu are vying to replace term-limited Supervisor Dave Cortese, who is running for state Senate.

Chu, who announced in May 2019 he was leaving Sacramento to run for local office, said the race came down to the “haves” and the “have nots” — candidates who have the personal wealth to support their campaign and those who don’t.

Lee said the race was all about hard work and beating the odds.

As of Oct. 17, Chu raised $249,098 for his campaign and spent $296,438. Lee raised $663,100 and spent $710,110, outspending Chu by more than $400,000. Chu won in a competitive four-way race in the March primary by a 3% margin over Lee, even after the now-dissolved Silicon Valley Organization PAC spent thousands of dollars to oppose Chu’s campaign.

The race took an ugly turn in the weeks before Election Day. In October, Lee — a retired Navy veteran — loaned $460,000 to his own campaign, leading Chu to demand his opponent release his income taxes.

Meanwhile, Chu became the subject of a probe by the state’s political watchdog. The California Fair Political Practices Commission in September began investigating Chu after former Assemblyman Paul Fong alleged Chu used his Assembly campaign bank account to skirt campaign contribution limits. Chu denied the allegations.

South Bay leaders also called for Chu’s resignation this summer after the assemblymember made “racist and hateful” comments toward Latinos. Chu raised eyebrows when he abstained from voting on Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, a measure that allows voters to decide whether the state’s ban on affirmative action — which boosts hiring minorities and underrepresented communities — should be repealed.

In a recent San José Spotlight candidate forum, the candidates — both Democrats — agreed on social issues, but clashed on the subject of taxes. Chu is in favor of raising taxes to promote social services while Lee said big tech businesses should chip in to support residents during the pandemic.

Chu told San José Spotlight that the county should invest in housing programs for homeless residents and wraparound services such as mental health and addiction treatment programs. He is now focused on the COVID-19 crisis and getting small businesses back open. Lee shared these sentiments but added that the county should not let its guard down when it comes to protecting itself from COVID-19.

Throughout his campaign, Lee has prioritized homelessness and affordable housing. As Sunnyvale’s mayor, Lee was a champion for the environment, advocating for a single-use plastic bags ban and creating stronger environmental guidelines for developers to follow.

In the state Legislature, Chu championed issues such as mental health in schools, authoring Assembly Bill 8 this year, which requires a mental health professional in all K-12 schools. He also introduced a bill that would ensure residents 65 years or older receive free access to public transportation.

Chu was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, San Jose Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza, Raul Peralez, the South Bay Labor Council, Santa Clara County Firefighters IAFF Local 1165, United Farm Workers (UFW) and San Jose Police Officers Association.

Lee won support from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, the South Bay Labor Council, South Bay YIMBY, Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, BAYMEC, Santa Clara County Association of Realtors Santa Clara County Democratic Party and The Silicon Valley Organization.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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