Longtime South Bay education leader jumps into supervisorial race
Claudia Rossi announced her bid for Santa Clara County supervisor Sunday. The seat is currently occupied by Supervisor Mike Wasserman who terms out in 2022. Photo courtesy of Claudia Rossi.

With Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida” playing buoyantly in the background, Claudia Rossi announced Sunday she will be running for Santa Clara County supervisor.

“This is going to be a long fight,” Rossi said. “We have a long journey and we have very well funded opponents that want that seat.”

Rossi, a practicing nurse who serves as president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, is running for the District 1 seat held by Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who terms out in 2022. She’s up against former San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, who termed out in December and announced he’s running for the county supervisor.

Khamis is a former Republican who left the party due to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, but still holds fiscally conservative values. The seat has historically been held by Republicans: Wasserman is a Republican as was his predecessor, Don Gage.

But Rossi, a progressive known for her activism in equity and education, is hoping to change that.

More than 70 viewers tuned in Sunday for Rossi’s announcement on Zoom, including Assemblymember Ash Kalra, Rev. Jeff Moore of the Silicon Valley NAACP and Brian Wheatley, board president for the San Jose Unified School District,

Kalra, who’s known Rossi for years, celebrated her decision to run.

“In her work on the Board of Education, she is giving so much of her time and energy and love to our community,” Kalra said. “Claudia shows up for every one and every cause. Not because she wants attention or because she gets something out of it, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Kalra pointed out that the monetary resources he deals with at the state mostly go through county governments, and Rossi is more than qualified to make big budget decisions.

“We want people who not only understand how to deal with the economics of it, but at the end of the day, budget decisions, fiscal decisions are moral decisions,” Kalra said. “Where we put our resources tells us who we are.”

Wheatley said Rossi’s time as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic prepared her for the tough work being a county supervisor. Rossi recently spoke out against Mayor Sam Liccardo, becoming one of 19 education leaders across the county to sign onto a letter sharply criticizing the mayor for politicizing school reopenings before vaccines have been fully distributed and teachers are ready.

“Claudia Rossi is one of the strongest advocates I know,” Wheatley said. “The work she’s done supporting at-risk students and their families is the perfect ground work for time as supervisor … Her fierceness is matched only by her preparation.”

Khamis admitted that he didn’t know much about Rossi or her track record, but said that he knew he disagreed with her on shutting down Cornerstone Academy Preparatory School, an East San Jose charter school, in 2019. When the charter appealed the decision to the county board of education, Rossi voted to deny the appeal in a 5-2 vote. Khamis was outspoken against it.

The decision drew the ire of many parents, who said it was an injustice to close a charter school, they argued, that had been serving students well. But supporters of the closure such as Rossi said it wasn’t enrolling enough Latinos or students with disabilities from the surrounding area.

“I think that everyone has the right to run for any office that they would like,” Khamis said. “I think that I’m better suited (to the office) and my political views are more in line with this part of the county.”

Rossi told supporters Sunday a story that showcased her ability to advocate for disenfranchised populations in the county. She found out recently that Kaiser had not activated its Gilroy medical offices as a vaccine site for South County residents.

When she found out, she said, she made numerous phone calls to Kaiser officials to lobby for this site to administer vaccines.

“This is not to arrogantly say that I made this happen,” Rossi said. “But to highlight that when you are in touch with the community, that’s the only way you can find out what their needs are, so you can settle for nothing less than equity and justice.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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