Raucous cheers greeted Councilmember Matt Mahan as he stepped in front of the mic Saturday at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds with his wife and kids in tow.
After months of speculation, Mahan announced his run for mayor Saturday, ending rumors that the freshman councilmember would enter the race. Mahan, who represents District 10 in South San Jose, first won his seat in a landslide victory in March 2020.
The choice of venue was symbolic: Just days earlier, Mahan introduced a plan to end homelessness using land at the fairgrounds to build prefabricated units for the homeless: a cause that he’s made the centerpiece of his campaign.
Prefabricated units are smaller homes that can be partially assembled in a factory, speeding up the process to create new homes in just weeks — instead of years for traditional brick and mortar low-income apartments.
Dozens of supporters joined him Saturday for his announcement.
Mahan on Saturday unveiled a plan to improve the city’s most intractable problems: Homelessness, rising crime, high cost of living, dirty streets and a dysfunctional local government.
He suggested San Jose politicians should not get raises unless they improve city services.
“We need to stop simply copying last year’s budget and pasting it into this year’s budget,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “We need to start driving our budget decisions based on performance. Frankly, I think we’re focusing on too many different things. We have to deliver results on the things people most care about.”
— Lloyd Alaban (@lloydalaban) September 25, 2021
In a plan he calls a “revolution of common sense,” Mahan wants to end homelessness by building up to 5,000 prefab units on 50 acres of public land, improve policing by holding rogue officers accountable for misconduct instead of defunding police and building housing around transit. He also proposes creating a digital data dashboard to track it all.
A former tech executive, Mahan has pushed for housing reform and solutions for homelessness. He’s taken a hard “no” stance on the city’s controversial Opportunity Housing proposal and proposed a solution for prefabricated homes to solve the homeless crisis. His idea, however, was shot down by his colleagues during a committee meeting this week.
Mahan said some of his colleagues claim he’s “too new to politics” to understand homelessness solutions — alluding to remarks made by Councilmember Raul Peralez, who is also running for mayor.
“Well I say, the era of encampments is over,” he shot back.
Mahan said buying modular homes in bulk would reduce the price to $85,000 per unit — as opposed to paying $850,000 for one apartment. He said public land — including the fairgrounds where he launched his campaign — could be used for housing.
“I don’t think anybody can solve the homelessness problem by themselves, but I think Matt has a very pragmatic approach to something that can seem intractable,” Inge Bond, a San Jose resident who attended Saturday’s event, told San José Spotlight. “I feel like his plan can at least make headway, which we have not had. It’s something very near and dear to my heart.”
The list of early endorsers of Mahan’s mayoral campaign include Ann Ravel, former chair of the Federal Election Commission and state Senate candidate, and June Tran, owner of Crema Coffee.
“He cares about making a difference in the world, and I’ve seen it firsthand,” said Ravel, who hired Mahan as an intern when she was the county counsel. “He’s committed to justice, selfless to his hard work and digs deeply into the issues.”
City Hall insiders say Mayor Sam Liccardo is backing Mahan to replace him next year and has pushed the freshman lawmaker to run. Liccardo’s chief of staff, Jim Reed, attended Saturday’s event, enthusiastically calling Mahan “the next mayor.”
Liccardo, who endorsed both Davis and Mahan in their respective council races, remains silent on his choice for his successor. But his refusal to endorse Davis five months into her campaign could pave the way for Mahan.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who served as vice mayor from 2005 to 2007, is also expected to throw her hat in the ring after filing paperwork with the state this week. Chavez, who participated in a mayoral candidate forum Monday with Peralez, last ran for mayor in 2006, losing in a landslide to Chuck Reed.
Chavez did not respond to requests for comment.
The San Jose City Council has been ideologically split between lawmakers backed by the city’s two most powerful factions—labor and business. Liccardo is the second-straight business-backed mayor, following Reed. Chavez and Peralez both sit in the city’s labor camp, while Davis and Mahan will be jockeying for business interests.
The last time San Joseans elected a labor-backed mayor was 2002, when voters gave incumbent Mayor Ron Gonzales a second term. Labor holds a slim 6-5 advantage on the council, making the mayor’s race a must-win.
“I spoke with Matt a few weeks ago and he indicated he was more likely than not to enter the race. I welcomed him to the race then and I would encourage anyone with the interest to join the race as well,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “This is a democracy and people should feel invited to participate. Ultimately it’s the voters who will decide who they want to lead our city.”
Mahan’s announcement could be bad news for Davis, who has looked to garner support from the business community. Fellow business leaders have been hesitant to back her campaign after a closer-than-expected reelection victory in November.
“I welcome all comers to the race,” Davis told San José Spotlight.
The primary election for mayor will take place in June 2022.