After a hard fought election, San Jose Mayor-elect Matt Mahan now faces another daunting task with his new job: working with people who didn’t think he could lead.
Mahan, first elected to the council in 2020, won his bid to become the 66th mayor of San Jose last week after more than a year of campaigning. He beat out five other candidates—including Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez in the general election. Chavez conceded defeat last Wednesday.
Mahan secured the endorsements of four out of five living San Jose mayors, including outgoing Mayor Sam Liccardo. But all of his council colleagues voiced their support for Chavez, his opponent. Even more conservative and business-leaning officials, such as Councilmembers Dev Davis and Pam Foley, said they didn’t have confidence in his ability as a leader, pointing to his lack of experience and failure to pass major initiatives during his brief time representing District 10.
The coalition of nine councilmembers, joined by other community leaders, hosted an unprecedented news conference a week before the election to boost Chavez’s campaign, further questioning Mahan’s ability to deliver his campaign promises. Three new councilmembers-elect in Districts 1, 3 and 5 also endorsed and supported Chavez.
Mahan, who now will have to work with at least seven councilmembers who question his ability to lead, said he’s confident he will find common ground with his new colleagues.
“I’ve reached out to each of the councilmembers who will sit on the dais in January to schedule time together,” Mahan told San José Spotlight, adding it’s crucial for the council to work together. “Our residents are not only relying on it, but will hold us accountable for it.”
In San Jose, the mayor’s power is equal to other councilmembers in that they all get one vote, with some exceptions: the mayor nominates a city manager, but a council majority must approve the selection. On a 11-member council, Mahan would need at least five allies on the dais to move any of his policies forward.
Some officials are ready to set the division aside post-election to work with the new mayor. Councilmember David Cohen, one of four elected officials who wasn’t up for reelection this year, said the turnover on the council will create huge challenges.
With Mahan leaving his District 10 seat early to be mayor and Councilmember Sylvia Arenas leaving hers in District 8 early to serve as a county supervisor, San Jose will see a total of seven new faces on the council next year. The city is working on how to find the replacements for Districts 8 and 10.
“When the election is over, our job is to move forward and think about the areas of commonality where we can work together,” Cohen, one of the earliest supporters of Chavez, told San José Spotlight. “Dealing with large amounts of change and trying to assimilate new people into the council will be challenging for the entire city.”
Bien Doan, councilmember-elect in District 7, said the council needs to focus on solving the most pressing issues for San Jose.
“At the end of the day, we are all working for our constituents who elected us to make the right decisions,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “We should be looking forward to how to accelerate and do things with effectiveness and efficiency.”
Councilmember-elect Rosemary Kamei, who supported Chavez, said she plans to work with Mahan to serve District 1 residents.
“Mayor-elect Mahan did reach out and I thought that was very positive,” Kamei told San José Spotlight. “My own personal hope is that we will see a council who will come together (and) understand the community in a way that has not been seen in a long time.”
Garrick Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University, told San José Spotlight he anticipates Mahan will work to make quick friends and allies on the dais—especially those representing East San Jose.
When Mahan faces reelection in two years, he will have to win over a different electorate than the one this year, Percival said. In particular, San Jose is bound to see more voters from the east side casting ballots in 2024, which will be a presidential election year. The population came out in much smaller numbers this year compared to communities in West San Jose, where Mahan won handily.
The reelection in 2024 will happen because San Jose voters approved Measure B in June, an initiative to move San Jose’s mayoral elections to pair with presidential years knowing voter turnout will be greater.
“He’s gonna have every incentive to try to work with this new council,” Percival said, adding Mahan and the new councilmembers will also have a big learning curve to overcome. “If there’s any questions leftover from the campaign, (they) would be putting those aside rather quickly and getting to work.”
As Mahan starts his untested term in January, he’ll be busy working to align councilmembers and dealing with post-pandemic challenges as well—but he said he’s ready.
“All of us on the council should feel some pressure for embracing new approaches to street homelessness, crime, blight and building housing where it makes sense,” Mahan said.
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