Omar Torres appears to win the downtown San Jose council race
Omar Torres running for the San Jose District 3 seat has a commanding lead. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Last updated 5 p.m. on Friday. The next update is expected 5 p.m. on Saturday.

    In a highly contested race that caused a community uproar over attack ads, college trustee Omar Torres has a significant lead over his opponent Irene Smith in the San Jose City Council District 3 race.

    Torres leads with 63.8% of the vote, or 7,468 votes. Smith trails with 36.1% of the vote, or 4,228 votes. About 62% of ballots have been tallied. It appears Torres will be the new downtown councilmember, replacing Raul Peralez who terms out in December.

    Dozens of Torres supporters trickled into downtown bar San Pedro Social for Latin music and performances from a drag queen. Torres walked in with a big grin on his face.

    Omar Torres has more than a 20 point lead in the race for District 3. He enjoys the evening with supporters in downtown bar San Pedro Social. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    “I’m very happy and very humbled that District 3 residents have given me an opportunity to serve them as a council person. So it’s a very emotional moment for me, but we did it,” Torres told San José Spotlight as his mother hugged him. “I’m looking forward to creating so many solutions here in the city of San Jose. Most importantly, I’m working on building coalitions and working with with major stakeholders to address those concerns.”

    San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco was on hand Tuesday to support Torres, who used to work in her office.

    “Omar has worked really hard and the community is with him. They have known him for over 25 years,” Carrasco told San José Spotlight. “I think he is going to do great.”

    Sexen City, a san jose-based Drag Queen dressed in sparkles performed at Torres’ campaign party. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Smith reflected on the outcome of the race even before the polls closed.

    “It has been a thrill, and honor, and mostly just an astonishing gift to have had this opportunity to seek your support,” Smith wrote in an email to supporters minutes before the results came in. “So for one last time as your candidate, let me shout it to the tops of the Santa Cruz and Diablo ranges: Thank you.”

    Smith could not be reached for comment after polls closed.

    The candidates beat out three others in the June primary election for the downtown seat. Torres lead with a resounding 44% lead over Smith’s 19.9%. The race became heated with criticism over attack mailers, and political alliances.

    District 3 encompasses neighborhoods from Vendome and Naglee Park to Japantown and Spartan Keyes. It’s also home to San Jose State University and several theaters and music halls. As the city’s urban center, homelessness, blight and small business closures are glaringly visible. Both candidates agree homelessness is the city’s biggest issue — how to solve it is where they differ.

    Torres, 40, calls himself a pragmatic progressive and a lifelong Democrat who’s received support from the South Bay Labor Council, mayoral candidate and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. He raised $107,000 throughout the election cycle — getting notable PAC spending from the South Bay Labor Council.

    He’s been part of the San Jose political scene for years, currently serving as a San Jose-Evergreen Community College District trustee, regional director in the California Democratic Party and the business resiliency manager of the San Jose Downtown Association.

    Smith, 61, is an independent with support from the Silicon Valley Business PAC, Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, the San Jose Police Department and San Jose firefighter unions and elected officials such as Councilmember Dev Davis and former Councilmember Johnny Khamis. Her priorities include increasing the police force, small business revitalization and homelessness. Smith supports sanctioned encampments and social housing.  She has raised $64,000.

    Both candidates agree that to make San Jose streets safer, the city needs to hire more police officers. Torres said he supports the reimagining police process to build more trust with the community, noting he was subject to racial bias from law enforcement growing up in San Jose. He also wants more police to decrease the department’s massive overtime budget and to improve responses to all emergencies, including break ins. Smith wants to increase pay for officers and have the county respond to mental health needs, instead of San Jose police.

    This story will be updated. 

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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