Two longtime labor leaders faced the first test in their mayoral aspirations Monday—though only one of them has actually announced a campaign for mayor.
Downtown Councilmember Raul Peralez, who announced he’s running for the city’s top political job in April, faced off with Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez during a Democratic mayoral candidate forum. Chavez, a veteran politician, reiterated that she hasn’t declared a run for mayor — but was honored to be invited and share in “thinking about the future of San Jose.”
The hourlong forum, held by the Silicon Valley Democratic Club, focused on issues affecting San Jose such as housing and transportation.
Peralez played up his blue-collar, immigrant roots and his past experience as a teacher and police officer.
The two invitees spoke briefly about their backgrounds and experience before answering questions from the club and the audience. One major topic was solutions for the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis. According to a 2019 city survey, more than 6,000 people are homeless in the city.
Chavez touted her record on building senior housing and working with the county to lobby for Measure A, a $950 million bond passed in 2016 to fund affordable housing.
“We need to understand that we have not just a homelessness problem, we have a housing problem,” Chavez said. “We can absolutely expand our rapid response that keeps people from becoming homeless. … We need to take a look at what areas we can speed up building our housing product countywide.”
Peralez meanwhile proposed a homelessness task force to work “more collaboratively” with the city and county to figure out affordable housing solutions. He said the region has gotten more money to put toward affordable housing than ever before — something he wants to leverage as mayor.
“Even in addressing homelessness, for every individual we’re pulling off the street, three more are entering homelessness,” Peralez said. “The resources are beginning to trickle in.”
Moderator Jennie Hutchinson asked how the pair would help house survivors of domestic violence.
Peralez said the city and county should increase housing resources for all marginalized communities, including domestic violence victims. The councilman said options for local domestic violence victims are limited, but wants to create a program similar to the area’s All the Way Home campaign, which provides veterans with vouchers for rent and financial incentives to landlords who rent to them.
“We really need to be conscious about the solutions we bring forward to make sure we’re not leaving out specific demographics, especially women,” Peralez said.
Chavez said she “didn’t want to wait” until she became mayor to address domestic violence victims.
“One of the things I want us to be doing is eyeing condos or apartments in larger projects that are very focused on victims of domestic violence,” Chavez said.
Building trust in police
On the topic of police reform, Peralez said the San Jose Police Department needs more diverse officers—people of color and women, while Chavez wanted the department to build more public trust with the community through programs that help victims.
Peralez drew on his experience as a former full-time police officer and current reserve officer. Peralez helped launch the city’s police reform commission, which is making policy recommendations for reimagining policing the wake of the murder of George Floyd. He opposed removing police officers from school campuses, as three local districts have done.
As an on-campus police officer, Peralez said he helped weed out sexual assault cases.
“I think a lot of our school districts really jumped to a conclusion without having enough discussion,” Peralez said. “The number one report I was able to take with students was sexual assault cases, and that was because of the rapport I built with students.”
Chavez asked for more collaborative programs to reach out to victims of crime who have been historically underrepresented.
“Most people who live in our community really want to be able to have a trusting partnership with the police department,” Chavez said. “It’s about helping people who want to be officers understand what their responsibilities are going to be, and understanding that they are much more guardians than they are officers.”
The race for mayor of San Jose is one of the most anticipated contests next year.
Chavez previously served as San Jose’s vice mayor in a tenure marked by a handful of scandalous votes, such as a $4 million backdoor taxpayer subsidy for the San Jose Grand Prix. Chavez’s first campaign for mayor in 2006 ended when she endured a trouncing by eventual winner Chuck Reed.
Chavez and Peralez are the likely bearers for the city’s labor faction, which hasn’t held the mayor’s seat since 2006. Both current Mayor Sam Liccardo and his predecessor, Chuck Reed, are backed by the city’s business interests.
The labor faction regained a thin majority on the council in 2020 with the election of Councilmember David Cohen.
Also in the mayor’s race: former Republican Councilmember Dev Davis, who announced her run just hours after Peralez. Business-friendly Councilmember Matt Mahan, who has been at the dais for only a year, is also expected to join the mayor’s race.