San Jose voters are hardly shocked by the results of the June 7 primary election, and they hold strong—and mostly bitter—feelings about the two candidates battling it out for mayor.
Residents who spoke with San José Spotlight said there were few surprise results in the Santa Clara County races they voted on last week, which included San Jose mayor, several City Council seats, sheriff, district attorney, county supervisor and county assessor. Most expressed disappointment with the low turnout, and several were displeased with their choices for mayor in November: Supervisor Cindy Chavez or Councilmember Matt Mahan.
“Unfortunately, these are the candidates we ended up with,” said Carmen Brammer, 60, a Democrat and political strategist who lives in East San Jose, although she reserved special disdain for Mahan.
This news organization hosted eight readers on Wednesday to discuss their take on the June 7 primary election. This is the third of several panels San José Spotlight will host up to the November general election. The panel included registered Democrats, non-partisan voters and a Republican, ranging in age from 24 to 60. Members have served as community advocates, attorneys, political organizers, landscape architects and nurses.
A brief argument broke out over Chavez’s record on housing—one of her signature issues in the race. Alex Shoor, a 40-year-old Democrat who serves as executive director of the pro-housing organization Catalyze SV, defended Chavez for spearheading Measure A, a $950 million bond passed in 2016 to build affordable homes in the county. He acknowledged relatively few have been built, but argued it can’t be laid at Chavez’s feet.
“I don’t blame any single elected official for that, I blame our entire system, which is why I work on these issues all the time to get housing built more quickly,” said Shoor, who voted for Chavez.
Garry Johnson, a 56-year-old nurse and professor at Evergreen Valley College with no party preference, claimed Chavez has mismanaged Measure A money and assigned Shoor some of the blame for San Jose’s poor progress housing homeless residents. According to recent county data, local governments are struggling to produce homes fast enough to shelter the housed. For every person connected to housing, two are experiencing homelessness for the first time.
“You can’t take somebody from a park and say we’re going to let you live in this park for six years while this homeless industrial complex—which you are a part of, Alex—is trying to find ways to work with Cindy Chavez to create more homes,” Johnson said. “What you’re currently doing is not working and everybody knows it.”
San Jose officials are struggling to clear a massive homeless camp near Columbus Park, where scores of residents are in need of permanent shelter and services.
Shoor objected to being attacked personally during a forum to discuss policy, and Johnson later apologized.
Shane Patrick Connolly, a 54-year-old Republican and chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, said he was surprised to see San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas taking the lead in the county District 1 election given her late entry to the race. He was also disappointed by the negative campaign ads run by the South Bay Labor Council against his old boss, former San Jose Councilmember and District 1 candidate Johnny Khamis.
“How they’re able to continue with their campaigns that are tinged with racist tropes, if you will, when they lambasted the former SVO PAC for that kind of behavior is beyond me,” he said, going on to accuse the labor council of darkening people in photos and making negative associations with Khamis’ ethnic background. “The height of hypocrisy to me.”
The Silicon Valley Organization, a business advocacy group, dissolved its political action committee and saw its CEO resign after it was accused of posting a racist political ad on its website. The group rebranded as the San Jose Chamber of Commerce last August.
Donald Gagliardi, a 58-year-old attorney and independent who ran for City Council eight years ago, said it was interesting but not surprising to see Joanna Rauh tank in the District 3 council race. She is the only local candidate endorsed by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
“There was a lot of disconcerting comments I heard from neighbors about the fact that Sam Liccardo… thought he could simply name a candidate who had not been around and elevate her into the runoff, if not into office,” Gagliardi said, adding that Irene Smith’s success in the race may have been the result of residents rejecting Liccardo’s candidate.
Gagliardi also noted distaste for Chavez and Mahan—who are seen as establishment candidates back by labor and Liccardo’s allies, respectively—may have contributed to the low turnout.
Several panelists said they were disappointed by the low turnout, especially among youth. Ellen Middaugh, a 47-year-old Democrat and professor at San Jose State University, said it’s incumbent on politicians to make more of an effort to engage younger voters.
“One of the biggest predicators of youth voting is outreach and recruitment, and often politicians don’t target youth voters because they aren’t the ones with the resources and money,” Middaugh said. “I’d just really love to see more investment in candidates working with universities and schools to really educate young people about local politics and their options.”