With the November election less than a month away, San Jose voters are paying close attention to the words and actions of candidates as they try to decide who they’ll support.
Locally, voters are choosing who San Jose’s next mayor will be, who should fill three city council seats, a county supervisor seat and the sheriff’s office. Some are keeping an eye on other South Bay elections, too.
San José Spotlight hosted a panel of six readers on Wednesday to discuss what they’ll consider when casting their ballots, how confident they feel in making choices in the big races and how to encourage more people to vote. There will be two more panels this year, one before the Nov. 8 election and one after it.
The panel includes registered Democrats, nonpartisan voters and one Republican voter, ranging in age from 24 to 60, who have worked or served as community advocates, attorneys, political party leaders, professors and landscape architects.
In the San Jose mayor’s race between Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose City Councilmember Matt Mahan, panelist Carmen Brammer said she wants to see less rhetoric from the candidates.
“I feel there is still the standard jargon of, ‘Let’s fund this, let’s not fund that, we don’t have this, we don’t have that,’ versus, as a community, where do we want to be? Who do we want to be as San Jose,” Brammer said.
Brammer, 60, is a Democrat who lives in East San Jose and works as a political strategist and community advocate. She said Mahan and Chavez need to lay out specific plans to address major inequities that persist in the wealthy city and county.
“The fact that we have the issues that we currently have, where Black and brown communities are at the bottom of the barrel is not a good thing, and I don’t hear anybody talking about that,” Brammer said.
Shane Patrick Connolly, chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, said he’s supporting Mahan despite his lack of political experience. He thinks Chavez will continue pushing policies that haven’t fixed quality of life issues like homelessness, public safety and clean neighborhoods.
“We have one (candidate) with extensive political experience, literally decades serving in public office, and we have one who is a relative newcomer and who could be considered quite green. But the newcomer is the one with the new ideas,” Connolly said. “What we’re doing hasn’t been working.”
Donald Gagliardi, a 58-year-old attorney and independent, said though he has supported Chavez in the past, he won’t be voting for either candidate in the mayor’s race because of their support for COVID-19 vaccination mandates for public employees, including discipline for employees who didn’t comply.
“I don’t want anyone in the mayor’s office who’s going to support violations of our human rights,” Gagliardi said. “Both Cindy Chavez and Matt Mahan supported the firing of city and county employees, or VTA employees, who refused to take experimental COVID shots, so I can’t support either of them.”
Vicente Lovelace, 24, a Democrat and immigration law practitioner, is also unenthused about his choices for mayor.
“I don’t see much difference between a technocrat and a corporate shill, if we’re being perfectly honest,” Lovelace said. “We have Cindy Chavez accepting money from the 49ers and Matt Mahan’s new solutions reeking of this sort of technocratic idea that we can solve everything with efficiency.”
Other South Bay races
In San Jose’s District 3 representing downtown and surrounding areas, longtime Councilmember Raul Peralez is terming out. Voters will pick between businesswoman Irene Smith and San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board member Omar Torres.
Lisa Charpontier, 52, a Democrat and landscape architect, said Torres’ approach resonates with her because it feels like a grassroots campaign.
“He is looking for quality of life for the neighborhood, he is looking to clean up the neighborhood and he is looking to create more of a comfortable environment for the neighborhoods, as opposed to just looking to make the downtown exciting,” she said.
Connolly, who previously worked as Johnny Khamis’ chief of staff when he was on the San Jose City Council, is supporting Khamis in the race against Councilmember Sylvia Arenas for Santa Clara County Supervisor District 1.
“If Sylvia Arenas is elected, she is a fourth vote for new taxes,” Connolly said, while Khamis would oppose new countywide taxes. “We are already taxed enough, we need to spend the money more effectively.”
Lovelace said he’s not thrilled with the choices Santa Clara voters have for mayor, either between incumbent Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Anthony Becker, where the 49ers and developers are spending huge sums of money to affect the outcome.
“There is a lot of, for lack of a better word, corrupt behavior going on in local politics and I sincerely hope that it motivates more people to get involved and try to lobby for transparency, hopefully even run for office,” he said.
Overall, he is feeling a bit jaded about this year’s local elections.
“With this mayor’s race, and San Jose’s mayor’s race, it’s becoming harder to stave off the cynicism,” Lovelace said. “I’m hoping for a better go-round next time.”
While some panelists have different ideologies, they all agreed getting more people to vote is an important effort. Santa Clara County saw dismal voter turnout in the June primary election.
Brammer said residents have forgotten what people sacrificed to secure voting rights for all, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“We have to a do a better job of educating folks and making them understand just what a blessing and a gift voting is, because so many people in other countries don’t have that gift,” Brammer said.