Republican challenger emerges in San Jose council race

San Jose Councilmember Sergio Jimenez who handily beat a Republican challenger four years ago is about to face another one — and he’s a familiar name in political circles.

Mechanical engineer Jonathan Fleming, who unsuccessfully ran against one-term Councilmember Tam Nguyen in 2016, just moved into Jimenez’s district. And now he’s challenging the longtime Democrat, claiming Jimenez is part of a divisive San Jose City Council bloc that mirrors the dysfunction in Washington.

“District 2 is sick and tired of some of our officials on the City Council acting like Washington politicians,” Fleming, 35, said in an interview. “Our city is placing politics ahead of people and common sense policies. I see myself as middle of the road. I try to be inclusive of all and listen to everyone.”

Jimenez on Tuesday said he “welcomes” Fleming into the race. San Jose’s District 2 encompasses Edenvale, Santa Teresa, Coyote Valley and Monterey Road.

“Although he’s a new resident in District 2, I’m sure he’s been following all the good work we’ve been doing,” Jimenez said. “Since his unsuccessful run for the District 7 council seat, I’ve become familiar with some of his stances. I look forward to a spirited campaign, but hope that as a Republican, he doesn’t channel Donald Trump’s disdain for members of our diverse community.”

The San Jose City Council seats are nonpartisan, but the current council has just one Republican — Lan Diep — after former Republicans Dev Davis and Johnny Khamis fled the party. Jimenez four years ago defeated his general election opponent Republican Steve Brown by nearly 10 percentage points after he became the target of LGBTQ groups for supporting legislation to prohibit discrimination against individuals who believe marriage is only a union between a man and woman.

Some political observers speculated that Brown might run against Jimenez again in 2020. He did not return calls for comment.

Fleming and Jimenez could not be more different when it comes to social issues, especially homelessness. Jimenez has largely supported city efforts to cap rent increases, bolster tenant protections and build more affordable housing, while Fleming says solving homelessness is the county’s responsibility.

He criticized elected leaders for prioritizing long-term housing projects instead of immediate, quick solutions to get people off the streets sooner.

“I don’t feel like they’re doing an adequate job and everything we’ve done thus far has enabled the homeless problem as opposed to solving the homeless problem,” Fleming said. “We don’t have any transitional housing within the city and there’s no way to really help people before they reach the chronic homeless level.”

Fleming doesn’t support encampments and said housing projects should go outside the city, away from residential neighborhoods and in areas that are cheaper to build. He plans to focus his 2020 campaign on improving public safety, building housing and jobs. “”We need to be more responsible about how we spend our tax dollars,” Fleming added.

He also took a jab at Jimenez for “voting against” his own memo — authored with the fiscally conservative Khamis — to stop overtaxing San Joseans as city administrators weighed another potential affordable housing bond in 2020.

But Jimenez authored a new memo, which ultimately passed without Khamis’ support, that suggested exploring taxing corporations and businesses — not just residents — through head taxes or alternative approaches, such as a vacancy tax.

“We don’t view that from the same lens,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “I think our corporate partners need to stand up and do a little bit more, whether it’s taxes for transportation, for housing, for all that —  they need to stand up.”

While Fleming’s candidacy will push the council race next year farther right, a contender from the left also considered challenging Jimenez.

Brian LoBue, a high school teacher and trustee on the Oak Grove School Board, said he could have been a “viable” candidate, but, ultimately, he didn’t have the time to mount a City Council campaign.

“I think it’s probably just too much to do,” LoBue said. “Sergio and I would have a lot of the same support and it would have split that. At this time it doesn’t make sense to run.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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