Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee Rosemary Kamei’s resounding lead in the San Jose City Council District 1 race is also a win for the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, AAPI leaders said.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, Kamei has more than 60% of the vote, and assuming nothing changes, that nixes the need for a runoff election in the fall. She ran against Ramona Snyder, president of the San Jose Downtown Foundation board, and paratransit operator Tim Gildersleeve. Kamei is set to replace Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who terms out at the end of this year, and will represent the West San Jose area.
“I’m very honored and humbled by it. It is really an honor to represent the district,” Kamei told San José Spotlight. “One-third of the population of San Jose is Asian, so it’s really important to have that lens, especially when policies come into place and to be able to give that level of understanding of different cultures.”
Mountain View Councilmember and the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club founder Margaret Abe-Koga said Kamei may be the first AAPI person to hold the District 1 seat.
“As excited as we are as AAPIs to have Kamei, I think she is in general, a great candidate and will be a great councilmember for the entire city of San Jose,” Abe-Koga told San José Spotlight. “I do really believe it’s important to be reflective of the community. Given how diverse our community is, we need to have that reflected on the council.”
San Jose has seen a handful of Asian Americans on its council since former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta broke barriers in 1967 as the first Asian councilmember and later mayor in the city. But Abe-Koga said representation has really improved in the AAPI community in the last 20 years.
“In 1996 there was maybe a total of four or five AAPI representatives in all of Santa Clara County, and that includes school board members. In the state Legislature, I could count all of us on my hands,” Abe-Koga told San José Spotlight. “Now San Jose and Campbell are the only cities in the county without an Asian American on the City Council.”
San Jose has lacked AAPI representation on the City Council since former Councilmember Lan Diep lost his reelection for the District 4 seat against David Cohen in 2020. In this election, there could be even more AAPI representation coming to the council in both District 7 and District 5. State Assemblymember Alex Lee was also the top vote getter in the AD 24 race.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, the only AAPI representative on the Board of Supervisors, said having an Asian representative in San Jose, where roughly a third of the population is AAPI, “is long overdue.”
“I think this is huge for San Jose,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “I think it just shows that there’s a need of having an AAPI representation on the council. And I’m really glad that we’ll have another partner who was elected to help bring attention to our issues.”
He shared similar sentiment to Abe-Koga in that 2022 wasn’t a particularly unique year for AAPI wins, but noted representation has increased significantly in the last decade or so.
In 2004, Cupertino elected its first Asian American councilmember. In 2006, Mountain View joined the list for first female AAPI Councilmember—Abe-Koga. That same year, state Assemblymember Evan Low became the first Asian American on the Campbell City Council.
“Having these leaders really translates into policies that are specific in addressing issues within the AAPI community,” Abe-Koga said. “In the last couple of years I would point to the rise in Asian hate. While that is nothing new, the difference (now) is our community has actually risen up to speak out against it.”
Juliana Park, a board member for Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club and San Jose resident, said watching Kamei win was inspiring for her and other local Asian Americans.
“It gives us a lot of hope,” Park told San José Spotlight. “For me to see someone that looks like me, to see a woman of Asian heritage, even if you’re not a political person or aren’t really politically involved, I think it it makes you want to be more involved.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.