Fifteen candidates vying for five seats on the San Jose City Council spent the last six months frantically fundraising, every incumbent building a war chest to defend their seats while three candidates raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in their quest for an open seat.
In San Jose, council candidates can begin fundraising 180 days before the election. And this year, every incumbent up for re-election — District 2 Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, District 4 Councilmember Lan Diep, District 6 Councilmember Dev Davis and District 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas — are facing formidable challengers.
In the most expensive local race, a trio of candidates competing for an open seat in District 10 to replace termed-out Councilmember Johnny Khamis collectively raised more than $278,560, according to recent campaign finance filings.
Matt Mahan led his two opponents with $191,359 in contributions — exceeding the typical donation totals for a City Council race. His most notable donors include angel investor Ron Conway, developers Urban Catalyst and KT Urban. Innovation for All, the political action committee of Silicon Valley business leader Carl Guardino, also raised $55,000 to support Mahan, an indicator of his influence in the Silicon Valley tech industry.
The campaign reports covered the third quarter of 2018 and 18 days in January.
Mahan’s opponents, San Jose Women’s March founder Jenny Higgins Bradanini and businesswoman Helen Wang could not be reached for comment. Wang raised $47,265, according to filings, while Higgins Bradanini trailed with $39,936. Despite her progressive agenda and strong labor ties, Higgins Bradanini had to temporarily suspend her campaign after she struck and killed 66-year-old Tim Starkey in an accident in December.
Mahan, who even outraised the incumbents in this cycle, said he was most proud of earning the support from both small and large donors.
“I’m proud that we had the most raised, and especially small-dollar donors and local donors, but I’m not going to get too caught up in the fundraising numbers,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “I’m very focused on getting out to every neighborhood between now and March 3 to talk to voters about the issues and prepare to bring the common sense of our community to City Hall.”
In the District 4 race, Diep outperformed his three competitors, raking in a whopping $156,126 in campaign contributions. Treading behind him, employment attorney Huy Tran received $77,871, while Berryessa Unified School District Trustee David Cohen raised $67,167, Jamal Khan, a tech worker, reported raising $2,352.
Tran said it’s been “incredibly gratifying” to see the support from his district — and took a shot at Diep’s contributions from wealthy developers and the business lobby.
“I’m not surprised that the big developers and the private companies are coming hard to try to protect the incumbent because whenever he votes, he’s definitely given them more of his attention,” Tran said.
Diep could not be reached for comment.
Cohen, who prides himself in rooting his campaign in the community, said he has “more than enough resources” to unseat Diep.
“From the very beginning, I made it clear that my campaign is about close connection and deep ties to the community,” Cohen said. “That’s why I have more contributions from residents of District 4 than any other candidate.”
In District 6, Councilmember Davis also reached a notable six-figure fundraising haul, raising $138,473, while her challenger Jake Tonkel came in second with $49,488. Two other contenders, Marshall Woodmansee and Ruben Navarro, each secured less than $5,000.
“I just run my own race, I don’t get involved with other people’s races,” Davis told San José Spotlight on Friday. “It’s not up to me, I’m just working hard and hoping for a good outcome.”
Though some candidates didn’t fare as well as their challengers, they’re not admitting defeat. Tonkel said special interests have been pumping money into local San Jose elections for decades, which “damages” the democratic system, and he’s more concerned about where his cash came from.
“I’m extremely excited to have done as well as I’ve done not taking money from corporations or developers,” Tonkel said. “(My donors) are community members, mostly friends and family, people that I grew up with — and I’m excited to have the support of a couple of labor unions as well.”
In District 2, Jimenez led his sole challenger, Jonathan Fleming, with $66,263. Fleming raised $47,902, according to campaign filings, but gave himself a $10,000 loan. Jimenez criticized the move, adding that he has never borrowed money to fund his campaign.
But even the Blossom Valley councilmember said he came up short of his goal of raising at least $100,000.
“Unfortunately, I had some family situations going on… it really impacted my ability to be out fundraising as much as I should have,” Jimenez said. “We’re still going strong though.”
Arenas, the District 8 councilmember, outraised her opponent, Jim Zito, almost two to one, the reports show. Arenas reported raising $77,346 while Zito trailed with $41,515 in donations.
“Hard work pays off and for the past three years my office has been working hard for our community,” Arenas said in an interview Friday. “As a result, I’m seeing widespread support from volunteers helping me knock on doors, to endorsements from community leaders, to the hundreds of people who made financial contributions.”
Zito, who started his campaign in mid-October, said he’s not surprised by his totals considering he jumped in the race late.
“I guess that’s to be expected,” he said. “I know that the residents I speak to support me and I continue to receive generous donations.”
The San Jose City Council primary election is Tuesday, March 3.
Contact Nadia Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @n_llopez on Twitter. San José Spotlight intern Loan-Anh Pham contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: The fundraising figures in the San Jose City Council District 4 race were incorrect in an earlier version of this story. Candidate Huy Tran is in second place with $77,871 followed by David Cohen who raised $67,167.