San Jose City Council races: Tam Nguyen narrowly losing re-election, Pam Foley coasts to victory

    Maya Esparza is leading the race to oust San Jose Councilman Tam Nguyen, pulling ahead by more than 120 votes Thursday after the one-term councilman appeared to be headed for re-election.

    “I’m feeling good, very optimistic,” Esparza said Tuesday night, adding that the race was too close to call. “Everyone here pretty much lives in District 7. We’ve knocked on thousands and thousands of doors. Feedback has been really good and I think it always comes down to voter turnout. The proof is in the pudding so we’ll find out.”

    Esparza’s campaign party looked more like a midweek neighborhood get-together than a political affair, though a palpable sense of uneasy optimism could be felt amidst the food, laughter and music from volunteers and supporters in the brightly lit room.

    On Wednesday, Nguyen led Esparza by a mere 13 votes. But with each new round of results, Esparza closed the gap and pulled ahead of Nguyen.

    “Didn’t sleep last night,” Nguyen said in a text message Wednesday. “Now waiting for (another) update. We’ll have a better idea then. Hoping to expand (my) lead with vote-by-mail ballots.”

    Esparza and Nguyen first squared off in 2014 which saw a victory for Nguyen. They are vying for San Jose’s District 7, a district that comprises of more than 50 percent Latino residents.

    Esparza currently leads a program to house homeless veterans for Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness. Nguyen has worked as an attorney and is involved with the Vietnamese community of San Jose.

    “I just feel that we need change in leadership in District 7,” said supporter Jerry Wilburn, a housing specialist with HomeFirst. “Being a housing expert, that’s what I do for a living, I’m going to go with the one who provides more fair and stable housing and housing for low income [people] because we are in a housing crisis.”

    Housing was at the top of the list of concerns for all four candidates looking to take a seat at San Jose’s City Council dais.

    Foley pulls ahead of Gallagher

    In the District 9 race, Pam Foley edged ahead of challenger and fellow school board trustee Kalen Gallagher with about 53 percent of the vote, unofficial results from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters show. Gallagher trailed with about 47 percent.

    “I haven’t checked the registrar’s website lately, but last time it looked pretty good so I’m feeling really positively and I’m starting to think about what that means as far as my representation of District 9,” Foley said. “I’m pretty excited about the opportunity and the things we can do together to help residents in San Jose move forward.”

    Gallagher partially conceded Wednesday, blaming special interest groups for attack ads that hurt his campaign, including a mailer by the Silicon Valley Organization that was photoshopped to make it appear that Gallagher was flipping off the camera.

    “There’s still lots of uncounted votes out there, but unless things start trending a different way it looks like we weren’t able to overcome the $500,000 in independent expenditures spent against us,” Gallagher said. “I’m super proud of my team for all we’ve accomplished and should we lose, I’m excited to keep working to improve our schools for the kids in (Campbell Union High School district).”

    Gallagher was a teacher in east San Jose and launched an education startup called Class Dojo before being elected to the CUHSD. He refused to take money from special interests during his campaign. Both candidates said increasing police presence in District 9 to combat break-ins are among their top priorities, along with addressing traffic and housing woes.

    The winner of the District 9 race will represent more 90,000 people, including in the Cambrian area. Currently, District 9 is represented by Don Rocha who is seeking election to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

    Foley, a Cambrian resident since the late 1980s, was elected to the San Jose Unified School Board in 2004. She touted her experience in leadership roles with Women and Their Children’s Housing and San Jose Rotary Club among others and received the endorsement of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

    Follow Victoria Kezra @VictoriaKezra on Twitter.

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