San Jose council candidate loses endorsements after divorce claims come to light
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, right, on Wednesday rescinded his endorsement of City Council candidate Jim Zito. Photo courtesy of Jim Zito.

Political and business leaders on Wednesday pulled their endorsements of San Jose District 8 candidate Jim Zito, after San José Spotlight reported details about his divorce that include an alleged history of controlling behavior and emotional abuse.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Councilmembers Pam Foley and Johnny Khamis, the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors and the Silicon Valley Organization Political Action Committee said they no longer support Zito, who is running against incumbent Councilmember Sylvia Arenas.

On Thursday, the Mercury News also pulled its endorsement of Zito.

The mayor announced his decision on Twitter, calling the allegations against Zito “sufficiently troubling.”

Foley, a self-described champion of women’s rights and advocate for domestic violence survivors, said rescinding her endorsement was to “align her moral compass.”

While Khamis said divorces can get ugly, he is pulling his endorsement until new evidence convinces him otherwise.

The SVO, a powerful business lobby in the region, also issued a statement that it retracted its endorsement in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence.

“After learning about the allegations of domestic violence regarding Jim Zito, The SVO PAC Executive Committee voted to revoke the endorsement in order to stand with victims and survivors of domestic violence,” said Matthew Mahood, the organization’s president and CEO. “While some of the allegations may prove to be untrue, the fact that these allegations exist at all is very troubling for our organization and any candidate running for public office.”

The Santa Clara County Association of Realtors said in a statement that the allegations are “deeply concerning.”

“Our association strives to endorse candidates that support realtor party values and also exhibit the highest level of moral fiber,” association President Sandy Jamison said. “The alleged domestic abuse that Jim Zito forced upon his family is completely out of line with the values that we believe in. For these reasons, we are no longer endorsing Candidate Jim Zito.”

The divorce documents came to light after they became fodder for campaign mailers and a website funded by the San Jose Police Officers Association. The SJPOA has endorsed Arenas in her re-election bid.

According to the divorce papers, Zito controlled everything — from determining the thermostat temperature to authorizing his wife’s purchases — during their 16-year marriage. The court documents revealed Zito was involved in an altercation with his then 19-year-old daughter that resulted in him being detained by police, and a refusal to participate in a 16-week class to address “domestic violence issues and management of emotions.”

His ex-wife Zoe Bizzell, who filed for divorce in 2007, verified the claims in the public divorce records in an exclusive interview with San José Spotlight.

Arenas also responded to the details outlined in Zito’s divorce documents, denouncing the “abuse” from Zito.

“No woman should ever have to put up with the abuse that Jim Zito appears to have subjected onto his family,” Arenas said. “I can’t comprehend how Jim could do this, and then still expect Evergreen voters to put him in a position of power over the women who rely on police protection from their abusers.

“This isn’t about campaigning – it’s about issues too grave to ignore. I am among the many women who has had a friend killed by an abusive partner,” she continued. “That’s one reason I’ve worked so hard to use my seat on the San Jose City Council to fight this epidemic. Abusers have no business overseeing the Police Department, and a record of abuse should be disqualifying for any public office.”

Paul Kelly, president of the SJPOA, commended the mayor’s decision to swiftly pull his endorsement.

“The mayor absolutely made the right decision to withdraw his endorsement of Jim Zito,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately, many marriages end in divorce but it is extremely rare that, as in Mr. Zito’s case, the husband is ordered to attend a Probation Department approved 16-week course to address domestic violence issues and management of emotions. Any form of abuse is wrong and we condemn it.”

Zito, who served as a San Jose planning commissioner for eight years and is on the Evergreen School Board, has won endorsements from former Mayor Chuck Reed, Evergreen School Board President Bonnie Mace, and trustee Christopher Corpus, as well as former trustee Balaji Venkatraman and Business San Jose Chamber PAC.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter. Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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