After more than a decade of public service, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is in the final stretch of his tenure with a little more than two years before the nation’s 10th largest city votes for a new leader.
And a handful of political leaders are being eyed to replace him, including downtown Councilmember Raul Peralez.
Peralez told San José Spotlight exclusively Thursday he’s vying for the seat that would make him the 66th mayor of San Jose, running on the promise of making his home a more equitable city.
“Certainly there’s many that have prospered with the growth of our city — but not everybody has,” he said. “There is definitely a tale of two cities in San Jose — and I think we’re better than that. As a local government, we can do better.”
The longstanding crises plaguing the region — homelessness and housing — have disproportionately affected low-income communities of color, he said. But now, he fears the pandemic will only exacerbate the city’s existing economic and social woes and continue to hit the city’s poorest areas hardest.
“Too many people in our community are still being left out,” he said. “They’re left out of an ability to afford a house, priced out of the rental market and driven out of our city. They’ve been left out of the tech industry. We have so many that are stuck in low wage jobs with no minimal protections and get left out of an equitable share and prosperity from our city itself.”
Peralez said he knows what it feels like to be part of a community that’s regularly thought of last.
As a son of an immigrant father who grew up poor, he was the first person in his family to graduate from college, while as a renter the housing crisis drove him and his family out of their home of nearly ten years. No other mayor has shared those experiences, he said.
“Unlike most of our former mayors, I personally know what being part of that community feels like because that’s how I grew up,” he said. “Those are the struggles that I still deal with and we have not seen that in our history of individuals that have served as mayor for the city.”
With six years of experience representing the city’s downtown corridor, Peralez — whose term expires in 2022 when the mayoral seat will open — said San Jose needs new leadership that aims to address those gaping inequities he sees across housing, affordability and economic opportunity.
He holds one of the city’s most high-profile council seats, sitting in the district that produced three mayors — Sam Liccardo, Tom McEnery and Susan Hammer — and several of the region’s most influential politicians, including Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez.
If elected, he’d be the fourth public official to become mayor after serving as District 3’s councilmember.
While it’s unclear who he’ll run against, there’s been speculation around San Jose’s political arena for months that District 6 Councilmember Dev Davis and state Sen. Jim Beall might throw their hat in the ring.
But Beall shot down those rumors Thursday, saying he was only focused on finishing his term in the California Legislature.
“Maybe others are thinking about (it), not me,” he wrote in a text message.
Davis — who still faces a runoff election in November for her seat representing District 6 — mirrored the senator’s comments, adding that she’s focused on helping residents affected by COVID-19 who are hurting.
“My mind is not there,” she said. “I want to serve our city to the best of my ability and right now that means focusing on on District 6 and on the budget for the city and making sure that we’re well set up for for the future.”
Still, she added, it’s been more than 20 years since San Jose has elected a woman as mayor.
“It’s about time there’s more female representation at the top,” she said.