The embers are still smoldering after Scott Knies’ fiery speech at the San Jose Downtown Association’s meeting earlier this month.
The executive director’s annual address on Oct. 13 highlighted division within the City Council, criticized the union-backed fair elections initiative and supported a strong mayor system.
According to emails obtained by San José Spotlight, downtown Councilmember Raul Peralez, who did not attend the event, demanded an apology two days after Knies’ speech lambasted a growing divide on the City Council and compared Silicon Valley lawmakers to the divisiveness of national politics.
After at least two of Knies’ board members rushed to his defense, Knies apologized to Peralez.
Addressing SJDA Board President Michael Rewkiewicz and Knies, Peralez began the letter by saying he is “truly disappointed” and added that Knies’ position of influence with downtown business and property owners “was taken advantage to unfortunately share a false and offensive narrative.”
“As elected officials we deal with politics every day and my colleagues and I debate and regularly contend one another, but I have never believed any of them to be racist nor has anyone on the Council said so much of anyone else,” Peralez wrote in the two-page letter. “What was described to your members on Friday, in Scott’s own words, made our Council out to be one of divisiveness and comparable to the toxicity of our federal government, I would personally like your members to know that our Council is nothing like that and in fact we agree more often than not and outside of the office many of us get along very well.”
Peralez was referring to a portion of Knies’ speech in which he called out a series of 6-5 votes on the San Jose City Council.
In his address, Knies denounced activists for shutting down a government meeting when the City Council unanimously approved selling public land to Google, and claimed appointments to the Planning Commission are becoming “highly politicized” after East Side leaders criticized the lack of equity and representation on the powerful panel.
“And most dismaying of all was having the issue of race invoked by some City Council members on the losing side of two separate 6-5 votes earlier this year,” Knies continued during his speech. “Is this the new pattern for San Jose with public discourse made from anger and fear? Where we become a community that gives more attention to what divides us rather than what unites us? I hope not. That has never been the San Jose way and we must not succumb to the tribalism beginning to infect our city.”
The “losing side” Knies referred to includes Peralez, Sylvia Arenas, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza and Sergio Jimenez — sometimes called the “Latino caucus.” They recently opposed extending a tax break for high-rise developers and aligning the city’s mayoral election with the presidential election cycle.
Peralez argues in his letter that he had previously explained to Knies that the split on the City Council is not about race, but instead about historic inequities.
“I explained the history behind them and how neither were attempting to divide the Council along racial lines (Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmember Lan Diep stand as examples),” Peralez wrote, “but rather they were rooted in the socioeconomic inequities and historical racism that undeniably played a part in shaping San José’s history.”
Peralez copied more than 20 SJDA board members on his letter demanding an apology, but only two replied. Before Knies could respond, Metro Newspapers owner Dan Pulcrano and Comerica Bank executive Gino De Bernardo jumped in to defend their executive director.
“Let’s be clear. The division in local politics is between the council members aligned with the South Bay Labor Council and those that are not – and who controls a majority of the council votes,” wrote Pulcrano, whose news agency did not identify him as a SJDA board member in an article about the event. “To say that anyone who fails to endorse the SBLC/Working Partnerships agenda is, as you phrased it, is ‘racially insensitive,’ — well, that’s playing the the race card.”
De Bernardo chimed in that he agrees with Pulcrano’s interpretation. He could not be reached for comment this week.
Pulcrano told San José Spotlight on Monday he stands by his remarks supporting Knies and that an editorial disclosure isn’t necessary because his involvement in SJDA is a “pretty well-known fact.”
“Clearly you misread my letter,” Peralez fired back to the board members on Oct. 16. “Scott was advocating for/against upcoming measures, I wasn’t.”
Hours later, Knies personally sent Peralez a letter apologizing for his remarks that personally offended the councilmember.
“I acknowledged the topic in my speech because race had been introduced into the conversation, and it is a hard, uncomfortable conversation we need to become more comfortable with in our respective roles,” Knies wrote in the letter. “As I reflect on my intentions, I realize I also did not fully convey how we don’t want to be what we see on the federal level, especially when it comes to their win-at-any-cost approach.”
Alongside his apology, Knies said his speech’s message is shared among the council, activists and labor.
“None of us think San Jose is reaching its potential, and we want to shake things up and make changes for the better,” Knies wrote. “We want to continue working together to achieve our mutual goals.”
Contact Katie Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.Peralez Letter