For several years, Silicon Valley politicos have been clamoring about what’s next for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. And with just nine months left in office, the mayor has remained mostly mum—until now.
At a California Chamber of Commerce executive board meeting in Half Moon Bay last week, Liccardo let it slip that he’s eyeing a run for Congress and private consulting. Several sources who attended the talk confirmed the information to San José Spotlight. The mayor answered the question from moderator Kailesh Karavadra, the group’s board chair who is a senior partner at Ernst & Young LLP.
While speculation has circulated about Liccardo’s ambitions for higher office—including the congressional seat held by Rep. Zoe Lofgren—this is the first time the mayor has publicly confirmed possible plans to run for Congress. It caught many politicos in the room by surprise.
“That perked my interest, of course,” one of the sources told San José Spotlight.
The news should come as no surprise to those watching Liccardo’s career in recent years. He has positioned himself on a national stage—meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss gun control policies, hiring a six-figure consultant to place op-eds in national newspapers like the New York Times, proposing landmark COVID booster policies only to roll them back later and taking a vocal stand on the federal redistricting process’ affect on San Jose’s representation in Congress.
Liccardo led an aggressive effort in December calling for the state to not approve a map that would split San Jose across four congressional districts. Most of the city was located in the 19th District under Lofgren. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission picked a map that minimizes the splits to the seat of Silicon Valley but ended up splitting San Jose into four congressional districts anyway.
San Jose is now represented by four representatives, including Lofgren in South San Jose; Rep. Jimmy Panetta in Almaden, Cambrian and portions of Evergreen; Rep. Anna Eshoo in West San Jose and Rep. Ro Khanna in part of East San Jose and Berryessa.
If Liccardo rises to a congressional seat, it would not be the first city mayor to head to D.C. Former Mayor Norm Mineta served 10 terms in Congress before becoming the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation.
Other mayors haven’t fared so well. Former Mayor Tom McEnery—a Liccardo ally and supporter—was surprisingly defeated by Lofgren for her seat in Congress. Former Mayor Chuck Reed is a private consultant and attorney, now living in Colorado. And former Mayor Ron Gonzales runs the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, but never tried to run for higher office.
Liccardo said he’s not running for higher office this year.
“I will not be running for Congress this year,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “I’m focused on completing several key initiatives—relating to homelessness, public safety, college access for first generation students and other priorities—in my remaining months at City Hall.”
The mayor added he hasn’t decided on his next steps. With Liccardo not running this year, the soonest he could run is 2024.
“But (I) feel blessed to have been made aware of a variety of options in the private and nonprofit sectors unrelated to my work at the city,” Liccardo said. “A future candidacy, if any, will await another electoral cycle.”
After eight years as mayor and another eight as a councilmember representing downtown San Jose, Liccardo is leaving San Jose City Hall is December. There are numerous candidates vying to replace him, but the frontrunners are Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Matt Mahan and Dev Davis.
Liccardo—as well as his PAC—has yet to endorse anyone, though he’s been rumored to be fundraising and advocating for Mahan. He also started a 501 c(4) advocacy organization, Solutions San Jose, last year to explore “common sense solutions” and has lobbied on issues such as affordable housing and reopening public schools.