San Jose mayor focuses on COVID-19 recovery in State of the City speech
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo delivers his State of the City address in this file photo.

    In a year-end State of the City address, Mayor Sam Liccardo painted a somber— yet resilient — picture of San Jose battling the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires and civil unrest.

    His sixth such address, originally scheduled for Spring, was postponed until an in-person speech was possible. Because that time never came, Liccardo gave the speech via Facebook Live Dec. 30, just in time for the new year.

    “Our city is suffering, as it has never suffered before. … We have been bruised and we have been battered. But we remain unbowed,” Liccardo said.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo gives the State of the City address via Facebook Live.

    He opened the speech by recognizing San Jose resident Patricia Dowd, 57, the first person to die of COVID-19 on American soil, and shared a story about a resident named Celina who participated in a city-funded electrician training class — held outdoors due to COVID-19.

    For Liccardo, Celina — a formerly incarcerated resident — was the picture of resilience. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, Liccardo said Celina was grateful for the county’s alcohol rehabilitation program, for her recovery from addiction and for the recently built “tiny home” that kept her sheltered from the cold. Despite the personal challenges, Celina still took the time to distribute food to families in need, the mayor said.

    The mayor touched on the “range of emotions” felt by all who are grieving, struggling and trying to survive after months of sickness and disaster. Amid the communal frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, anger and outrage, Liccardo urged residents to remain strong and have faith in one another.

    “Our faith instructs that while we remain physically apart, we still live in one community, one city, together,” Liccardo said. “It summons the collective resilience needed to emerge stronger from this pandemic — but only if we’re working together.”

    Liccardo expressed gratitude to the thousands of residents who united to distribute food to families, to essential workers including grocery store clerks, senior caregivers, delivery drivers and health care workers “who put themselves in peril daily to serve and support all of us.”

    He acknowledged the work of Neha and Eshan Rachapudi, two high school students and city librarians who printed 3D face shields for a local hospital, and thanked Santa Clara Street protesters for picking up trash left on the streets from George Floyd protests the night before.

    He thanked city employees who labored long nights in the Emergency Operations Center and applauded their efforts to help businesses open outdoors, address the digital divide, minimize food insecurity, house the homeless and remove blight in the city. He also noted the San Jose Fire Department has taken steps to improve emergency response times.

    Images of residents and city workers banding together flashed on and off the screen as Liccardo spoke.

    Liccardo pointed to his own recent violation of state COVID-19 health guidelines as a cautionary tale to encourage residents to think about the collective good.

    “After my own transgression at a Thanksgiving dinner with my wife and six family members, many residents confessed to me that they too have strayed from one health order or another during this pandemic, so let this be a moment for all of us to recommit to do better for each other,” Liccardo said.

    The mayor said his main focus in 2021 will be on struggling families and small businesses. Liccardo said he will advocate for extending the statewide eviction moratorium and will urge Congressional leaders to provide a stronger relief package.

    A plan to “reimagine policing” and hold officers accountable after a year of reckoning with police brutality and racial bias is also at the forefront of the mayor’s plans for 2021. Liccardo said he believes the discussion surrounding police and racial injustice should not smother investment in more resources for youth — especially youth of color.

    “Let’s make San Jose the first city in America where no child’s trajectory is constrained by her ZIP code, immigration status, or race,” Liccardo said.

    Incoming Councilmember David Cohen said Liccardo’s speech touched on the right points. He was glad the mayor didn’t lose sight of issues that existed prior to COVID-19.

    ”I’m appreciative of his call for unity and his call for all of us to work together and try to solve these problems together,” Cohen said.

    Matt Mahan — who will soon replace termed-out Johnny Khamis on the City Council — said Liccardo gave an “authentic and inspiring” presentation.

    “What really struck me, however, was later in the speech when he was reflecting on the ways in which local government is evolving to respond to this crisis, and how the city is taking on new challenges such as food distribution and digital inclusion that traditionally have not been part of the purview of city government,” Mahan said.

    Mahan said he is looking forward to helping San Jose grow and provide resources for residents.

    Liccardo ended the speech on a hopeful note.

    “When our days have passed, and history recounts our toils to future generations, a very different narrative will emerge than that which we read in our own time. It will tell our progeny about our common faith — one that inspired us to overcome our physical separation to act collaboratively, to give boldly, and to adapt courageously,” Liccardo said.

    “That narrative will reveal how we’ve endured fires that forged a stronger alloy — and created a “better normal” — together. This is our moment to write a new chapter for our city, to define our generation’s special place in history and to lead a badly ailing nation on a path of healing,” he said.

    To watch the mayor’s speech, visit Liccardo’s Facebook page.

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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