A labor-backed initiative, which seeks to shift San Jose’s mayoral elections to presidential years to boost voter turnout, will no longer extend Mayor Sam Liccardo’s term for an extra two years to align local and national elections.
Instead, South Bay labor groups who are leading the initiative they hope will attract a higher concentration of voters — particularly minorities and communities of color — say allowing Liccardo’s term to end in 2022, as planned, will garner more voter support for the measure.
Under the change, if the measure passes in November, voters would elect a new mayor in 2022 who will face a re-election in 2024 — the next presidential election. If re-elected in 2024, the new mayor would serve a full four-year term until 2028.
“In 2022, people will go to the polls just like they would if there hadn’t been this measure at all, only they’ll be electing a mayor to a two-year term instead of a four-year term,” said Ben Field, executive director of the South Bay Labor Council. “The advantage of it is really twofold — one, Sam Liccardo didn’t appear to want an extension and two, the electorate prefers to not extend Sam Liccardo’s term.”
The move comes after the San Jose City Council last April narrowly voted against putting the measure on the ballot, including Liccardo who voted against extending his own term. While the mayor supports increasing voter turnout, he said aligning the two elections would distract voters from local issues.
“While I appreciate the importance of voter turnout… it’s critical that our mayoral election focuses on San Jose’s own local issues and challenges, without the distraction of the chronic dysfunction of national politics,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight in April.
Earlier this year, a labor-backed poll found that 80 percent of voters would support the measure.
The change means San Jose would hold two mayoral elections in two years — but labor leaders say cutting a future mayor’s term fared better with voters rather than extending Liccardo’s.
“Voters overwhelmingly preferred moving the mayoral election to a presidential year by way of a shorter two-year term, instead of extending Sam Liccardo’s,” Field added. “(The change) strengthens the measure’s political support and makes it more likely that the measure will pass.”
But critics of the proposal, which also calls for limiting money in local politics by prohibiting contributions from certain special interests, are still skeptical and say the initiative is unfair because labor unions would still be allowed to donate to campaigns.
“The SVO remains opposed to the ‘unfair’ elections initiative,” said Matt Mahood, president of the silicon valley organization. “The proposed measure would change the timing of mayoral elections and ban certain special interest campaign contributions, while exempting labor unions from the new rules.”
The initiative would prohibit mayoral and City Council candidates from accepting donations from certain lobbyists, landlords, developers and anyone who’s received city contracts equaling more than $250,000. But opponents like Mahood say the initiative is a “ploy” to give labor the upper hand on lobbying efforts.
“I’m confident that San Jose voters will see right through this deceptive ploy by labor special interest groups to game San Jose politics for their own personal benefit,” Mahood added.
The proposal recently gained support from Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas, Maya Esparza, Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez, as well as State Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblymembers Evan Low, Ash Kalra, Bob Wieckowski and Kansen Chu and Congressmembers Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna and Anna Eshoo.
While the change is new to the mayor’s race, it isn’t the first time San Jose has mixed up its election cycles. After Chu was elected to the Assembly in 2014, former District 4 Councilmember Manh Nguyen won a special election against Tim Orozco for a one-year term in office. Nguyen then squared off against current Councilmember Lan Diep, who unseated Nguyen in 2016.
Labor advocates must obtain at least 70,000 signatures by March before the initiative can be placed on the November ballot. While he didn’t reveal the number of signatures, Field said labor leaders are on track for qualifying the measure.
“We’re going to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot,” said Field. “We’re on pace to get to the number that we need.”
Contact Nadia Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.