From five down to one: After a nine-hour marathon council meeting, San Jose has a new councilmember in District 8: Domingo Candelas.
“I am feeling very emotional,” Candelas told San José Spotlight moments after winning the appointment. “Meeting with the community, setting up an office and making sure that we’re diverse, that we’re engaging, we’re responsive, that’s my top priority.”
Candelas beat out four other hopefuls—Salvador Alvarez, Patricia Andrade, Sukhdev Bainiwal and Tam Truong—to snag the appointment to the vacant seat that covers East San Jose and Evergreen. After a multi-round voting process, he ultimately won seven votes from councilmembers. The runner up, Alvarez, netted two votes.
Candelas is the director of local government affairs at Stanford University and previously worked for former Sen. Jim Beall and Valley Water. He will serve in the seat until the next regular election in 2024.
But his appointment was not without controversy.
Dozens of San Jose residents spoke out against the process, with many saying they would’ve preferred to elect their next representative. Councilmembers will also appoint a new representative in District 10, another open seat, on Thursday.
Candelas also faced accusations from the other candidates that he cheated his way to the win. City Hall sources told San José Spotlight that Candelas might have been given insider information—including early access to questions the candidates were asked. Some candidates confirmed to San José Spotlight that they raised concerns after he seemed “too prepared.”
Alvarez and Truong said they reported to City Clerk Toni Taber that Candelas appeared to be violating the rules by using a cellphone and laptop while waiting to be interviewed.
Candelas spoke publicly during the meeting about the allegations and said he is “heartbroken and at a loss for words.”
“I got to know what issues are important to the city and I did my own homework and for the allegations to be raised against me is heartbreaking… I should not be blamed for doing my homework and my due diligence,” he said shakily.
After the vote, Candelas referred to the accusations as “politically charged.”
“It hurts but ultimately, I think my performance and my ability to relay the issues of what matters for District 8, the council saw that,” Candelas said. “We need to get to work. We need to start representing our community.”
The high-stakes meeting came to a halt Tuesday after officials shuffled into a closed-door meeting to discuss a “litigation risk” with the appointment process—what ended up being the accusations against Candelas. Mayor Matt Mahan interrupted public comment to say concerns were raised with the appointment process. City Attorney Nora Frimann said there was risk of litigation related to the process “in terms of interviews and the process set up by the clerk, and the way it’s supposed to be followed.”
Looking visibly surprised, councilmembers went into an emergency closed session for about an hour. By 8:50 p.m., they emerged from the private meeting and reported that the process can continue, despite concerns.
City Attorney suggests council do emergency adjournment. She is worried there is a litigation risk regarding the appointment process.
Councilmembers look very confused and attorney won’t provide more detail until CMs are in closed session. pic.twitter.com/DTFmzC3sFh
— Jana Kadah (@Jana_Kadah) January 25, 2023
The District 8 seat became vacant after former Councilmember Sylvia Arenas was elected county supervisor in November.
Candelas said he will jump into the role on Jan. 30 by setting up his office and meeting with the community.
“Community engagement is going to be a top priority for me,” he said. “I want to make sure the residents of District 8 have direct access to their councilmember.”
He would not say whether he will seek reelection to the seat in 2024, but his application indicates that he plans on running.
When asked Tuesday how he makes tough decisions, he said his moral compass helps guide him and pointed to his faith as a Catholic. He said he was born and raised in District 8.
In his application for the seat, Candelas said that he’s worked on bills to provide funding for transportation projects and road repairs, as well as legislation to allocate funding for affordable housing. “I intend to bring my experience of bringing many voices to the table and bridging the collaboration gap to ensure cohesion and get things done with accountability and performance standards,” he wrote.
Councilmembers lamented the difficult decision with the other four applicants boasting impressive experience and skills.
Alvarez is an executive analyst in the city’s Office of Economic Development who jumped into the District 8 competition to bring more services to the Evergreen area where he was born and raised. His father was a civil rights leader with United Farm Workers and his mother is a former Evergreen School District trustee.
Andrade previously told San José Spotlight she’s the best pick to replace Arenas because she knows the inner workings of government. She is the Evergreen School District board president and worked as a community relations staffer for Arenas.
As a Sikh community leader and a former San Jose airport commissioner, Bainiwal said he came to the U.S. when he was 11 years old and earned engineering degrees.
Truong is a sergeant in the San Jose Police Department and has won early support from prominent Vietnamese leaders hoping to expand representation on the council. He went to public schools in the district and is raising his two kids there.
Truong, Bainiwal and Andrade faced individual allegations of wage theft, domestic abuse and carpetbagging, respectively.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.