San Jose residents support a special election. Will lawmakers change their minds?
Residents packed into the San Jose City Council chambers to speak for or against holding a special election to fill two vacancies on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    A new poll obtained by San José Spotlight shows an overwhelming majority of residents support a special election to fill two vacancies on the San Jose City Council, more than a month after the council voted against it. And now there could be a new movement to ensure voters pick their next representatives.

    The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, was paid for by Solutions Silicon Valley, an advocacy organization started by former Mayor Sam Liccardo and his chief of staff Jim Reed. The telephone poll, which surveyed 531 people on Jan. 10-11, found nearly 9 out of 10 of San Jose residents support a special election.

    And now sources tell San José Spotlight that on Tuesday there could be a motion to hold a special election to fill the seats after all. The council would appoint someone from the short list of 11 finalists, but only to fill those seats until the city could hold a special election.

    While newly-elected San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan didn’t say whether he’d make the motion, he will support it. Mahan has been a staunch supporter of a special election instead of appointments.

    “I want to ensure that the residents of District 8 and 10 have a strong and equal voice at City Hall. While interim appointments offer continuity, open elections are the only way to give full weight and legitimacy to the councilmembers representing these districts,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “We shouldn’t put a price on democracy. There is not a magic number at which suddenly democratic principles become irrelevant.”

    The San Jose City Council is expected to appoint councilmembers to fill the open District 8 seat on Tuesday and District 10 seat on Thursday. Councilmembers voted 7-4 last year to fill those seats through an appointment process instead of a special election. Mahan wants to reverse that decision.

    “Council direction is an iterative process; we’re constantly updating and modifying past decisions,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “I think a compromise approach that involves interim appointments and special elections held as quickly as possible is a reasonable place for this new council to land.”

    Polling conducted by Public Policy Polling, paid for by Solutions Silicon Valley.

    Councilmembers who opposed a special election said the estimated $7 million to $10 million price tag is too costly, especially for a term that would last roughly a year and a half. They also noted it would take months to hold an election. But Mahan and other proponents of a special election say residents deserve to choose their next representative and democracy does not have a cost.

    And now with a new council — which could include support from Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei and Councilmember Bien Doan — Mahan might have the five votes needed to change course.

    But some councilmembers say the mayor’s last-minute maneuver isn’t appropriate.

    “The previous council has already made the decision. This is the path we’re on,” Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who supported an appointment process, told San José Spotlight. “The mayor needs to do a better job of trying to bring people together and not perpetuate some of the statistics. It’s unfortunate that he and his chief of staff Jim Reed continue to be involved in this process. I think we need to move on.”

    Mahan faces an uphill battle to advance his agenda in his first term with a labor-leaning majority on the council. Without a majority, the two appointments would likely result in labor-leaning councilmembers who are unfavorable to Mahan and his policies. A special election, however, could yield more business-leaning candidates because voter turnout in special elections tends to be more affluent, older and white, political observer Terry Christensen previously told San José Spotlight.

    Councilmember Dev Davis, who voted alongside Jimenez in favor of an appointment process, thinks revisiting settled issues will make existing divisions on the dais worse.

    “It would be really disappointing if our new mayor was involved in such a scheme when he should be working with the whole council to build trust across the city, so we can all move forward together,” Davis told San José Spotlight.

    Hundreds of residents filled City Hall last year to voice their support for a special election—the largest crowd the council chambers saw all year. Many of those residents said they’ll be there again Tuesday to urge councilmembers to rethink their decision.

    “Obviously, the majority of residents here are in favor of a special election, but councilmembers have their own reasons to be against it and I am not sure why,” District 10 resident Allison Love told San José Spotlight. “I really hope next Tuesday there will be some new information to change their minds. I know me and my neighbors will be there again to pressure them.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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