Santa Clara council candidates, 49ers, police union point fingers over campaign donations
Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai joins a news conference to denounce 49ers spending $3 million to support candidates in the 2020 election. Photo courtesy of Suds Jain.

The San Francisco 49ers have now poured millions more into a campaign to unseat Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s allies on the Santa Clara City Council — drawing the ire of the city’s police union.

The NFL team initially invested $250,000 into a PAC to help elect Anthony Becker, Suds Jain, Harbir Bhatia and Kevin Park. The sum is now up to $3 million, according to campaign finance records.

The PAC is called Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, which is sponsored by the NFL team and its CEO Jed York.

Bhatia is attempting to unseat District 1 Councilmember Kathy Watanabe while Park is challenging District 4 Councilmember Teresa O’Neill — both allies of Gillmor. Jain is going against Bob O’Keefe for an open seat in District 5 and Becker faces Robert Mezzetti and Gary Barve for an open seat in District 6.

The Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association has endorsed Watanabe, O’Neill, O’Keefe and Mezzetti. The group funneled $25,000 from developer Related Companies, which has a massive development project up for council approval, through its PAC to help elect its favored candidates, who are also endorsed by Gillmor.

The mayor joined police union leaders and Police Chief Pat Nikolai Oct. 22 for a news conference at Santa Clara City Hall to denounce the hefty spending by the 49ers.

“We are talking about the fact that Jed York is spending $3 million to pick his City Council members and buy and control the city of Santa Clara and we have a big concern about that,” Gillmor said. “The bill is going to have to be paid. Jed York is not supporting candidates that are going to oppose him… and all four of them have already said they’re open to changing the curfew laws which removes the protections and gives Jed York more money.”

Rahul Chandhok, a spokesman for the 49ers, said Gillmor and the police union are once again supporting “a slate of all-white candidates while she spends millions of dollars in taxpayer money to upend voting rights to dilute minority representation.”

“Her twice-failed ballot measures and legal fees have cost residents in excess of $4 million alone,” Chandhok said. “She’s wasted even more in personal political consultants, spin doctors and international trips for her allies. Her hypocrisy knows no bounds and we will not shy away from supporting diverse representation and upholding voting rights.”

The news conference planned by the police union to call out the 49ers took an unexpected turn when three candidates opposed by the union — Jain, Bhatia and Becker — showed up. All three have received support from the NFL team’s PAC.

Anthony Becker, Harbir Bhatia and Suds Jain, three candidates opposed by the police union and supported by a 49ers-funded PAC, crash the news conference. Photo courtesy of Raj Chahal.

The three held signs that read “POA is a special interest group” and sat in a small, socially distanced crowd. District 2 Councilmember Raj Chahal attended in support of the challengers.

Jain told San José Spotlight he attended the news conferences because he thought it was “inappropriate” to host it at City Hall and wanted to express his side of the story.

“For years and years, the POA has backed candidates for council with no opposition and they didn’t complain when they were the ones benefiting,” Jain said.

Jain also said there could be legal ramifications for the mayor and her colleagues for campaigning on public property.

Contact Luke Johnson at [email protected] and follow @Scoop_Johnson on Twitter.

Carolyn Schuk/ Santa Clara Weekly contributed to this report.

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