Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone has run mostly unopposed for decades. Now he could face a challenger
Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone stands outside his office in San Jose in this file photo.

First he launched one of the world’s first online-dating sites, now Gary Kremen — vice-chair of the Santa Clara Valley Water District and founder of Match.com — could be Santa Clara County’s next assessor.

Kremen told San José Spotlight he’s strongly considering challenging incumbent County Assessor Larry Stone in 2022.

“Many folks have asked me to look at fixing the assessor’s office,” Kremen said. “Because, among other things, the articles in San José Spotlight are highlighting that the current assessor put employees’ lives at stake during COVID.”

He said people have also raised concerns about Stone saying voter-backed Proposition 13 — which freezes property taxes — was “impossible” to implement.

Kremen said he’s in the middle of a “listening tour” with community leaders and county elected officials about his potential run.

“Santa Clara County does not need an eight-term assessor that does not understand the ethics we require in the 21st century,” Kremen said. “I have received over 70 commitments so far from elected officials who are willing to endorse and help.”

The news of a challenger comes as no surprise to the longtime assessor, who was first elected in 1994 and overwhelmingly re-elected six times. Stone said Kremen told him he wanted his job.

“He attempted to convince me to retire,” Stone said. “He said you have done a great job, you have earned retirement, etc. … It was a direct attempt to get me not to run for re-election.”

Kremen denies telling Stone he should retire. Stone announced last month he will seek re-election, saying he didn’t “make this decision lightly” and came to the office nearly everyday despite the pandemic.

And it seems Stone isn’t worried about a little competition — Kremen says Stone offered to pay his filing fees if he runs.

Stone said Kremen cannot compete with his decades of experience as county assessor. Stone has run mostly unopposed for 26 years. The 80-year-old assessor told San José Spotlight that Kremen won’t be a threat.

Kremen is an engineer who spent the last three decades starting and investing in companies including Match.com — one of the first online dating sites. He also founded solar energy company Spruce Finance and is now tackling water and drought issues as an elected Valley Water board member.

“Gary is a guy that pumps a lot of money into political campaigns and tries to improve his relationships with other elected officials with money — not that it’s illegal at all, he’s not trying to hide anything — but he’s totally unqualified to be the assessor,” Stone said. “But in an election, that happens sometimes. So I’m ready, I’ll be financially competitive and I’m looking forward to it.”

Prior to serving as assessor, Stone spent 16 years on the Sunnyvale City Council. He co-founded a Bay Area real estate investment and development firm and worked on Wall Street as a financial manager. He said his experience and fiscally conservative management have kept him in office and will help him win the next election.

Stone boasted saving the county $21.3 million by making conservative budget decisions over the years.

“Would you like somebody that’s never done this before? That is not a certified appraiser or somebody that’s been doing it for 26 years, and has the best fiscal record by returning money every year?” Stone said.

The county assessor is responsible for determining the value of all property in the county. The assessor also provides property tax information to the public. The office of county assessor, just like the other two countywide elected offices — the county sheriff and district attorney, has no term limits.

Political expert Terry Christensen said even though Stone hasn’t been tested recently on the campaign trail, he is a formidable candidate.

“He loves campaigning. He’ll work hard,” Christensen said. “He can raise money and he probably has more political connections than anybody in the Valley. On the other hand, it is a low-profile office. If Kremen is really significantly funded, he can run a credible campaign.”

Christensen noted Kremen defeated an incumbent member of the water district in an even lower-profile race.

“It can be done,” Christensen said, “But I doubt that it can be done with Larry Stone.”

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

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