Tech leader Matt Mahan jumps into San Jose council race
Photo courtesy of Matt Mahan.

Tech entrepreneur Matt Mahan on Wednesday jumped into the San Jose City Council race to replace District 10 Councilmember Johnny Khamis next year.

“My motivation to run is rooted in my own personal experience of San Jose,” Mahan said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve always experienced San Jose as a city of opportunity.”

Mahan, 36, grew up on the “other side of the hill” — Watsonville — a humble beginning for a man who would go on to create one of the world’s most powerful platforms for political and civic engagement, Brigade. His working-class roots and growing up in a low-income family generated the fuel that pushed him over the hill — and into Silicon Valley.

After earning a full work-study scholarship, Mahan commuted four hours a day to attend Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose. He fell in love with the city’s vibrancy, diversity and the possibilities. Mahan, a Harvard graduate, returned to teach middle school English and History in Alum Rock.

Mahan and his family have been back in San Jose for two years following a six-year stint in San Francisco.

And now the tech leader has his sights set on political office. Mahan is the second candidate to announce his intention to run for the District 10 council seat, following community leader Jenny Higgins Bradanini, who’s expected to be the more progressive candidate on the ballot.

Mahan said he’ll focus his campaign on improving neighborhoods, investing in transit, bolstering public safety amid a spike in property crime in Almaden Valley and finding creative solutions to the valley’s homeless crisis and affordable housing shortage.

Spending $500,000 to build one affordable housing unit isn’t going to work, Mahan said, and the city must find other scalable solutions — using old motels for homeless housing, converting shipping containers and building tiny homes. Mahan said he isn’t sure if he’ll support another tax measure, currently being eyed by Mayor Sam Liccardo for the 2020 ballot, for affordable housing.

Khamis said Tuesday that he’ll oppose the tax.

“I’d have to learn more about it,” Mahan said. “I think that anyone pursuing a bond for affordable housing has to help explain to people how we’ll scale the solutions. Some of these problems feel so overwhelming that if people don’t see a path to addressing the problem in scale, they’re not going to be able to support solutions in increments. I think the bar is higher.”

Mahan did, however, support the mayor’s push to pass Measure T last fall, a $650 million bond for public safety and infrastructure upgrades.

The District 10 seat is critical for Liccardo and his business-friendly faction to retain its majority. The mayor’s 6-5 bloc often relies on a friendly vote from Khamis, and losing that reliable vote could be detrimental to Liccardo’s agenda.

Higgins Bradanini, president of Women’s March Bay Area, told San José Spotlight in March that the affluent Almaden Valley is ready for a progressive Democrat, vowing to fight for working families and to make Silicon Valley more affordable and equitable.

Higgins Bradanini said Wednesday that she’s in Sacramento advocating for policy, and hasn’t read Mahan’s positions on the issues.

“But it’s likely we’ll be focused on the same issues, and while he will likely agree with me on issues, I know I will be the candidate that will bring a combination of results and record of achievement to the dias,” Higgins Bradanini said. “It’s easy to sound good on the issues, it’s a lot harder to prove it. I’m excited for the discussions and conversations ahead with the residents of D10.”

Though Higgins Bradanini is the presumed labor candidate, Mahan’s early endorsements tout some big names from the left, including state Sen. Scott Wiener, Assemblyman Marc Berman and former Mayor Ron Gonzales. Still, Mahan’s top endorsers are closely aligned with business interests, including Mayor Sam Liccardo, former Mayor Chuck Reed and Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino.

Mahan serves as a board member of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

Not on Mahan’s long list of endorsements: Khamis, the soon-to-be-termed out councilmember who’s running for state Senate. Khamis said he isn’t sure when or if he’ll endorse his successor.

A few differences have already emerged between Khamis and Mahan. For example, Mahan wants to preserve Coyote Valley, while Khamis pushed to study alternative uses, including for industry.

“Matt has been engaged in the community for quite some time,” Khamis said. “I’ve been happy that he’s been volunteering everywhere. I like people who literally serve, not just say they want to serve.”

Five even-numbered seats on the San Jose City Council will be up for election next year. Khamis’ is the only open seat. The primary election will be held in March 2020.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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