Almost all San Jose councilmembers and candidates are backing one person for mayor: Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.
Chavez is facing off against San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan this November, but only one of his colleagues has endorsed him—Mayor Sam Liccardo who is terming out. Vice Mayor Chappie Jones has yet to make a public endorsement, and the rest of the council is backing Chavez.
Local political observers say it’s unprecedented to have a council almost entirely back one candidate. Usually endorsements are split on ideological distinctions. Labor-backed candidates garner more left-leaning elected officials and groups, while the business and center-right community supports their respective candidate. But in this mayoral race, Chavez, who is heavily backed by labor groups, has also secured support from some pro-business leaders—Liccardo’s friend Bloom Energy executive Carl Guardino and Councilmembers Dev Davis and Pam Foley.
“I think it is a big deal,” Garrick Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University, told San José Spotlight. “Endorsements are crucial, especially in local races in California, because there is no party ID on the ballot so people look to other kinds of information or shortcuts to make decisions.”
Percival says it’s likely Chavez’s experience that secured so much support. Before being elected as supervisor in 2013, Chavez sat on the San Jose City Council from 1998-2006. She also unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2006. Mahan’s first stint in politics was when he was elected in a landslide victory to the city council in 2020. Prior to his seat on the city council, he served on the Almaden Valley Community Association, the District 10 Leadership Coalition and the city’s Clean Energy Community Advisory Commission while working as a tech executive.
Councilmember Sergio Jimenez agreed Chavez’s experience is a big factor, but said he supports her because of her ability to bring opposing voices together.
“I think part of the reason (Mahan’s) not getting the support is experience, for sure. But the other part, at least from my perspective, is I haven’t necessarily seen him be able to join forces to move a particular policy forward,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight.
He said Mahan’s inability to secure endorsements from his colleagues is significant because the mayor has almost equal power to other councilmembers in that they all get one vote.
“These endorsements are very telling as to what we think is best for the city,” Jimenez said. “If Mahan wins, I’m not sure how effective he’s going to be. Being able to govern effectively is being able to bring people together.”
‘A change in direction’
Liccardo, who helped fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mahan, sees a different leader. He said while Mahan may have not garnered council support, he secured endorsements from four of the five living San Jose mayors.
“They understand this job is much different than simply being a councilmember for a bigger district,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “Anybody who has met Matt Mahan knows that he’s great with people, but by clamoring for change, accountability, and better solutions at City Hall, he’s likely to rankle some insiders who are content with the status quo.”
Mahan said the endorsements from the former mayors speak volumes and said Chavez’s endorsements are from the establishment, calling her the “establishment candidate.”
“It means the people who have actually run San Jose as mayor are seeing our campaign as the best choice for change,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “The voters who think we need a change in direction are joining our campaign by the thousands every week.”
However, Chavez said the council endorsements are a reflection of the work she has done for years with different councilmembers.
“I’ve worked with (Davis) very closely because we’ve serve on the Caltrain board to resolve governance issues. And I’ve worked with Councilmember David Cohen to look at opportunities to expand housing,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “The ability to work together has real outcomes on our ability to create a better community so this bodes well for the future of San Jose.”
Davis, who is arguably the most conservative voice on council, endorsed Chavez last week. She compared Mahan to former President Donald Trump because both did not have experience in public service before assuming their positions.
She told San José Spotlight it was a difficult decision to endorse Chavez because she aligns with Mahan more ideologically, but said he has not passed major initiatives or shown he can bring people together to solve city problems.
“I’m not surprised at the endorsements,” Davis said. “Most people on council have had the opportunity to work with both of them. I know my colleagues and I think everyone wants what’s best for the city as a whole.”
She agreed with Jimenez that Mahan may have a hard time getting his initiatives passed on council with a majority supporting Chavez. Though Jones has not made an endorsement yet, he terms out this year and his replacement, Rosemary Kamei, has endorsed Chavez.
Two candidates vying for the District 5 seat, former Assemblymember Nora Campos and Santa Clara County Board of Education President Peter Ortiz, both support Chavez; as well as one District 3 candidate, San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board trustee Omar Torres.
However, Percival said while endorsements are a big deal in campaigns, they tend to fall by the wayside once elections are over.
“Sometimes there’s hurt feelings for a period of time,” Percival said. “But elected officials are really comfortable moving from a campaign-style climate to governing style.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.