Since the implementation of district elections and term limits, competitive elections for incumbent San Jose City Council members have been previously nonexistent. But this year is different. Scorn and division have replaced civility and respect as the local body politic descends into the kind of morass usually associated with cities such as Sunnyvale and Milpitas.
As a result, there is no free ride for any councilmember, and in a couple of districts the incumbents are in for a real battle. District 10, the only seat where an incumbent is termed out, will be a free for all. But the most competitive incumbent races will be in districts 4, 6 and 8. Only Ash Kalra, in district 2 has the type of token opposition that allows for a political free ride.
In District 4, Kansan Chu is up against the Mayor Reed-inspired candidate Tam Truong. The last time Reed endorsed someone in this race, he supported losing candidate Hon Lien, another Vietnamese candidate who failed to grasp even the most mundane city or district issues.
This time, Reed, or more precisely his political brain trust, tapped a current police officer who also has the backing of Madison Nguyen. The dynamic ensures District 4 voters will see a flurry of deceptive and possibly anonymous hit pieces about Kansan Chu. The political machine that created Truong has no trouble bending, breaking or eliminating the truth altogether; having adopted a stance that he is better served asking forgiveness after a campaign than acting ethically during it.
These are the same folks who masterminded the spectacular defeats of Lien in District 4, former Councilmember Larry Pegram in District 6, Magdalena Carrasco in District 5 and most inexplicably Richard Calderon, who Mayor Reed endorsed for sheriff against the most popular political figure in county government: Laurie Smith. That recommendation alone should have gotten somebody from Team Reed fired.
As a result, Reed’s record of supporting winners is the worst among any San Jose mayor in recent memory. And while the blame for his poor record is attributable to bad political advice, it baffles many—even in his own camp—that Reed continues to make the same mistake over and over again. His sanity, otherwise, appears to be intact.
Chu, however, should survive the challenge for a number of reasons. First, he is well-known and has served the district well in many capacities—including the City Council—for over 10 years. He is well-funded, has tremendous support from the Asian community at large and has tended to his district’s needs.
Moreover, the Madison Nguyen endorsement of Truong in the Vietnamese community is akin to a Fidel Castro endorsement in the Cuban community. She is not well-liked given the debacle over the naming of Little Saigon. Ironically, she survived her recall election based on Latino votes in her district and a strong field campaign produced by the South Bay Labor Council. Truong will have neither benefit.
In addition, police officers who are furious with Reed are not likely to back Truong, who claims to be one of their own. Look for the boys in blue to insure District 4 knows Truong is a PINO, Policeman In Name Only.
In future posts, we will cover districts 6, 8 and 10. But the juxtaposition of the current politics in San Jose versus Santa Clara County—where incumbents George Shirakawa and Dave Cortese get the normally expected free ride—is striking. Of course, with the exception of their disastrous intrusion into the sheriff’s race, Team Reed hasn’t played at the county level. Yet.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant who is working on Steve Kline’s District 6 campaign.