“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit, no use being a damn fool about it.”—Winston Churchill
We dream of the perfect candidate in our business. The right person, at the right time, with resources to win and the perfect fit for the populace and the times. Barack Obama in President 2008, Jerry Brown Governor in 2010, Willie Brown for San Francisco Mayor 1995, and Sheriff Laurie Smith for San Jose Mayor 2014.
Only the last scenario won’t happen. She laughs when the compelling case is put before her. “Why would I give up the best job in the world to take on that nightmare?” she asks emphatically.
“Because you are the person who can bring this city back together,” comes the lame answer.
The reasons for a Smith candidacy are compelling. A strong woman administrator with a solid base of support from both business and labor, a down-to-earth personality, a record of taking on a formerly demoralized and ridiculed department and making it the premier law enforcement agency in the county.
Politically, her numbers are off the charts. Smith has high name identification, especially compared to those who would run against her, and her image rating surpasses everyone in the county as it is a lofty 5-to-1 positive. Image ratings are determined by the ratio of people who view a person positively versus those who view them negatively.
Those numbers would not only make her candidacy viable, she would be the immediate front-runner in the race.
Most importantly, with crime rising, with a devastated emergency services problem, a severe public employee morale problem and a divided city; Smith has the capacity to bring all the major parties of interest together to move San Jose forward.
Where once people with large egos worked together for the best interest of the residents, in a town that produced Norm Mineta, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, Janet Gray Hayes, Tom McEnery, Susan Hammer, and Susie Wilson—our current crop of leaders seem wholly inadequate to the challenge.
This should not be taken as a complete dismissal of the current crop of candidates—one of them could rise beyond the petty personal politics that currently dominate our local culture, but none have that cache yet. Smith already has it and could make use of it the day she takes office.
Moreover all the announced candidates are from a City Council that has staked its entire legacy on a flawed premise for pension reform. There is little hope the much heralded Measure B will withstand a court challenge. All of this turmoil will be for naught. We will be going back to square one; with only rising crime, devastated city services and divided politics to show for the effort.
We need a mayor who is not part of the problem and can provide real solutions.
That can only happen with a leader who doesn’t worry too much about their ego and has credibility with all the major interests. We need a leader who can navigate the politics with persistence and put the people’s agenda ahead of personal political ambition.
The simple fact that Smith won’t run, doesn’t need the job and has no higher political ambition outside of the county is one of the main reasons she would not only win, but could also govern. One only need look to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to see how effective that management style is for success.
At one point in a conversation she does get animated: “Boy, that police department really needs some help.”
“It will take five years to rebuild that department.” she adds in a matter of fact tone.
But Mayor Reed and his political inner circle would never offer her that job, even with her record of turning the Sheriff’s department around. And she would not likely accept unless given a guaranteed five-year contact and a free hand to do what is necessary. Besides, why would she give up one of best jobs in the world to take on that nightmare?
I give up, no use being a damn fool.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley. He previously worked to get Laurie Smith elected as sheriff.