Fighting Crime in the Mayor’s Race

The first poll for the San Jose mayor’s race came out this week, and county Supervisor Dave Cortese sits atop the pack. This really isn’t surprising. Cortese has a solid base of support and, barring any unforeseen events, he should be among the top two after the June primary.

What’s interesting is the fight for second. Who will challenge Cortese in November? Currently, Madison Nguyen has a five-point lead over the rest of the field, according to the poll. Sam Liccardo, who is leading in the money race, sits in third at 10 percent. The rest of the field is in single digits.

Liccardo got out early with a campaign message. The problem is it’s the wrong message for him. Current polling indicates that crime is the number one issue in San Jose. While Liccardo has come out strong on the issue, and he has a background in the District Attorney’s office, it’s not his strength. He doesn’t have a public persona as a crime fighter, and he lacks the third-party validation needed to have credibility on the issue. In fact, police organizations and some law enforcement leaders have already endorsed Cortese.

Liccardo’s strengths are downtown development, affordable housing, sustainability and the environment. He is an avid biker and has been a tremendous advocate for transportation infrastructure. But he is not a crime fighter, and those who do fight crime have endorsed one of his opponents.

It’s still early. Liccardo has a chance for course correction, but he has stumbled out of the box with his early fundraising violation and his aforementioned Batman crusade without the mask or cape.

Nguyen has the same problem. But because she has not adopted a “crime fighter” message for the campaign, she has the opportunity to define herself in terms of her strengths.

Most of the other candidates have that ability as well, but most will be talking about crime because of the polls. It is the nature of politics, but also a losing strategy. If a candidate wants to survive to the general election and challenge Cortese, they have to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

In short, they should reject a poll driven campaign and engage focus on their strengths. In the John Vasconcellos campaign for state Senate in 1996, polls showed that crime was the number one issue. Some of the professionals on his team advised the veteran lawmaker to come out strong against crime.

In retrospect, the advice was not only wrong, it was laughable. Vasconcellos was an expert on education and the state budget. His views on fighting crime, while correct, were complex and largely at odds with many of those who prefer punishment to rehabilitation. Moreover, his thoughts did not translate into 30-second television ads—a necessity during that era of political communication.

But it was Vasconcellos himself who rejected those ideas and ran a campaign highlighting his credentials on education, the budget and his support for women and families. He ran on his strengths and not the temporary focus of voters, which can often change in a short period of time. And he won easily.

Vasconcellos could have screwed it up by being dishonest with voters about who he is as a person and leader. It is a lesson for those who seek to serve the public.

The biggest complaint against politicians, in general, is the willingness to pander to the electorate instead of showing integrity and leadership. Voters can vote for someone while disagreeing on some issues, but they will not support people who lack veracity. Integrity is the single most important issue for voters, including crime—but it is rarely quantified in a poll.

That’s why John Vasconcellos was in public office for 38 years. And it’s something each of the San Jose mayoral candidates should keep in mind.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. Well, it’s obvious that the polling was made by a labor-lap-dog company/organization. And if we go according to that, almost 40% of those polled are still “undecided”. So that 19% (supposedly) backing the supervisor doesn’t mean anything if 39% of those “undecided” sway for either the vice mayor or councilmember Liccardo. Rich Robinson is obviously a labor ‘friendly’ individual (working for the sheriff’s re-election campaign) so of course this piece couldn’t be more biased toward local elected labor-lap-dog officials. Considering that two years ago 70% of “the people” of San Jose voted to pass Measure B I find it hard to believe that any polling showing a labor-lap-dog candidate is ahead in the race. Just saying…

  2. Cortese doesn’t have a reputation as a crime fighter either. He has a reputation for being a union supporter, and for being wishy washy. To say that no candidate can challenge Cortese on crime fighting is pure nonsense.

    The issue that most voters have figured out is that it is all about economics and priorities. Crime has become an important issue. Any candidate that promises to spend the money on crime prevention and has a credible plan for finding the money to pay for it will have a shot.

  3. It’s kind of hard to portray yourself as a crime fighter when you’re a major part of the reason why crime is through the roof, but I guess that shows you the level of respect Liccardo has for the voters’ intelligence.

  4. The polling is legitimate. Nobody hires the pollster to lie to them, they do however have a tendency to release the data only if it is favorable. Those with money have done polls and their silence says more about their situation than Labor releasing their results.

    • Rich, your last sentence says it all, and more. When will the Chamber and other Reed-aligned groups release their poll results?! I’m sure there is a lot of anxiety on how to ask the perfectly crafted question to get a favorable result. For anyone aligned with Reed’s policies, this is getting impossible.

  5. Whether it is the SV Chamber of Commerce or the SBLC ‘hiring’ a pollster to conduct one, information obtained and released will always be biased. Remember, ‘they who provide the money are the ones who set the rules’. Sure, you can be silent about information obtained and released after a poll is conducted, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘they who provided the money’ for such to be conducted are ‘ashamed’ or ’embarrassed’ about the results. Nevertheless; one thing labor folks love to do is portray themselves as ‘saviors’ and ‘for the working people’ which is why they pick and choose who helps them ‘project’ that aura. Bottom line, conducting a poll is a bit early for this mayoral race and the real race will come down to ‘labor vs non-labor’. Like the comment above (Phil Hood) states…it’ll boil down to “SV Chamber of Commerce versus the South Bay Labor Council’ as it is the norm. Final two cents: Labor needs to go…

    • I don’t understand the anti-labor position, but if it’s any comfort, the Chamber’s candidates have controlled the voting and political will of this City for the last 8 years. Even the traditional “labor-supported” candidates have voted with the mayor. And where are we now, any better overall?

      It is indisputable that we are far worse off now than at any time in the history of this City. The bond debt of the former RDA is a much bigger problem than the pension reform issue is made out to be, and strangely this mayor and council have been silent on the impact of RDA obligations on the City’s budget.

  6. Liccardo & Nguyen/Khamis submitted dueling proposals to retain SJPD academy graduates last Nov. Although Nguyen & Khamis requested a response by Dec 17, their proposal has been languishing in city staff since then.

    Difficult to understand why since it’s based on existing LA and Oakland’s practices. Liccardo’s convoluted alternative seems based on Rube Goldberg so extensive analysis and delay is not unexpected.

    We’re loosing about 1 of every 4 (26%) academy grads per recent SJPD figures.

    Our budgeted, but unfilled SJPD headcount has risen from 38 (May 2013) to 71 (Feb 2014). Our net loss is about 1 cop a week.

    Being “tough on crime” is demanding results from City Manager Ed Shikada and SJPD Chief Esquivel. Council has allocated money. It’s up to Shikada & Esquivel to use it effectively and act promptly.

  7. None of the so-called-top-contenders for the Mayor’s race is worth a “Tinker’s damn” when it comes to placing the criminal element into submission. Cortese is the absolute worst of all of the aforementioned.

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