After a never-ending drought, the skies let loose a torrential downpour in Election Day’s wee hours. Was God crying about this year’s election choices? If the ballot was a dining menu, it would be easy to just walk out, but in an election there’s no escape. The sous chef will just follow you home and stay in your spare bedroom for the next two, four or ten years.
Local ballots spared voters here high-profile right-wing nut jobs like Herschel Walker, Dr. Oz or Ron DeSantis. Millions of dollars were spent, however, in municipal mayoral contests in San Jose and Santa Clara, the latter of which was a nail biter into the late hours, with incumbent Lisa Gillmor besting challenger Anthony Becker by just 53 votes as the precinct totals were tallied. It’s what we say in the business: too close to call.
In neighboring San Jose, Matt Mahan’s lead over Cindy Chavez grew to 2 points as the clock struck 11. His election-night party in Blossom Valley felt like something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The crowd was enormous, spilling out the door, and the ceviche platter was picked clean in mere minutes.
Members of the youthful crowd and campaign team even wept as early results poured in that showed Mahan nosing ahead. “Revolution for Common Sense” banners stretched from the open bar on the left to the toy-littered kids’ table on the right. After the final chords of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” rang out, Mahan took the stage to celebrate his slender lead and thank his team.
At a defunct restaurant venue on Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue that had been converted into a campaign headquarters, Cindy Chavez threw a festive election night party liberally stoked with local politicians, news cameras, food, drinks and a DJ waiting to see whether she would win or not.
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was played by the DJ at 9:27pm with Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, District 4 Councilmember David Cohen, state Senator Dave Cortese, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and NBC Bay Area Damian Trujillo all in attendance, along with hundreds of supporters in suits and dresses, and 10 news cameras with lights ablaze.
At 9:37pm, Chavez took to the microphone to thank supporters as it was a close election that could not be called that night.
In San Jose’s D3, the high-profile downtown district, Omar Torres was crushing Irene Smith, and the atmosphere inside her remodeled historic home was somber. As rain began to fall, one lone reporter stood outside Smith’s home with phone in hand and notebook in the other. The multi-disciplinary maverick ran a hard-fought campaign, with ubiquitous lawn signs, lots of neighborhood endorsements and a bunch of policy wonk ideas. But her scorching criticisms of city government drove even centrists like Sam Liccardo and Tom McEnery to endorse her labor-backed opponent.
Out and proud frontrunner Torres, meanwhile, staged a colorful celebration at San Pedro Social, where the electricity was palpable. Bright shades of neon and vibrant, jubilant balloons adorned the venue. “Thank you so much for coming,” Torres enthusiastically exclaimed to attendees, who ranged from glittered drag queens to office-clad business people.
Peter Ortiz managed to overtake the better-known Nora Campos in District 5. At Cajun Crack’n, a disturbing billboard of a diseased foot lurked outside, but once inside, the action was upbeat in a back room where Ortiz and his comrades held court. The candidate seemed relieved that the campaign would soon be over and was happy just to talk. At the time he was 405 votes ahead of Campos, which he chalked up to his grassroots approach. Compared to the bashes for the mayoral candidates, where the paparazzi made the room stifling, Ortiz’s celebration was much more civilized, with brown paper covering the tables and one wall peeking into a strip mall selling hoodies and toys.
Opponent Campos, a former councilwoman and state assembly member, hosted her post-election party at mariscos restaurant El Portal Cocina. Familiar faces hugged and greeted one another as they entered the unassuming restaurant.
In District 7, Bien Doan appeared to be pulling off an upset of Maya Esparza.
The incumbent councilwoman’s warm demeanor was well suited for the Fire Fighters Union Hall on Lewis Road, where firefighters shared liquid fire in the form of tequila.
In a small office building in the industrial area of San Jose’s District 7 near Tully Road, Doan hosted his election night party with a group of mostly Vietnamese supporters. He thanked people for their support while Southeast Asian food was served buffet style on a table. They espoused their view in Vietnamese that Doan was needed for change in the community and whether or not he won, it was important that Vietnamese people are represented in local governments. Doan spoke to his supporters in Vietnamese, and they were in good spirits as the retired fire captain pointed out specific individuals in the crowd, thanking them all by name.
Despite being in the most competitive countywide contest, Bob Jonsen held no party of his own and instead latched onto one thrown by two Mountain View City Council candidates at Stein’s beer garden. Tricks like that will go a long way at the perennially budget challenged Sheriff’s department. Instead of dropping concealed weapon applications into a file cabinet and handing out permits to donors, Jonsen says he’ll set up third party screening to make sure deputies are physically and mentally able to handle a gun, including a psychological exam. He plans to improve conditions at the county’s jails by demanding accountability at all levels, and promises transparency (even though Palo Altans chide him for encrypting police radio communications when he was the chief there).
On a cold 47-degree night in South San Jose, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ District 1 candidate Johnny Khamis’ election-night party at Los Paseos Homeowners’ Association in South San Jose was a lively, family-friendly event.
Khamis wore a blue suit and his signature light-brown bucket hat, as people sat around mingling with Central Coast red wine, Gordon Biersch lager and a spread of pita bread, falafel balls and Mediterranean treats. Khamis mingled, shook hands and took photos with supporters as they waited for live election night results… which turned out to be not so good, despite a hard-fought fight.
Sylvia Arenas was a no-show at the beginning of her own election-night party—she was out attending parties for local candidates from Gilroy and Morgan Hill elections—but about 10 people were already there to support her campaign for the District 1 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Entering the backyard of a campaign supporter’s home in the quiet Evergreen hills, Arenas signs were everywhere, as well as heated lamps, Chinese food (chow mein, fried rice, broccoli beef, teriyaki chicken) and Kirkland signature cookies.
Over in the town of the cats, hard-working Rob Moore trended as the top vote getter against much older members of the Los Gatos political establishment.
In Morgan Hill, the chamber executive of neighboring Gilroy, Mark Turner, led in the mayor’s race, a solid win for a business-friendly mayor against a labor-aligned incumbent who failed to make the cut in a bid for a county supervisor’s seat.Water board director Gary Kremen, who was hit with an orchestrated spate of negative press when a politically timed report on his interactions with staff was released, trailed challenger Rebecca Eisenberg by about 3,000 votes. The storied entrepreneur will no doubt reinvent himself again now that his public service appears to be water under the bridge.