.Cindy Chavez Is Running on Experience

Buoyed by endorsements and flush with cash, Cindy Chavez makes second bid for mayoral seat

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez has been a political player in San Jose since 1998. She’s served two terms each on the San Jose City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and now she’s making her second run for mayor—a race in which the four frontrunners have collectively raised more than $2.2 million.

It’s a high-stakes game, but Chavez believes she has what it takes to make San Jose one of the safest cities again.

Born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Chavez moved with her family to Fremont, California, where she grew up and attended Moreau Catholic High School, a Catholic college preparatory high school. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a teacher’s aide. Both were heavily involved in volunteer work: Her father was an active member of his union and a registered Republican; her mother donated time to her church. Chavez was inspired by her parents’ focus on making their communities a better place.

“What I learned from both of them is the price of being part of a community is the responsibility of being invested and making it better,” Chavez says.

At 18, Chavez enrolled at San Jose State University to study political science. After graduating, she became engrossed in public policy work, serving as a budget and policy aide on health, human services and transportation issues for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. 

In 1998 Chavez beat Tony West for the downtown city council seat and was re-elected four years later. In 2005 and 2006, Chavez served as Ron Gonzales’s vice mayor and then ran for the office in 2006 after Gonzales termed out. In a field of 10 candidates, Chavez made it to the runoff but lost to Chuck Reed in the general election. 

After leaving the council, Chavez returned to organized labor. In 2009 she served as executive officer of both the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA, a charity-funded policy organization that shares offices with the union’s political apparatus. 

In 2012 she waded into politics again, winning a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors after her ally George Shirakawa resigned and pled to felony corruption charges. She has been reelected twice and has served on many boards and agencies, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Caltrain Board of Directors, and Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

Chavez acknowledges that her most important political achievements and experiences stem from the strong relationships she has built with community leaders. 

“When we are dealing with the future of the health and vitality of our cities across the country, we need people to lean in and run for mayor who are ready to address those very complex challenges and do it in a way that really brings people together,” Chavez says. “Every accomplishment I talk about, every single one of them, was done with nonprofits, community leaders, neighborhood leaders, business leaders, the labor movement, the government entities I worked with; none of those are my own. They really belong to everybody.”

Of these accomplishments, there are three that give her the most satisfaction.

The first is improving the county’s child abuse and neglect hotline to a 96% answer rate by getting the Department of Social Services more resources and improving strategies. 

“That hotline was answering calls in the mid 60% range. If you think about it, that is 911 for children. If you see something in your community—if you’re a teacher and you have a student you are concerned about, you’re a police officer and you roll upon an incident—you call about it.”

Chavez also played a leadership role in making sure the county could purchase O’Connor Hospital, St. Louise Regional Hospital, and the DePaul Health Center. 

“That allowed us to preserve over 400 beds and left two emergency rooms open. I  just want you to imagine for a moment that we didn’t have those hospitals or those emergency rooms during Covid. It was a challenging decision to make because it was adding two hospitals that were financially challenged, which is why they were being sold, and nobody wanted to purchase them for healthcare. They would have been purchased for their land value to potentially be housing or something else. The board, with the leadership of our staff, decided to lean in and save those hospitals and I think in the long term save lives.”

And there’s her third accomplishment: working to pass 2016’s Measure A, a $950 million affordable housing bond. 

Chavez has built strong ties to powerful constituencies, including police and labor unions and seasoned politicians. Her endorsements page includes affirmations of support from members of the US Congress and the state legislature, as well as the San Jose Police Officers Association San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 and the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Chavez’s record as a councilmember earned her the endorsement of the SJPOA. 

“The decision was an easy decision to make,” said Tom Saggau, the political advisor to the SFPOA. The association looks back on Chavez’s tenure as a time when “San Jose was considered the safest big city in the nation.” Now, he says, “we are chronically understaffed, one of the most understaffed departments in the country per capita.”

Chavez’s interest in public safety continued during her time on the Board of Supervisors. “I have been very focused on public safety,” she says. “The County of Santa Clara, in partnership with the district attorney Jeff Rosen and I, worked to make sure to test rape kits faster than any other place in the country. We do for stranger rapes within seven days. We don’t even have the 30-day threshold.”

Within her endorsements, one that sticks out is the NFL 49ers “Citizens for Cindy Chavez, Mayor 2022”—paired with a $300,000 independent expenditure. 

Both the 49ers and Chavez attribute the large independent expenditure to the collaboration that went into transforming Levi’s Stadium into a vaccination site. 

“I will tell you that I asked for their endorsement in the fall. Jed York is the leader of the 49ers and also the president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Al Guido, who runs the 49ers from day to day, was the other person who endorsed. I had the opportunity to work with both of them very closely during Covid-19 and had an opportunity to really appreciate the role that they wanted to play in the community. They had one of the largest vaccination places in the country in their facility.”

“There are a lot of people scratching their heads wondering why,” said Raul Peralez who also asked for an endorsement. “You are talking about a sports organization from a neighboring city that has been engulfed in political battles in their own city.”

He is left confused why the 49ers wouldn’t conduct an interview process or endorse several candidates to guarantee goodwill no matter the race’s outcome.

This is not the first time the 49ers have thrown their hat in the political ring. The 49ers have previously used their PAC, Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, worth initially $250,000, to unseat Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s allies on the Santa Clara City Council. Three 49ers-backed candidates ended up on the council. Quickly gaining the numbers advantage, those three joined two others in firing Santa Clara city attorney Brian Doyle. He was known for clashing with 49ers interests, often criticizing the organization’s financial information and withholding of revenue. 

To Chavez, being widely endorsed is only an advantage and one that will benefit the mayor in achieving what needs to be done for the city.

“What is different about my endorsements is, I have endorsements from labor movements, the business community, community advocates and leaders, nonprofit leaders. That cross-section is not only what you need when you are running for office. It is what you need when you are governing. That is what is so important about those endorsements.” 

With her wealth of endorsements and years of experience, Chavez argues that she is just what San Jose needs. 

“The reason I chose to run is I believe the problems that face our future in San Jose are going to continue to be complex and it is going to require a high level of experience and achievement, accomplishment to really lead our city forward.”

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