City Council meetings in San Jose are characteristically mundane, but this week’s special meeting was livelier than usual, pitting lame-duck council members against the current mayor and the mayor-elect, with the council’s political makeup hanging in the balance.
At the meeting, the San Jose City Council voted 7-4 to appoint two new members to two-year terms to fill District 8 and District 10 vacancies.
“I think it brings shame to our city,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said after the 11:30pm vote.
The vacancies arose when District 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas won the District 1 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and District 10 Councilmember Matt Mahan was elected mayor.
Before the Dec. 5 meeting, Liccardo joined Mahan in campaigning for special elections to fill the vacant seats, as is the norm.
“This is a clear break from precedent,” Liccardo said.
“This is a council that uniformly endorsed a candidate for mayor different from the one that got elected,” Liccardo said. The outgoing mayor had supported Mahan in the mayoral race, while all of Mahan’s council colleagues had endorsed Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who lost by more than 6,000 votes.
The selection of new council reps for Districts 8 and 10 will occur in January, following a vetting process and will require a two-thirds council approval, according to supporters.
Besides the mayor, only five of the 10 current members attended the special meeting in person: Mahan, Pam Foley (recently reelected), David Cohen and Sergio Jimenez (their terms expire in 2024) and Chappie Jones (term ends this month).
Four outgoing council members—Supervisor-elect Arenas, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza and Raul Peralez—didn’t attend the meeting in person. Dev Davis was diagnosed with Covid Monday morning, and could not attend.
The successful motion was based on a memo submitted to the council before the meeting by Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Dev Davis and Sylvia Arenas.
San Joseans shared their opinions on how to fill the council vacancies. In-person comments lasted three hours, and then the council shifted to a long list of Zoom speakers. Mayor Sam Liccardo said approximately 200 people signed up to speak live at the special meeting, broadcast on the city council’s live video feed. Another 200 people signed up to speak via Zoom. The majority supported special elections.
After the public comments, Liccardo warned that rejection of a special election would result in a “loss of trust” among voters, and he suggested the new appointees could face recall elections next year.
After more than five hours of public comment, mostly favoring elections over appointed council members, Mahan said the big display of support for a special election was impressive. “A special election will be far more representative than nine of us making this decision,” he said. The mayor-elect said a special election would not require any cuts in city services: “We have reserves…we can pay for this without cutting services.” In an attempt at compromise, Mahan said he would be open to naming an interim councilmember to serve until the election.
Labor-aligned Jimenez, Peralez and Arenas, along with snubbed conservative Davis, spoke against the election proposal. The vote went against the predominant message delivered by speakers from across the city: that appointing council members would be anti-democratic and voter suppression.
“You can’t disenfranchise 200,000 citizens,” one speaker summarized.
Oh yes, they can.