Two years ago, Jed York and the San Francisco 49ers jolted local electoral politics by spending nearly $3 million to back a slate of Santa Clara City Council candidates and a measure to replace at-large council voting with district representation.
Both efforts were successful—three of four council candidates were upset winners and council districts were established—prompting national news website Politico to dub Santa Clara, home of the 49ers Levi’s Stadium since 2014, “Yorkville.”
York’s family owns 90% of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, which Forbes says is the league’s fifth-richest franchise.
Then this spring, another local political action committee was created, this time to support Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez in her primary campaign for mayor of San Jose, with nearly all of the money—$300,000—donated by the Forty Niners Football Company.
As the general election campaigns heat up in San Jose and Santa Clara, there are no signs yet that the team will shell out money to defeat incumbent Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor or to replenish its Chavez PAC’s coffers to aid her battle against Councilmember Matt Mahan.
There’s less than $32,000 left in the 49ers war chest for Chavez, since $268,413 was spent in a bruising primary battle that left the supervisor as the top vote-getter.
The Chavez campaign spent nearly $887,000 in the primary, plus more than $700,000 from PACs including the 49ers. On Aug. 1, she reported a campaign balance of $293,995, as of June 30.
The Mahan campaign spent approximately $922,000 in the primary, with a remaining June 30 balance of $271,449, according to his Aug. 1 filing. His major PAC, Common Good Silicon Valley, sponsored by Solutions Silicon Valley, spent about $360,000 on his primary campaign.
The Chavez campaign and the 49ers declined any comment on whether they expect “Citizens for Cindy Chavez, Mayor 2022, sponsored by and with major funding from DeBartolo Corporation & Affiliated Entities, incl. Forty Niners Football Company, LLC” to receive any more football money in the campaign’s final 10-week sprint.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr., head of the DeBartolo enterprises in Ohio and Florida, sold ownership of the 49ers, which his father bought in 1977, after Eddie Jr.’s 1998 conviction in a gambling scandal. Ownership of the team shifted to his sister, Denise, and her husband, John York; their son Jed is now team president.
The 49ers organization has not responded to questions about whether there will be a 2022 version of 2020’s “Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights…, sponsored by John Edward (Jed) York” and funded by York and the Forty Niners Football Company in Santa Clara.
Gillmor has been at odds with the 49ers, in court and in Santa Clara, over Levi’s Stadium management, and with the new council majority, which, over her objections, fired the city manager and city attorney, both stridently anti-49er.
Former Santa Clara mayor Pat Mahan (no relation to the San Jose mayoral candidate), who was one of three designated principals of the 2020 49ers PAC—along with former Santa Clara police chief Mike Sellers and former congressman Mike Honda—says she has heard nothing about a new 49ers-backed PAC this year to help defeat Gillmor, as it had her council allies in 2020.
The 2020 PAC in Santa Clara was formed and funded with $2.99 million just six weeks before the general election. The 2022 PAC in San Jose was formed and fully funded two months before the June primary.
Mahan said she is endorsing Gillmor’s opponent, Councilmember Anthony Becker, and credits the new council majority with removing what Mahan called a “toxic environment” created by former City Manager Deanna Santana and supported by Gillmor and the previous council majority. Becker was one of the four council candidates in 2020 that benefited from the 49er PAC.