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People Who Need Voters

[whitespace] Coming to terms with the candidates

THEY PROMISE the cosmos, they spread rumors about their opponents, but when you sit down and talk to them, they sound like twins separated at birth. What's a voter to do? Read on.

Councilmember, District 1
(West San Jose)

Sometimes it's hard to figure out exactly what office Chuck Gillingham is running for. His first glossy campaign brochure says, "Sheriff Chuck Gillingham for City Council." At debates, he likes to start his spiel with the paternalistic clause "As your sheriff ..." So if he's elected to the City Council, will his nameplate read "Councilmember Sheriff Chuck Gillingham"?

Of course, there's a tactical reason for reminding voters of what office Gillingham currently holds. As your sheriff for the last eight years, Gillingham boasts relatively high name recognition, especially for a City Council race. Furthermore, Santa Clara County is one of the safest urban areas in the state--why not remind people who has helped keep it that way?

Gillingham faces three contenders in the hunt to replace Councilwoman Trixie Johnson, who'll be out of a job at the end of the year because of term limits: student Jason Buzi, stadium tax- killer Ross Signorino and attorney Linda LeZotte. Only LeZotte--backed by Mayor Susan Hammer and Johnson--has mounted a viable campaign to challenge Gillingham.

Of the two, we like LeZotte more. She has the endorsement of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. With Johnson leaving, the council will be losing one of its few consistently green-friendly votes. Judging from LeZotte's time on the Planning Commission, she will make land-use decisions that protect the hillsides and urban reserves.

Gillingham, on the other hand, has no environmental record. But take a look at the development interests backing him: Home Builders Association, Tri-County Apartment Association, the San Jose Real Estate Board, the Building and Constructions Trades Council. This is unsettling, especially at a time when there's enormous pressure to build more housing in open-space areas.

We also don't like Gillingham's tendency to make false promises to his colleagues. For example, this year he privately told state Senate candidates Mike Sweeney and Liz Figueroa that they each had his sole endorsement. The sheriff later told Metro he was endorsing both of them, to the surprise of Sweeney and Figueroa.
Recommendation: Linda LeZotte for District 1.

Councilmember, District 3
(Downtown San Jose)

This race is an embarrassment of riches. Candidate Tony West is a federal prosecutor who graduated from Harvard and served on the Planning Commission. Cindy Chavez is a union activist who previously worked three years as an aide to then county Supervisor Ron Gonzales. Ray Moreno and Philip Reynolds are both respected neighborhood activists.

We don't think Moreno or Reynolds has the regional contacts and big vision for what may be the most important council seat. That leaves West and Chavez. It's a tough choice; we wish they weren't running in the same district.

Both are progressive Democrats, but they differ on a number of key issues: West favors moving City Hall downtown, Chavez opposes the move; Chavez supports a living-wage ordinance for city contractors and the boycott of Super Kmart, while West opposes both. They both, to our dismay, support the airport expansion, though while on the Planning Commission West voted for a smaller buildout than what was ultimately approved by the City Council. He also favors Councilman David Pandori's poison-pill initiative to make traffic improvements before expanding the airport.

The city's two aging political machines have landed on opposite sides in this race: Ex-mayor Tom McEnery is backing West; Mayor Susan Hammer is supporting Chavez.

We think either one would make a fine councilmember. Chavez, we believe, would be a more aggressive, activist legislator, not afraid to get in the face of Redevelopment's Frank Taylor and ensure greater accountability from the agency. West brings the consensus style that permeates San Jose political culture and makes council meetings a tiresome exercise in self-congratulation.

Nevertheless, we don't think West will be a pushover. After all, he's a prosecutor. And as an attorney, he'll be able to spot inconsistencies in staff reports and, we hope, ask tough questions as Pandori has. He's also more focused on public safety than Chavez, an issue of utmost importance to District 3 residents.

All things considered, we give the nod to West, though we won't be disappointed if Chavez wins.
Recommendation: Tony West for District 3.

District 4, Santa Clara
Valley Water District

There are two seats open on the water district board June 2. Rosemary Kamei is running unopposed in District 1. Running for the District 4 seat are four experienced candidates. The incumbent, Larry Wilson, worked for the district for 33 years before being elected to the board four years ago. Joe Pandit also worked for the district for 16 years and then served on the district board for 10. Bill Gissler was mayor of Santa Clara for a decade and served as manager of the West Valley Sanitation District. Chris Stampolis is community relations manager for Romic Environmental Technologies and formerly worked in a similar capacity at San Jose's Environmental Services Department.

The water district is the county's third-largest agency, with a budget of $300 million and the authority to levy local benefit-assessment taxes. Historically, it has had two directives--provide a reliable water supply and control floods. But as the valley grows and changes, so must the water district's mandate. Now more than ever, the water district is being asked to take a leading role in preserving the environment and fighting pollution. The district is also being asked to provide a workplace up to 1990s standards of competence, diversity and openness. In these areas, the district has been slow to evolve. For this reason, we believe it's time for the district to move away from old-guard leadership. In years of experience, Chris Stampolis is clearly outmatched. But he is a creative thinker who promises to open the district's policy-making process and address new challenges to water quality, such as urban runoff. He conceived of the 888-BAY-WISE program and has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. He says the district needs a "breath of fresh air," and we agree.
Recommendation: Chris Stampolis for District 4.

District Attorney, Santa Clara County

Yes, Metro declared him one of Santa Clara County's grumpiest people last year. But who wants a cheery, sunny district attorney anyway? George Kennedy is a no-nonsense, pragmatic prosecutor who has done a solid job during his eight years as DA. His office boasts among the best felony conviction rates in the state.

Deputy District Attorney Mel Anderson is challenging Kennedy as a matter of principle. Anderson thinks Kennedy lets too many career criminals escape prosecution under the three-strikes law. He estimates that more than half of all potential three strikes cases that come before the DA get reduced to lesser charges.

But prosecutorial discretion is one of three-strikes' saving graces. Punishing a check forger for the full 25-year term not only would be unfair but would clog up the state's crowded prisons. Even Anderson says he wouldn't prosecute all third-time felons under three strikes.
Recommendation: George Kennedy.

Sheriff, Santa Clara County

As Sheriff Chuck Gillingham sets his sights on a San Jose council seat, five of his underlings are making a grab for the county's top cop spot next Tuesday.

All three of Gillingham's assistant sheriffs--Ruben Diaz, Tom Sing and Laurie Smith--are running, along with Capt. Brian Beck and Sgt. Jose Salcido.

Sing, who's endorsed by Gillingham, is clearly the most progressive of the candidates. He is the only one to support the creation of a civilian review board--a needed democratic check adopted by many California communities. This stance, however courageous, probably won't endear him to the rank and file. As for Smith, her close relationship to the troubled county jail guards' union makes us nervous. It surely won't win her respect from the deputies who have battled the jail guards for a decade.

Diaz, meanwhile, has sounded a dull but business-friendly message of tackling high-tech crime, winning the endorsements of Silicon Valley executives. But it's not clear what else he cares about.

Beck has been hitting one issue over and over again: gangs. He has painted a bleak picture of troubled teens in the valley, promising to hit gangs fast and hard. It's a bit too much law-and-order hysteria for us in these relatively safe times.

Salcido, former vice president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, has called for an organizational overhaul of the department, blaming Gillingham and management for low morale among rank-and-file. He has promised to turn things around, a worthwhile endeavor which stands to renew deputies' commitment to community policing.

Salcido rightly questions the three assistant sheriffs' ability to deliver on their promises since all three have already been in a position to change things but haven't done so. But we're wary of his close union ties. As sheriff, he would have to demonstrate that he won't be a prisoner to his DSA connections.

Chances are none of the five will get better than 50 percent of the vote, which means the two top vote-getters will battle in November to become sheriff.

Whenever the winner is announced, voters could make history: there has never been a Hispanic, Asian or female sheriff in the county's history.

Salcido and Sing have the clearest vision and are the best prepared to take the department forward.
Recommendation: Salcido or Sing.

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From the May 28-June 3, 1998 issue of Metro.

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