San Jose’s mayoral race is reaching its first big milestone: the June 7 primary. Early voting has already begun and if no candidate receives the majority vote, voters will cast their ballots again between the top two candidates in a runoff held in November.
Raul Peralez, who represents District 3 on the San Jose City Council, says he’s the right choice to lead the community. He’s one of four front-runners, which include Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and fellow councilmembers Dev Davis and Matt Mahan.
Peralez has represented District 3 since 2014. Born and raised in San Jose, Peralez was the first in his family to attend college, studying mathematics at San Jose State University. Bachelor’s degree in hand, Peralez worked as a substitute teacher at his old high school and for other schools in Santa Clara County for over ten years.
“It’s a very challenging job, it is a redundant job, it’s an underpaid job,” Peralez says. “Public education is so undervalued in our country. It’s despicable.”
Peralez’s motives for wanting to teach were more unconventional than others. He watched one of his former classmates get a high school diploma in juvenile detention, sparking an interest in alternative education.
Peralez did not grow up wealthy. His father emigrated from Mexico at the age of 12 and both of his parents dropped out of high school to provide for their families. And he takes pride in his humble beginnings, setting himself aside from the many members of the political class who attended private schools such as Bellarmine College Preparatory (which Liccardo and Mahan attended) and Moreau Catholic High School (Chavez’s alma mater).
“If you are wealthy and can attend a private school … this tremendous private schooling upbringing, Harvard type of education—that is the top 5% elite of the country, maybe even top 1%. The remainder of us public-schoolers, it is a miracle so many people make it through and go on to be successful because we have undervalued our education system.”
Peralez says as mayor of San Jose, he would be a strong supporter of public education. As an example, he points to his support for Proposition 15, which would have created a constitutional amendment to require commercial and industrial properties, excluding commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value rather than purchase price. The proposition received support from the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.
Peralez asserts, “A mayor of the city has a lot of influence over what type of investments go into our schools. … Our mayor was not a proponent and advocate. As mayor, you can be a huge advocate for a more equitable school system, and I don’t think that our mayor has done that—and I would.”
Between 2006 and 2007, Peralez says he also worked as an emergency medical technician—a job with long hours and very little pay that put him in contact with San Jose’s houseless population. When Peralez responded to calls involving unhoused individuals experiencing mental health crises, he recognized they were not getting the support they needed.
“The strategy that we have currently, which is to go out and invade encampments and not give any information where to go, is a waste of time and money. I have been fighting for over five years now to create sanction encampments in the city so when we do invade, we have an alternative to go to. I realize this is not the end all, be all solution [and] is not where we want people to remain, but in my mind, it is much better than this cycle.”
Sanctioned encampments are official stations for houseless residents with crucial amenities like bathrooms and food, as well as resources to help the unhoused find more permanent housing solutions, such as converted hotels and tiny homes.
“I have the most success of any candidate on actually getting these solutions. For me, it is not just talking or aspiration, I have already led on it. I have helped approve and build over 1,600 units of affordable housing,” he says.
Peralez has aided in creating permanent supportive housing programs that offer affordable lodging and assistance. In his district, Peralez says, he helped establish Villas on the Park and Second Street Studios. Second Street Studios was the first permanent supportive housing in the county and Villas on the Park was the third.
“We know the solutions. We have them but we haven’t had enough elected officials with the political will to bring them to fruition. A lot of them get shot down due to community opposition. Even today all three of my opponents are against opportunity housing and SB9. I am the only candidate in support.”
Peralez has been endorsed by South Bay YIMBY, which advocates for affordable housing in San Jose.
In addition to his background in education and public safety, Peralez has also worked within the criminal justice system. After he spent nine months as an EMT, Peralez was encouraged by his boss to join the San Jose Police Department, where he worked for more than eight years. He is currently serving as a reserve officer.
“We are still woefully understaffed when it comes to a city our size, but at the same time I am the only candidate vocal for reform. This comes from being a police officer. I have seen what good reform can bring.”
For Peralez, this reimagining is about getting extra resources for the benefit of police officers and citizens alike: more support in handling mental health care, drug addiction and homelessness as social issues and not criminal issues.
Given his history as a police officer in San Jose, Peralez was confused that he did not get the endorsement of the San Jose Police Officers Association. The SJPOA, which has represented San Jose’s law enforcement officers since 1962, gave their endorsement to Cindy Chavez.
To Raul Peralez, “it is all political.”
“It was a very unfair process that they went through,” he says, comparing it to his experiences when seeking association’s support in 2014. “This go around, there was no questionnaire, no invite, no interview, no member vote—it was simply an executive-level board decision to endorse Cindy.”
Peralez believes one potential reason the SJPOA did not endorse him goes back to 2020. In that year’s council race, Jake Tonkel ran for San Jose City Council against current mayoral candidate Dev Davis. Following the death of George Floyd, the city of San Jose was under curfew due to riots and Tonkel attended police reform rallies. Pictures and livestreaming captured protesters with Jake Tonkel wielding signs that say “ACAB,” or “All Cops Are Bastards.” Protests eventually led outside Dev Davis’s home, who was the only councilmember in favor of allowing the police to decide when to end the curfew. The SJPOA used the protest as a reason for a $100,000 campaign against Tonkel.
“I endorsed Jake six-plus months before he went to those protests. Clearly, I am not saying that he made a wise decision there,” Peralez says.
Tom Saggau is a cofounder of Saggau & DeRollo LLC, a media communications, government advocacy and political strategy firm that represents the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.
“The decision was an easy decision to make,” Saggau explains when asked about the SFPOA endorsement. “We recall that when Cindy left the City Council back in 2006, there were close to 1,300 police officers. San Jose was considered the safest big city in the nation. We had a very progressive police department, and response times for priority-2 calls—which are assaults in progress, missing child, attempted rapes, really serious crimes—were at average 11 minutes are now at 22 minutes. We know we are chronically understaffed, one of the most understaffed departments in the country per capita.”
Commenting on how the SJPOA conducted its endorsement process this election, Saggau says that “the PAC, a smaller group, does their vetting, then they make a recommendation to the Poll board.”
Peralez did gain the endorsement of the San Jose Fraternal Order of Police.
Peralez says that although he hasn’t secured endorsement from some “major entities on either side of the political spectrum,” he sees that as a strength. “I have been sort of the third-rail candidate,” he says. “It puts me in a really good position to be who I’ve always been.” He adds, “This is where I was in 2014. I wasn’t any group’s favorite. I wasn’t expected to make the runoff. That puts me in a great position to be what people want from the mayor. To be the community’s candidate and work with everyone across the aisle. Not to be a special interest candidate.”