Regardless of the variety of San Jose, it solely had two mayors of shade

April 9, 2021

As you look around San Jose, you’ll be reminded of the groups of communities that live in the city: places like the Mexican Heritage Plaza and Little Saigon speak for the city’s diversity.

However, the guide wasn’t that different depending on who you ask. Since the city elected mayors instead of appointing them in 1967, the city has had only two colored mayors: Norman Mineta and Ron Gonzales. San Jose, where more than two-thirds of the population are ethnic minorities, had a Latin American mayor and an Asian-American mayor.

“It’s important to have someone in this community that people know,” said Brenda Zendejas, a volunteer with Igualdad Del Voto, a local electoral group that urges local elected leaders to give undocumented residents the right to vote.

Political experts and local activists blame low turnout in San Jose, especially among the color communities. Shifting the mayoral election to the presidential year could increase voter turnout among minority communities and the reach in these communities, make it easier for people of color to apply for public office.

“San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed grew up in public housing. We won’t have this story in San Jose because she never could have grown up here,” said Basil Saleh, who works for supervisor Susan Ellenberg and ran unsuccessfully for her on the Campbell Union School Board last year. “In the truest sense of the word, large parts of our city were built after public housing became illegal in the state constitution.”

Some studies have loosely confirmed that the race of candidates and candidates who come from underrepresented groups has some influence on voters.

An unaffordable real estate market and history of redlining are crucial for areas and people with access to significant political ties and funds. For example, Bellarmine College Preparatory, a private high school in the generally affluent neighborhood of College Park, has spawned several big political names: former Senator Jim Beall, Senator Dave Cortese, Councilor Matt Mahan, and Mayor Sam Liccardo.

A movement to postpone the election of the mayor into the presidential years through an electoral measure came to a standstill in 2019. A city commission has since looked for ways to eventually come up with a similar proposal to voters. Voter turnout is historically higher in presidential elections than in years outside the president, which brings voters of all kinds – not just people of color – to the ballot box.

“The question also concerns politics. We had two business-friendly mayors in a row. Why wasn’t there a more progressive mayor?” said Scott Myers-Lipton, a sociology professor at San Jose State University. “Not only would there be a more progressive mayor if we held elections in the presidential year, but there would also be more colored people, especially Latinos and Asian Americans.”

Salvador “Chava” Bustamante, Latinos United Executive Director for a New America, or LUNA, has participated in voting campaigns for decades, including one in 2016 that Bustamante was arrested for registering voters outside of an eastern San Jose target to attract the wrath of the local Latino community.

“When you consider that there are a large number of people on the east side who are not in the habit of voting and you are planning the elections where people do not vote, that’s a problem,” said Bustamante.

Even with a record turnout in 2020 – almost 85% according to district figures – the Latino figures remained behind on election day.

While there weren’t many colored people in the mayor’s office, there were mostly men too. Since the mayoral election, two of the city’s 65 mayors have been women – Janet Gray Hayes and Susan Hammer.

“San Jose was progressive in that regard,” said Myers-Lipton. “When voters got the chance to vote for the mayor, they voted for a Japanese American, two women – which led newspapers across the country to label the city a ‘feminist’.” Capital of the World “in the 1970s – and the city’s first Latino mayor.” The question is, why (former Mayor) Chuck Reed and Sam Liccardo, two white men, changed that dynamic. “

While more can be done to get different candidates to run for mayor, some say the trend may change.

“The challenge is getting to the state where you can be a credible candidate,” said Terry Christensen, a retired professor of political science at SJSU.

Christensen said that as the city’s demographics change, there is a greater chance of voting colored people on the San Jose city council, which could serve as a “launch pad” for the mayor’s office.

This is exactly what will happen in the 2022 election cycle. Raul Peralez, one of five Latin American councilors, is running for mayor.

“People like me who don’t come from wealthy families, families who are politically connected, or even families with a high level of education … If you have these disadvantages, you will be disadvantaged in raising money,” Peralez said. “You will be at a disadvantage in terms of politics.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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