San Jose 2022 election results: Progressive, labor candidates lead

Labor-backed candidates secured commanding leads in every contested primary race in San Jose, including the competitive battle for mayor of the nation’s 10th largest city.

If the same top vote-getters prevail again in the November general election, it could create a significant shift toward more progressive policies at City Hall next year.

Nearly two decades have passed since a labor-backed mayor has led San Jose, and most of the time since then, the makeup of the city council has leaned pro-business.

Although the mayor and councilmembers vote unanimously on the vast majority of matters, they have diverged on several contentious issues in recent years, including business-supported moves to waive fees for developers and a proposal to grant more power to the city’s mayor, which was thwarted after adamant opposition from labor.

“Last night was a great night for working families in San Jose and Santa Clara County,” said Jean Cohen, the executive director of the powerful South Bay Labor Council. “The labor movement was successful because we have candidates that are committed to the community, interested in public policy that serves all people and who ran excellent campaigns.”

In the race to become San Jose’s next mayor, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, a longtime labor leader, and San Jose Councilman Matt Mahan, a former tech entrepreneur, emerged from Tuesday’s primary as the frontrunners and will face off in a runoff election in November.

But Chavez will have to convince voters that her years of experience in South Bay politics is worth more than the promise of change offered by her business-backed challenger, Mahan.

“We can make San Jose shine again,” Chavez said during a speech at her election party. “We can clean this city up and make it a place that we not only feel safe but are proud of again.”

Whoever is triumphant in November will replace Mayor Sam Liccardo, a business-backed politician who will term out at the end of 2022.

“What City Hall needs is a cultural change,” Mahan said in an interview. “I think I am uniquely well-suited, given my background, to bring a system of accountability to local government in a data-driven way.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 7: San Jose mayoral candidate Matt Mahan addresses before supporters, volunteers and family members during a watch party at the Guildhouse in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Chavez and Mahan both are advocating for the city to hire more police officers, build more affordable housing and clean up blight. Chavez said she’s also is committed to strengthening neighborhood associations across the city. Mahan, on the other hand, is calling for the city to create a public-facing dashboard where residents can track whether San Jose leaders are meeting key performance goals like moving more unhoused residents into stable housing and reducing wait times for building permit requests and inspections.

Jim Reed, Liccardo’s chief of staff who is spearheading the political fundraising group backing Mahan, said he thinks Mahan is in a better position than Liccardo was in 2014 to take over the city’s highest elected office. Liccardo lost the primary to now-State Senator Dave Cortese by eight points but then won the general election.

”Matt is a creative thinker,” Reed said. “He brings an outsider’s perspective with an emphasis on accountability and results that we certainly haven’t seen from the county in recent years.”

In all four of the contested city council races, candidates endorsed by the South Bay Labor Council and Santa Clara County Democratic Party held commanding leads over their opponents.

In the race to represent West San Jose’s District 1, Santa Clara County Office of Education board member Rosemary Kamei blew away her opponents and it appeared she would secure the seat outright. Kamei was not only endorsed by labor but was supported by the Santa Clara County Realtors Association, League of Conservation Voters and current District 1 business-backed Councilman Chappie Jones.

Meanwhile, in the race to represent the greater downtown District 3 area, San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board trustee Omar Torres maintained a double-digit lead over the next candidate, small business owner Irene Smith. Torres was endorsed by the South Bay Labor Council and Santa Clara County Democratic Party while Smith was backed by the Silicon Valley BIZ Pac. The two are expected to compete against one another in the November general election.

“The city of San Jose is at a crossroads,” Torres said. “We have a City Hall whose interest is not the working class and who is not committed to creating a strong workforce in the city.”

In the five-candidate field for East San Jose’s District 5 race, the two top vote-getters were both backed by labor. Former San Jose Councilwoman and state Assemblywoman Nora Campos led the pack with a 10-point lead, followed by Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Peter Ortiz.

Incumbent Maya Esparza, another progressive, labor-friendly politician, held a resounding lead in the District 7 race. Although she had not secured the majority of votes by Wednesday to avoid a runoff, she held a double-digit lead over her two opponents — San Jose Fire Captain Bien Doan, who was endorsed by a business-friendly political fundraising group launched by Liccardo, and Van Le, a trustee for the East Side Union High School District. As of Wednesday, Doan was narrowly ahead of Le.

“I think that what we’re looking at is leadership that is really committed to moving this community and this city forward,” Campos said about the success of labor-friendly candidates. “We’re leaders that have experience, are truly connected to our community and we think outside of the box for what our city needs.”

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