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Conservatives Block San Jose Mayor Election Reform

San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis (left) has strongly opposed re-scheduling San Jose’s Mayoral elections to occur with U.S. presidential elections. Photo: Jacqueline Ramseyer

Conservative members of the San Jose City Council have moved to block a proposal sponsored by Vice-Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and supported by a number of social justice organizations to extend the second term of Mayor Liccardo from four to six years so that all future Mayoral elections will occur on the same date as the nation’s presidential election.

But Ex-Republican City Council member Johnny Khamis spoke forcefully in opposition at both the October 3 Rules & Open Government Committee at which the proposal was introduced, and the October 10 Rules Committee meeting at which it was pulled from the council’s October 16 agenda and deferred to December. Still-Republican council member Lan Diep also spoke against the proposal at the October 3 meeting, although he isn’t a member of the Rules Committee. Khamis and Mayor Sam Liccardo argued on October 10 that the city’s Elections Commission should review the proposal at its next meeting in November, in order to inform the City Council on the best course of action, and passed a motion directing such review 4-1, Carrasco dissenting.

Khamis, Diep, and Liccardo all also argued that we benefit from using a one-third-smaller electorate to choose our Mayors, calling the U.S. Presidential elections a “distraction” from those for San Jose Mayor. Khamis insists that the city’s mid-term election of Mayors is working perfectly fine, as voters have elected two white women and two men of color, out of eight Mayors, since 1968 when direct Mayoral elections began. Neither Khamis nor Diep commented on or even acknowledged the existence that a conservative bias is built into the city’s political power structure, and deny that the election rules constitute a type of voter suppression.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We see voter participation go up dramatically during the presidential elections,” said Carrasco of the proposal at the October 3 meeting. “We want to make sure that the highest-ranking official, and that is the Mayor, is chosen and elected by the most diverse community possible.”

San Jose Vice-Mayor Magdalena Carrasco, who proposed re-scheduling the city’s Mayoral elections.

Carrasco introduced the electoral reform to re-schedule the city’s Mayoral elections upon the urging of several local non-profit groups, including Working Partnerships USA, the Asian Law Alliance, the African American Community Services Agency, I Walk I Bike I Vote, and others.

“We value our electorate and believe that with increased voter turnout we will be able to elevate the Office of the Mayor and capture a more diverse constituency that is reflective of our city,” wrote Carrasco and fellow council members Chappie Jones, Sergio Jimenez, and Don Rocha in a September 27 memo. “Citizen involvement in the electoral process improves governance. Candidates recognize they must appeal to a broad electorate.”

“Low participation in our elections weakens the core tenants our our democracy and weakens the link between the people and their government,” said San Jose State University professor Garrick Percival, who wrote an opinion article for the Mercury News exactly one year ago with fellow professors Mary Currin-Percival and Melinda Jackson in support of the concept. “Based on publicly-available election data, we estimated that moving the timing of the San Jose Mayoral elections to presidential election years would increase voter participation by 35 percent.”

Several members of the public spoke against the provision to extend Mayor Liccardo’s second term to six years, calling it a “power grab” and criticizing the Mayor’s rampant corruption and failure to prioritize the needs of the city’s diverse communities rather than corporate interests. Many residents have vowed to vote against any such proposal that would keep Liccardo in power longer than until his current term expires in 2022.

“It can’t be Sam [Liccardo] for two more years,” said resident Shaunn Cartwright. “San Jose does not look like Sam, or his interests, or his donors, or his PACs, or Carl Guardino, part of our shadow government.”

At neither Rules Committee meeting did City Council members comment on an alternative proposal put forth by I Walk I Bike I Vote to shorten the length of the next Mayor’s first term from four to two years, 2022 to 2024, so that the next and all subsequent Mayoral elections would occur at the same time as U.S. presidential elections. This alternative would avoid lengthening the term of Mayor Liccardo to six years, and would allow the next Mayor to serve for a total of six years rather than the conventional eight years.