Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Election Who's Who

On the eve of the election, much has been learned about the candidates. But questions still remain. I've been avoiding doing this for far, far too long but finally felt compelled to do this on the eve of what could prove to be the biggest election Santa Clara has ever seen.

As a disclaimer, I'm sure there'll be lots of things in here various people in various groups won't like. Feel free to email or make comments. What I've got here (in a hopefully not too rambling style) is based on a candidates SmartVoter.Org statements, or from the candidate's forum. I've avoided using their websites since websites can change as the candidates gauge the public's sentiment about issues. I'm not looking for the chameleon candidate - that senses the group they're about to talk with is hot about a particular answer and then tailors their answer to suit that group. That, in my opinion is not the quality of a good or desirable candidate.

I also didn't call or ask the candidates any of the things I consider important here. I didn't really want to hear the answers they can make up on the spur of the moment for me. If it wasn't something they said on their SmartVoter.org page or said in public at a candidate forum, then it's not relevant.

In no particular order:

o City Council Seat No. 4

This race started off as a no-race with Kevin Moore running unopposed. Lots of rumors circulated about why no one was running against Moore but Carolyn Schuk delved pretty well into this - aroundsantaclara.blogspot.com/2008/10/mercury-dredges-dirt-but-doesnt-ask.html

Dispensing with that, here's the candidates as I see them:

Kevin Moore (incumbent):

Moore is one of those guys that I've found talking to people in Santa Clara (and being a reporter, people feel compelled to give me their opinion) that is either loved or not-so-loved. I voted for Moore in 2004, based entirely on how he presented himself at the Art & Wine Festival. I stopped and spoke with Gap Kim and asked "Why should I vote for you?". Kim had a table laden down with literature and gave me a flier that listed all the reasons. Right next to Kim's booth was Moore's. Moore sat there with his wife Julie on two folding chairs. No tables, no boxes of literature, nothing more than just the two of them sitting there. I asked the same question and Moore gave an impassioned speech on how he could give me a flier showing lots of endorsements but endorsements made him beholden to other people. Based on that speech, I voted for him.

When I started covering the City Council meetings in February 2005 and heard Moore speak, I thought, "Heaven help me, I voted for the village idiot." While Moore might not be the most eloquent speaker on the dias, talking to him one on one, shows his passion for all things Santa Clara. While I don't always agree with him on all issues, for the most part, he feels he's trying to "fight the good fight", although his detractors would argue the point.

Karen Hardy (Write-In Candidate):

Hardy says she decided to run when she saw no one was running against Moore. This is Hardy's 3rd shot at the Council. Hardy's claim to fame from is a past victory opposing a card room (Bay 101, I believe) from moving into Santa Clara. Hardy is hard to read. At times, she can be exasperating as neighbors of Martins Bar can attest. Also in her 2006 bid against Dominic Caserta, her "campaign consultant" published to many people some incorrect information about Caserta's development website. I contacted Hardy on this and our conversations seemed to go round and round. Maybe it was just her particular writing style at the time, as recent emails with Hardy have been straight and to the point. And I've actually found myself agreeing with her too.

Recommendation: Toss a coin

City Council Seat No. 6

Brian Lowery (Engineer/Business Owner):

Brian first came to City Council opposing a project at 1824 Market Street (at least that's when I recall him first appearing). When he ran for Council in 2006, I labeled him as a 1-issue candidate, as it was that one issue that spurred him to run. In talking with him since then, Lowery has grown and has learned how to see different sides of an issue. Lowery also earned the dubious distinction of being singled out by former Mayor Larry Fargher (in a "Concerned Citizens of Santa Clara" mailer) in 2006 as (paraphrasing) "not having enough experience to be an effective Council Member". Based on that one pompous statement, I thought Lowery was worth taking a look at as a possible Council Member. In talking with Lowery this year, he's learned quite a bit and had provided some interesting feedback about elections and Santa Clara in general.

Jamie Matthews (City Administrator/Father)

Matthews is a former Council Member who was termed out in 2006. At the time he was going to run for Mayor, but when Mayor Mahan decided to run for Mayor (after losing the Supervisors race to Ken Yeager), Matthews dropped out of the race. Matthews has maintained a low profile over the years - even when he was a Council Member. Matthews is one of those people that have his fans and detractors.

One thing that impressed me about Matthews is his turning down free press. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Matthews and several other Code Enforcement Officers went to New Orleans to help identify houses that were still habitable. Upon his return, I told him the paper could run a story on this, but to my surprise, he declined. He explained that he was just doing what he could to help the victims and didn't want to be in the spotlight. In starting his Council race this time, I offered to do a story on some website shenanigans committed by a former Council member and he declined. Both stories would have shown him to be an upstanding guy but he turned them down. Why tell the story now? I related these stories to a Santa Clara resident who said she felt they should be known.

Recommendation: Toss a coin

City Council Seat No. 3

Mario Bouza (Businessman)

This is Bouza's first attempt at Council (as far as I know). When he first filed, he didn't have a SmartVoter.Org statement so imagine my surprise when I realized he did. At the Candidate's Forum put on at City Hall, Bouza had troubles with the time limit. After being cut off at the 30 second mark (and other times), he appeared angry - one might even say pissed off based on his reaction. I can't imagine how the time limits weren't well known ahead of time and learning how to tailor your answer to the time limit is something that shouldn't be too difficult. Yeah, this might seem like nit-picking but it's not that hard to do, especially when there's a green, yellow and red light to let you know where about you stand with remaining time.

Bouza has a stated position of being against the 49ers stadium, limiting high density housing and economic development & job growth.

On high density housing:
At the candidate's forum, he indicated he was against all high density housing, which to me, seems a bit extreme, especially as he is in favor of economic development and job growth, which sort of implies a need for more housing.

He's also given some the impression he's "opposing the high density development that Santa Clara has become a proponent of in the last five years. He has pledged to speak out against these developments and to mitigate their impact on neighborhoods if they are built."
rd4sc.org/Responsible_Development_for_Santa_Clara/News/Entries/2008/9/20_Santa_Clara_City_Council_Candidates.html -

- or - tinyurl.com/5qnvog .

But he quite clearly states in his SmartVoter.org post, "I will work to ensure the development will not negatively impact our city services and the surrounding single family homes and townhomes. "

The vast difference in those bothers me. Could this be the workings of a chameleon candidate who changes his opinions to suit the group with which he's talking?

Mary Emerson (Business Operations Manager)

This is Emerson's first bid at Council. Emerson is pretty clear about her issues. Her appearance at the candidate's forum was well prepared. But she seems to be somewhat close-minded on the issues. When Will Kennedy (the incumbent for Seat 3) asked her if a stadium deal could be negotiated that would be beneficial to Santa Clara, Emerson had a golden opportunity to show she could be a centrist candidate, but she chose to dance around the issue.

Emerson also states that she wants to determine the needs of the North of Bayshore redevelopment area and to "work with the community and elicit proposals for projects that would meet those needs." That's highly desirable, but Emerson then states, "If there is no substantial need identified, then we should retire all debt and terminate the RDA early." - www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/scl/vote/emerson_m

That last statement shows a lack of understanding of how RDA funds work. I'm by no means an expert on that, but it might be impossible, for the City to just retire all debt. Payments for the RDA would come from, I believe, the General Fund. If the City doesn't have the money to pay this from the General Fund, then where would the money come from?

Will Kennedy (Santa Clara Councilmember/Attorney)

Will Kennedy is the incumbent in this race. On the dias, Kennedy can be someone easy to forget you saw. My first impressions of him when I first started to cover the City Council were that he was quiet in his approach, but quickly realized the quiet hides his intelligence and his perception. Unlike the boisterousness of some of the other candidates, Kennedy is the unassuming guy who grasps the meaning of what's going happening in a concise manner.

Kennedy is considered one of the two independent voices on the Council (along with Jamie McLeod). His independence has shown in votes when he hasn't gone along with the rest just because. Lawyer jokes don't quite apply to Kennedy as he represents people in cases involving the lemon law, inaccurate credit reports or fraud. Kennedy is also active in the non-profit community having started the local branch of Lawyers in the Library Program (providing free legal consultations at local libraries) and being active in Volunteers in Parole. (The program is made up of attorneys who mentor young offenders recently released from incarceration.) You can read about it at his SmartVoter.org page - www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/scl/vote/kennedy_w

On the 49ers stadium, Kennedy states the he will "only support a stadium deal which provides a better return on investment than current projections show."

Kennedy doesn't try to be a chameleon candidate. He's stated his positions time and again in different forums. He's a candidate who will do the right thing.

Recommendation: Will Kennedy

City Council Seat No. 7

Chuck Blair (Santa Clara Businessperson)

This is Chuck Blair's 2nd bid at Council. Chuck's main appeal seems to be his folksy, guy next door that you might wander down the street to talk with when something notable happens. His folksy attitude has come through in various campaign events.

Unfortunately, Blair's SmartVoter.org website (
www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/scl/vote/blair_c) doesn't have much of his stated positions, other than:

o Economic Development
o Strengthen the best Core services in the State
o Open Government ( with fellow Santa Clarans)

Looking at his website (chuckblair.org/issues/financial-strength), yeah, I'm violating one of my tenets) raises some questions:

Under Economic Development, "Superior Public Education" is listed. Except Public Education is handled by the School District and funding comes from the state level (the last time I checked). Blair has been active in baseball for all ages of students in Santa Clara, so possibly this is what he's referring to?

Under Financial Strength, Blair has "Keep taxes low". That's reassuring to hear, but the last time I checked, the tax rate in Santa Clara was already relatively low, if non-existent, as Santa Clara doesn't have a tax residents pay for the pleasure of living here (as New York City does, for instance). Unless he's referring to fees charged for services, Sewer and water? Maybe electricity?

Reading each of his issues section of his website makes me wonder where the "A Chicken in Every Pot" is hiding.

His website, amazingly enough, doesn't even mention the 49ers stadium. At various forums, he's been in favor of the 49ers stadium.

Jamie McLeod (Councilwoman/Environmental Planner)

Jamie McLeod is the incumbent in this race. McLeod is also considered one of the two independent voices on the Council (along with Kennedy). McLeod has a speaking style that belies her confidence in her ability to do what she believes is the right thing. Even though she's been what seems to be on the opposite side from her colleagues on the dias, she's stuck to her positions and opinions.

McLeod has been interested to luke-warm on the stadium but still keeps an open mind about it. If a deal can be worked out that is beneficial to the general fund, Santa Clara and the South Bay in general, then it wouldn't be surprising to see her support behind it.

McLeod's SmartVoter.Org website (
www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/scl/vote/mcleod_j) is similar to Blair's in that it only lists her stated positions:

o Maintain core services - public safety, libraries, and community centers
o Open and accountable government
o Safeguard Santa Clara's natural and historic resources

Her website however (yep, I figure if I break a basic tenent for her opponent, I can do the same here) - jamiemcleod.org/blog - tells a lot. The only changes to it during the campaign have been in response to some less than nice mailings by "independent groups" that seem to have gotten their hysterical influence from some of the cable network news shows.

McLeod has maintained a tradition of meeting residents on the first Sunday of each month between 8:30 and 9:30am at Mission Coffee (2221 The Alameda). It's impressive that she does and continues to do this.

Ciaran O'Donnell (Software Engineer)

This is O'Donnell's first foray into government. My first encounter with O'Donnell was curious. At issue was a discussion over Santa Clara Square. O'Donnell asked what it was and I responded that he needed to do his research. The conversation left me thinking he was either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. Smart if he was planning on being a chameleon candidate - find out what each group thinks and tailor your answer accordingly. Stupid because maybe he just didn't know about it but had already indicated he was running for Council. To this date, I'm still not sure of the answer to that question.

At a candidate forum hosted by the PepperTree Neighborhood Association, O'Donnell presented an idea of having inmates do work on roads. He also suggested neighborhood residents should volunteer to work on making their streets look better, including doing things like putting planters in the street - akin to what's been done on Saratoga Avenue (although that work was done by people that are paid to know what they're doing). I'd hate to imagine the contractor that did some work for a friend's fence doing work on a city street.

O'Donnell comes across as someone trying to please everyone. His political philosophy page on the SmartVoter.org website -
www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/scl/vote/odonnell_c/philosophy.html states, "Our city staff is key to the success of our city. Every resident should respect staff and the city should promote their career as a public official including work training. Buckley, and Pope John Paul II."

I'm assuming the reference to Buckley and Pope John Paul II was a typo? This lack of attention to detail on something as important as SmartVoter.org is an issue for me.

On particular concerns,
o O'Donnell favors "high density housing".

o O'Donnell supports "fluoridization of the water supply, and flu shots as well as festivals downtown and in the Rivermark area to just have good clean fun."

From what I recall, Santa Clara doesn't have its own water supply so adding fluoride to the water (if it's not already being done) might not be in the City's control. Flu shots are provided at many institutions - Costco, Longs Drugs, and Kaiser Hospital. O'Donnell doesn't answer the question of where would the money for the (I'm assuming he means) free flu shots come from?"

o O'Donnell acknowledges the "significant loss of retail in Santa Clara, including the recent losses of Mervyns and K-mart as well as Albertsons. There has also been a significant loss of small business including bankruptcies. City staff should be more high tech savvy and have a more pro business attitude."

I don't quite get it. The connection between high tech savvy and a more pro business attitude and Albertsons/SaveMart deciding to close stores is beyond my comprehension. As for Mervyn's declaring bankruptcy, how would the city staff being "more high tech savvy" with a "more pro business attitude" have changed that?

o O'Donnell talks about energy: "Access to energy is critical both to get to work and for our businesses. Coal and oil will not last forever nor are renewable resources ideal. I support a natural gas fueling facility for delivery vehicles and promoting nuclear power through Silicon Valley Power."

While O'Donnell is the only candidate to talk about using nuclear power, I'm not sure if the implication is that Silicon Valley Power would own a nuclear power plant or use their position as a power company to promote the virtues of nuclear power.

O'Donnell might be a good candidate - in the future. For now, he needs to be less of a chameleon and learn to focus on the issues.


This groups was the hardest.

Blair's SmartVoter.org page and his own website don't really make a strong stand on any issue. Except publicly he's said he supports the stadium.


If you're a backer of the stadium and want it no matter what, you're already voting for Blair anyway.

If you think the stadium intrigues you but you want more information to make sure it is a good deal, then McLeod is your candidate.

O'Donnell? Skip him. Vote for one of the other two candidates.

1 comment:

  1. This is in response to Larry's comments.

    It can be estimated that deaths from influenza cause more than 30 deaths per year in our city.

    Regarding nuclear power, I was
    proposing that the city advocate
    a change in the state law banning
    construction of new nuclear power

    I take offense to the accusation
    of being a chameleon candidate.
    Several of my propositions, e.g.
    regarding the swim center where
    adopted by other candidates.

    Apart from that, I appreciate the
    constructive criticism and would like to express thanks to the
    3,500 people that voted for me. I
    am also very happy we are seeing
    some change on the school board.