San Jose, CA

Will the real mayor of San Jose please stand up?

Vic Aquino
Photo by: Luis Castillo

Raul Peralez is running for mayor of San Jose in 2022. So, why is that important and who exactly is that important to in this city of a million people?

As the current District 3 Councilmember for the last seven years, Peralez made his mayoral intentions known for over a year. His background and body of work make a mayoral run a next logical step in a city where 75% of its people are of color.

After an hour-long Zoom meeting hosted by the San Jose Arts Advocates this past April, it also became clear Peralez represented and perhaps symbolized not just a possible future but a long-unfulfilled past in San Jose.

It's a past strewn of underrepresentation, elite interests and disenfranchisement that's been entrenched as the norm.

Hopefully for San Jose voters, the bar is higher than choosing "the lesser of two evils." Conversely, the expectation of today's voters is much-heightened - voters need to also apply some critical-thinking.

For most San Jose residents, it’s important to provide context and a mayoral history

Starting in the baby boomer era, the first mayor of significance was Norm Mineta from 1971-1975. As the city’s 59th mayor, Mineta is the most accomplished and distinguished of the San Jose mayors. Mineta progressed to the federal level as a House Representative, Chair of the House Transportation committee, Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation.

Mineta was the first person of color leading a San Jose population of about 450,000 that was 94% white. That in itself is counter to what we experience today, and possibly indicative of a more blue-color population that could identify with Mineta over the dozen plus candidates he ran against back then.

San Jose’s 60th mayor, Janet Gray Hayes, was the first female mayor of a major U.S. city. With a population of about 500,000 at that time, Hayes touted the city as the “feminist capitol of the world.” Her big activist spirit pushed back heavily against the good ‘ol boys of San Jose’s political and business inner circles.

These back-to-back mayors led many to believe San Jose was headed towards more representation that portrayed an upcoming progressive city. Since then, the city did evolve in many tangible senses - except where the soul and identity of a city counted.

Mayors since then were off the mark

Recalling other mayors of yesteryear, from the mid-1980s to today, most were not representative of a San Jose that was changing demographically and socio-economically:

61st mayor Tom McEnery was a self-absorbed, savvy politician you saw and felt a mile away. He did OK for the city, but better for himself.

62nd mayor Susan Hammer served well overall. The only real knock on Hammer was she was not widely relatable to the changing population.

63rd mayor Ron Gonzales was wasted hope and potential for people of color. His legacy is marked by corruption, adultery and supporting deceptive arrests of Chicanx youth and young adults in the 1990s.

64th mayor Chuck Reed was a similar subdued demeanor to Hammer. A fiscal conservative and mid-westerner, Reed was out-of-touch in terms of social awareness and equality for a rising diverse city.

65th mayor Sam Liccardo has generally served well with some symbolic efforts of diversity. As a clear big-business proponent, Liccardo is the modern, steadfast norm.

What will it be this time?

Dev Davis is the other notable 2022 mayoral candidate Peralez is up against. Davis is basically the continuation of the status quo. Regardless that she's waffled on the question if she was running for mayor or how she is positioned, she can win when the regular and traditional voters come out as they always do.

If Peralez’ team can mobilize the deep and diverse voting pool in San Jose and the wave and will of the greater voting public, they can win. It's certainly always easier said than done.

In San Jose, it's still a chore for voters to take certain action, as Peralez knows firsthand.

“My dad was from Mexico. He left high school to raise his family and moved to Alviso,” Peralez shared with a smile on the Zoom meeting. “He never voted and was never a citizen until he voted for the first time in 2014, and…he didn’t vote for me.”

Luckily, the Young Democrats of San Jose supported Peralez in his 2014 council run as they expect to for his mayoral run.

Peralez’s story of his father is a perfect example of the work it will take.

San Jose District 2 Councilmember Sergio Jimenez is one of those key Peralez supporters ready to set forth a long-awaited generational change of leadership and representation.

“I know once a majority of residents get to see Raul and know him, they’ll find that he’s a consensus builder,” Jimenez shared with Newsbreak. “Raul’s built bridges as it relates to different ideas from different council members and different sides of the political spectrum and that’s a must.”

It’s well-known that women and people of color need to work harder in many environments where an opposition with deep pockets, deep networks and deeper ill-will can artificially overcome a sometimes fragile majority will.

It’s no different in San Jose and it’s the very reason someone like Peralez has to work very hard to become mayor and that's just the start. Peralez states his case early and often, where working hard seems the norm.

“After getting a degree in mathematics from San Jose State to becoming an EMT to a San Jose police officer for eight years, I didn’t intend to run for office,” Peralez expressed to the Zoom meeting participants. “But from seeing what happened to many people nationally and locally from the last recession and to having a role in the SJPD union, I got involved in a democratic meeting, met my wife there also, and got really involved within the community and started to understand what our elected officials were doing in San Jose.”

Peralez went on to describe how cities in general, especially San Jose, must maintain a balance of risk-aversion and risk-tolerance in a litigious world (and a hypocritical and vindicative world to overcome, just as well).

“Even with a conservative city that's always facing lawsuits, we still have to ask ‘How do you push the envelope?’ “ stated Peralez in hopefully avoiding more business-as-usual at city hall. “Even with all the tension and divide over the years, we need to create a collaborative effort.”

Jimenez also added, “Raul’s simple slogan is ‘San Jose for Everyone.’ His story and background brings in all the nuances of a diverse city, because it’s been far too long that San Jose hasn’t worked as well as it could for everyone and I mean regular people with small businesses like restaurants, and even street vendors.”

What’s next for San Jose’s future?

Least case, we’ll trudge along as we have the last multiple decades and continue as the “Silicon Valley” and all the exclusivity it connotates.

If the spirit of inclusiveness and diversity ever reaches equal terms as the city of innovation, it will be much further-reaching and rewarding. As difficult as it will be, it’s actually better for business too. But that’s a whole other explanation and another story.

“I have no doubt Raul will gather, unite and support those he has a strong community relationship with,” Jimenez continuing to describe Peralez’ ability to create consensus. “It’s also his relationships among non-traditional businesses and spaces that I know he’ll be able to also gather support to be successful.”

Of course, no one really knows yet if Peralez can live up to such expectations, but as a start, he seems keenly aware what he's up against and keenly aware of the groups long-needing support.

When Newsbreak asked about Peralez' team who will help him follow through, he mentioned no one person can do it alone, especially at scale.

“I wanted to be certain my team was diverse and not just politically motivated,” shared Peralez. “They all have a love for San Jose and they truly care for the city and its people and they want to invest their time and energy here. My team reflects this city.”

Perhaps with some extra push from Peralez' team, they'll also help convince his dad to vote for his son this time around.

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A 50+ year San Jose-native focusing on social awareness, social good, social impact and the hidden gems and treasures of the area. Freelance journalist & sports contributor to SB Nation & SF 49ers (@VicD_SJ on Twitter).

San Jose, CA

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