Groups want to influence elections. They seek to do it for a variety of reasons – developers want to get projects approved, unions want candidates to approve pay raises and benefit increases. It’s only natural to want more.
However, influencing elections can also have another purpose. To block candidates, no matter how qualified they might be, from getting elected. In Santa Clara one group that has been influencing elections since at least 2008 is the Santa Clara Police Association (POA) PAC. But should Santa Clarans be upset with PACs for promoting candidates? The answer should be an absolute resound YES when that influence seeks to block minorities, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
According to the Netfile system, 2008 was one of the first years the Santa Clara Police Association PAC made its first attempt to influence the City Council election when it spent $1,333.33 to help the campaigns of Jamie Matthews, Chuck Blair and Kevin Moore [https://public.netfile.com/Pub2/RequestPDF.aspx?id=6639585]. The results were mixed as Jamie McLeod handily defeated Blair in her re-election bid with more than 59% of the vote. Jamie Matthews however prevailed in his race for Mayor over Brian Lowery. McLeod was the first openly gay Council member and candidate yet the POA supported the all-male ticket over a gay woman.
The POA didn’t file any paperwork for the elections in 2010 and 2012, [POA-No Paperwork filed 2010 2012] but it’s reasonable to assume they were involved as they’ve been involved with every election since and have donated money to the candidates that ran for office in later years.
In the 2010 election, the PO donated to Pat Kolstad (a former Santa Clara Police Officer) https://public.netfile.com/Pub2/RequestPDF.aspx?id=11123012 and he defeated Dr. Mohammed Nadeem by an 8% margin. https://www.sccgov.org/elections/results/nov2010/#72
That 8% margin of victory (1,972 votes) was the thinnest until the 2016 election when the POA supported candidate, Patty Mahan defeated Raj Chahal (a candidate opposed by the POA) by a 5.82% margin (2,019 votes). In 2016, Mahan also defeated another POA supported candidate, Tino Silva by a 4% margin (1,325 votes) marking the first time the POA changed favored candidates in the last week before the election. [2016-Mahan-Silva-Chahal-Results]
As in previous years, the POA faced with the chance of helping get the first minority candidate in Santa Clara history elected to Council, the POA chose instead to support the all-white ticket.
In the 2012 election, the POA appears to have supported Debi Davis — her husband Bill is a recently retired Santa Clara police officer and the POA has supported Davis in every election since then. Davis easily defeated Dr. Nadeem while Jerry Marsalli (another former Santa Clara Police Officer) trounced Alma Jimenez by almost a 45% margin. In the race where Teresa O’Neill defeated John Mlarnik and Bill Collins, the POA steered clear as they didn’t start supporting O’Neill until 2016. Lisa Gillmor ran unopposed. [2012 Election Results] Here again, the POA faced with the chance to help get the first minority elected to council, instead chose to support the all-white ticket.
In the 2014 election, the POA was the clear winner as their slate of candidates, Matthews, Kolstad and Dominic Caserta all won their seats. Matthews defeated Deborah Bress while Kolstad defeated Karen Hardy and Dr. Nadeem. Caserta defeated Kevin Park and Roseanne Lacoursiere. [2014 Election Results] Once again, faced with the chance to elect the first minorities to Council, the POA instead continued their long-standing tradition by supporting the all-white male ticket.
In 2016, the POA’s slate of candidates prevailed once again as Davis defeated John McLemore; Mahan defeated Tino Silva, Raj Chahal and Markus Bracamonte. Kathy Watanabe defeated Dr. Nadeem, Suds Jain, Anthony Becker and Mario Bouza. O’Neill cruised to winning re-election over Park and Ahmad Rafah. [2016 Election Results Page 1 & 2016 Election Results Page 2] Once again, faced with the chance to help elect the first minorities in the City’s history, the POA went with the all-white slate of candidates. Some have also referred to this election in particular as the AROW — “All Rich Older White” team.
One thing of interest to note in the 2016 election cycle is the sudden shift by the POA away from Patty Mahan to Tino Silva. On October 25, 2016, the POA spent $11,669 on a mailing for Silva [https://public.netfile.com/Pub2/RequestPDF.aspx?id=162072118], far eclipsing the $2,625 they had spent on his campaign previously. After that date, the POA focused their efforts on Silva over Mahan including him in a Telephone Town Hall event with their favored slate of candidates, Davis, then Candidate for Police Chief Pat Nikolai, O’Neill and Watanabe [https://public.netfile.com/Pub2/RequestPDF.aspx?id=163382654].
Council Members from neighboring cities said they could see Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s influence as she convinced the POA to back Silva over Mahan. Silva, a former President of Santa Clara Youth Soccer League (SCYSL) knows Gillmor, who labels herself a soccer mom and her husband, a SCYSL Coach. “Whatever you do, don’t cross Lisa Gillmor. That’s her reputation – if you cross her, she will get back at you,” while another said, “In one sentence, devious with serious intent. Don’t let the smile fool you,” and “Santa Clara elections are going to get interesting. Now that Nikolai is walking lockstep with Gillmor, he is working to guarantee themselves a fat payoff during salary negotiations.”
2018 was the first election after the City lost the CVRA (Civil Voting Rights Act) lawsuit, forcing elections to be based on districts vs the “at large” system the city had previously used that was deemed discriminatory.
The change ordered by the court had an almost immediate effect as the 2018 election marked the first time a minority candidate was elected to Council in over 70 years as Raj Chahal defeated the POA’s preferred candidate Nancy Biagini and Bouza. [2018 Raj Election Results]
2018 was also significant as it marked the first time since at least 2008 the POA steered clear of a race. In the District 3 race, neither Hardy nor Srinivasan Sambathkumar (aka Sam Kumar) were the POA’s preferred candidate. In this race, Hardy prevailed over Kumar. [2018 Hardy Election Results]
The POA played a curious hand in the Clerk’s race as it spent $12,708.76 on the campaigns for both Bob O’Keefe and Hosam Haggag as both were their preferred candidate, but nothing for the remaining candidates. [https://public.netfile.com/Pub2/RequestPDF.aspx?id=176817192] Haggag won with a razor thin 1.47% margin (417 votes) over O’Keefe and Lacoursiere, Peta Roberts, Stampolis and Thomas MacDevitt. During the lead up to the election, Haggag was clearly Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s preferred candidate, which seems to have been enough to help him edge out Bob O’Keefe. But in the end, when faced with the chance to help make Santa Clara history and help get the first minority candidate elected to the City Council, the POA stayed true to form by promoting the all-white city council candidate slate.
Now in the 2020 election, under the tutelage of Gillmor, the POA is firmly entrenched in their ways of the past as they support the “All White Candidate Slate” — known again in 2020 as the AROW — “All Rich Older White” team.
Instead of embracing the reality that Santa Clara is no longer a white majority city, the POA working with Mayor Lisa Gillmor are supporting Team All Rich Older White – namely O’Keefe, Rob Mezzetti, Watanabe and O’Neill. They could easily have changed their ways and shown they are anything but dinosaurs when it comes to progress and diversity by supporting minority and LGBTQ candidates. But the Santa Clara POA and apparently Lisa Gillmor are firmly fixated on the past. Are these the type of groups we want influencing our elections?