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Emails Sent During Election Expose Toxic City Council Climate

An email exchange of spiteful remarks between two Council Members about a fellow Santa Clara City Council colleague reveals that the discord on the Council is only the surface manifestation of deep animosities and resentments that have poisoned Council relationships.

In an email sent just hours after the 2016 Santa Clara County Democratic Club’s candidates forum, and Council Member Debi Davis’ apparent absence from the forum and political club’s endorsement list, Council Member Teresa O’Neill wrote Davis that at the forum, “Patty [Mahan] pulled out her breast cancer survivor card a couple of times during her segment,” and called Mahan “pretty slick.”

“This sympathy thing is BS,” wrote Davis in her reply the following morning. Davis chairs the Santa Clara Council Ethics Committee and is a past chair of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.


One of Mahan’s “survivor cards” that O’Neill pointed to was Mahan’s acceptance of a pink tee shirt along with other cancer survivors from the 49ers at a game during breast cancer awareness month.

The entire email chain was copied to Mayor Lisa Gillmor and San José resident and Santa Clara restaurateur Kirk Vartan.

These shocking statements made by elected officials about a fellow official lay bare the problematic Council climate that has been publicly discussed.

“I have never expected, or wanted, sympathy, and that’s not why I speak out about my cancer,” said Mahan in an email to the Weekly. “I speak openly about my cancer survivorship because I want to be a strong example for others who are fighting for their lives. Breast cancer survivorship is not a card I play. It is the life I live.

“For me to read that my colleagues believe that I speak up for cancer survivorship to gain sympathy, or worse, to gain political advantage, is hurtful to me,” she continued. “Even more, it reveals a small-mindedness that is unbecoming. Imagine what good we could accomplish if we all put away pettiness and jealousy and united to focus on doing the best for our community.”

Davis also claims in her email that Mahan offered to “get [John] McL[emore] out of my race if I had only talked to her.” Davis and Mahan were close friends until the summer of 2016.

Mahan said that Davis’ remark is misleading because it refers to a personal conversation that took place months before the filing deadline, when the two were still friends. As a veteran of many elections, Mahan is often asked for political advice.


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See the email thread below. Personal email addresses have been blacked out. 



1 Comment
  1. SC Resident 6 years ago

    What is outrageous to me as a Santa Clara resident about this email exchange reported by Santa Clara Weekly in Nov 2017 isn’t so much the politicians trading emails, since that is what politicians do, but that San Jose resident, pizza purveyor, and self-proclaimed “activist” Kirk Vartan is included in this email exchange.

    Why is Kirk Vartan always attending council meetings for a city that he doesn’t live in, and calling for changes to projects that don’t affect him? Why does the council seem to listen to him, stroke his ego by responding to his Facebook posts?

    His pet project, the former BAREC site, seems to be stalled and is now a parking lot leased to Valley Fair for low rent instead of needed senior housing, apparently because he feels we need more than what the developer has already offered, in the name of “placemaking” (I think Santa Clara is already a very fine place, thank you very much). When his motives are challenged, he says that he is a “business owner in Santa Clara”, but now that he’s sold his business to his employees, he doesn’t even have a controlling stake anymore! It’s ridiculous, like me claiming that I am a Cupertino business owner because I own Apple stock.

    Perhaps our council should be listening more to actual Santa Clara residents (and voters), rather than outside interlopers like Kirk Vartan.

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