A funny thing happened on the way to Santa Clara police union PAC’s City Hall press Q&A Thursday morning — things boomeranged and became a press conference for the people they intended to attack: Council candidates Anthony Becker, Harbir Bhatia and Suds Jain.
The event was billed as a press conference about “Jed York’s $3M spend.”
The Santa Clara police union PAC appears to have organized the Thursday morning event at City Hall, featuring Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai, Mayor Lisa Gillmor and police union president Alex Torke.
An unregistered political group, Stand Up For Santa Clara, publicized it. Attendance was sparse. It seemed like the real purpose of the event was getting Gillmor and the police union PAC free broadcast TV time to attack Jed York.
“We are talking about the fact that Jed York is paying $3 million to buy his City Council Members and we have a big concern about that,” said Gillmor. “$3 million happens and the bill’s going to have to be paid.”
Gillmor repeated several times that the candidates had promised things to York. When asked to be specific, she said, “it’s all in the record.”
“All four of them have already said they’re open to changing the curfew laws which takes away protections and gives Jed York more money,” said Gillmor. “This is unprecedented.” The City’s general fund receives half the net profit of non-NFL events. The 49ers receive nothing.
“This, again, is political theater to make it look like we are all owned by the 49ers,” said District 6 candidate Becker. The Mayor was wrong that the Council could eliminate the Levi’s Stadium curfew, he said.
The curfew was written into the contracts that had been approved by Gillmor herself, he said. The contracts allowed the City Manager — only the City Manager — the discretion to waive the curfew for specific events.
All three were asked repeatedly how the 49ers independent expenditures were different from the police PAC’s expenditures, whose spending dwarfed all other Santa Clara campaign spending in 2016 and 2018, which Gillmor has never criticized.
The answer was that this was a lot more money, “apples to elephants,” as Nikolai described it. One reporter asked if the reason they objected to the 49ers spending was that it wasn’t being spent on their candidates. Gillmor answered that it wasn’t the same thing.
“What’s important is that we have bigger problems,” said candidate for District 1 Bhatia. “How can they be swaying the conversation to talk about this curfew — which I’ve never talked about.
“My issue,” Bhatia continued, “is the blatant lies that are being made up here. They’re disingenuous to put us out there as the enemies of the residents. We are the ones who will be there to take care of them [the residents].”
Council Member Raj Chahal pointed out that in 2010, when Karen Hardy and Suds Jain were “going door to door” to persuade residents to vote against Levi’s Stadium, Gillmor had no problem with the millions (more than $4 million) being spent to get the stadium approved.
“They were in the TV ads,” he said, “Lisa Gillmor, Kathy Watanabe and Debi Davis.”
Others say the issue in this election is the current Council’s continuing fight — in court and via multiple ballot measures — against single-member election districts that would threaten the control of the Old Guard that has controlled the City Council for generations (Gillmor’s father was mayor in the 1970s).
Becker, Bhatia and Jain were vociferous in saying that not only hadn’t they asked for help from the 49ers and had no control of this spending, they worried that the 49ers spending would tarnish their reputations for independence.
In fact, former Congressman Mike Honda asked the 49ers to get involved in the campaign, writing to them in September for their help in bringing fair, balanced and ethnically diverse representation to the Santa Clara City Council.
“Institutional racism is an important issue that needs to be addressed,” Nikolai said. “But using the word ‘diversity’ when you’re talking about buying the Council, that’s disingenuous.”
The 49ers answered back with a statement of their own.
“Mayor Gillmor is once again supporting a slate of all white candidates while she spends millions of dollars in taxpayer money to upend voting rights to dilute minority representation,” said 49ers VP of Public Affairs and Strategic Communication, Rahul Chandhok.
“Her twice failed ballot measures and legal fees [in a voting rights lawsuit the City lost] have cost residents in excess of $4 million alone…. we felt it necessary to make our support swift, open, and transparent.”