Facing adversity was a theme at the latest meeting of the Santa Clara City Council.
Council Members Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy sat on the dais at the Council’s previous meeting, but the two — along with City Clerk Hosam Haggag and Mayor Lisa Gillmor — did not go through the pageantry of the ceremonial swearing in until Tuesday night’s meeting.
During their comments, Chahal, Hardy and Haggag all mentioned facing challenges that they feel have prepared them jobs in the government.
Haggag, an engineer at Oculus in Menlo Park, said he never cared about politics until he experienced a situation where he experienced “bigotry, racism and Islamophobia.” That experience, he said, “lit a fire” under him.
“I started to understand the meaning of true grassroots community involvement,” he said. “It’s about really making the City work for everybody.”
Having a “can-do” attitude and approaching government work, not as an entitlement, but as a “public service” — something he said “politicians have forgotten” — can make change happen, Haggag said.
He told the audience to “find their passion,” something Gillmor called “touching.”
Chahal echoed some of that sentiment.
“Follow your dreams. Never forget the value of hard work,” he said. “Ethical values will always pay off.”
Chahal detailed some of his own hardship after Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) swore him in. As a young boy in India, all he ever wanted was to be in the Army. When the academy he had set his heart on — one he compared to the prestigious West Point Military Academy — rejected him, it crushed him. Not long after, he came to America with $500, working low-paying, blue-collar jobs.
He said he never imagined sitting on the City Council of a city like Santa Clara, and the Council would do well to remember how fortunate they are to earn a lot of money and not forget the many struggling poor families who don’t.
As the City’s first minority Council Member, Chahal, a local business owner, vowed to “respond to diverse needs” and “make government more accessible.”
An abundance of affluence brings with it its own problems, he said. The Council needs collaborate with Santa Clara-based businesses, such as Nvidia. In doing so, Chahal said the Council can “come up with a funding mechanism” to solve the problems such as traffic and the out-of-balance jobs-to-housing ratio.
Promising to be a “voice for common Santa Clarans,” Chahal also called for civility among the Council.
“It is not about us anymore,” he said. “On this dais, let us differ on issues, not on a personal basis.”
When Hardy was 13, her father died. The phone call she made to Las Vegas to tell her mother she won her Council race was the last time she would speak to her. She called her election a “roller coaster of emotions.”
Running for public office taught her who her friends really are, she said. It is an “honor” she takes “very seriously.”
Although she said she is aware she needs to consider everyone’s needs when making a decision, Hardy, a high school teacher, added that restraint is an often overlooked merit.
“Just because government has the power to do something doesn’t mean it should,” she said.
Hardy said she will strive to be humble and have humility, something she called an “elusive virtue” because “the moment you think you think you’re humble, you’re not.”
Gillmor called Hardy’s remarks “heartwarming.”
During her own remarks following her father, former mayor Gary Gillmor swearing her in, Gillmor said Santa Clara is “heading in the right direction.” Following her appointment after Jamie Matthews resigned, Gillmor said she “pushed for transparency” and “stood up for residents.”
“What could have been a crisis turned out to be a turning point,” she said.
Since then, the City has built a “strong fiscal foundation.” In the upcoming years, she said, the Council is going to be judged on how it “stands up to powerful special interests.”
“Together we can do so much,” she said.