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New Mayor Lisa Gillmor Promises Council Collaboration, Empowerment

After all the local press’s dire predictions of gridlock on the Santa Clara City Council, “fractured” relationships, and Santa Clara’s immanent “unraveling,” last week’s City Council love-in unanimously appointing Lisa Gillmor as Mayor came as a happy surprise.

“Lisa was an excellent choice and will do a wonderful job as Santa Clara’s Mayor, former Mayor Jamie Matthews said in a text message.

By the time Vice Mayor Teresa O’Neill opened Tuesday night’s study session on whether or not to hold a special election to replace Mayor Jamie Matthews – who resigned from office on Feb. 8 for personal reasons – it was clear that the Council had already decided that the distraction and conflict set off by a special election would cause the City lasting damage.


“There is a lot of apprehension, lack of confidence and uncertainty as a result of events of last week,” said Council Member Pat Kolstad, who made the motion to call an emergency Council meeting on Wednesday to appoint a new mayor. “In general, work is not getting done around City Hall.” The circumstances made it imperative that “the Mayor’s position should be filled as soon as possible.”

“Any election is going to take an extended period of time, three or four months,” said Council Member Jerry Marsalli. “That’s why we need to act on Council Member Kolstad’s motion.

Uncertainty was a deadly thing for cities, said Council Member Dominic Caserta. “I’ve heard uniformly, now is the time to come together. People I spoke to expressed uniformly that one of us should be appointed.”

The Council unanimously approved Kolstad’s motion, and 25 hours later, Kolstad made the motion to appoint Council Member Lisa Gillmor to the vacant post. After Council Members registered their endorsements, Gillmor was appointed in a unanimous vote.

These endorsements, said Gillmor, were “probably the most positive comments I’ll ever receive in my life.” The new Mayor thanked her colleagues individually; Caserta for his “energy and passion for Santa Clara,” Council Member Debi Davis for being “a champion for ethics and transparency,” Kolstad for his “steady leadership,” Marsalli for “his service and love of community,” and O’Neill for “her policy expertise” and O’Neill’s leadership in keeping the Council on course through this transition.

“I appreciate the trust you’ve put in me,” said Gillmor. “I’ll return your trust by governing collaboratively. We have a lot of major issues before us now. We have different perspectives and philosophies. I don’t expect us to vote unanimously on every issue, but I hope we will respect each other. I have confidence that the next chapter in Santa Clara’s history will be a great one.”

Only time will tell whether the current accord will last. At any rate, the bonhomie lasted into the evening’s impromptu get-together at Fiorillo’s restaurant celebrating the return of normalcy as well as Gillmor’s new office. “It’s been a real whirlwind,” said the guest of honor.

“I was surprised the olive branches that were extended – and how do you turn down and olive branch? We’re moving forward as a team,” she said. “I want to really collaborate with fellow Council Members [and] give them more empowerment that they’ve had before. I’m going to use their talents.”

Gillmor’s remarks speak directly to the current perception of conflict and long-standing frustrations some Council Members have expressed. It’s likely considerable effort will go into and standardizing – and documenting – Council operations; as well as opening up other aspects of City governance such as recording and broadcasting Planning – and perhaps other –commission meetings, and making the agenda reports form those meeting available online.

Lisa Gillmor began her political career at 28, when she ran for Santa Clara City Council in 1988. Previously, she served on the Parks & Recreation Commission for two terms, during which she was instrumental in building the Santa Clara Soccer Park.

She was first elected to the City Council in 1992 and served two terms. She ran for mayor in 1994, losing to Judy Nadler. In 2011, after Jamie Matthews was elected mayor, she was appointed to finish out the remaining two years of his Council term. In 2012 she was re-elected to the seat.

Lisa Gillmor attended St. Clare’s elementary school and graduated from Buchser high school. After graduating from the University of Southern California she went to work in her father’s real estate business, and today manages business operations. She and her husband Demitri Cacoyannis have three children.

Lisa Gillmor is the daughter of Santa Clara’s first elected Mayor, Gary Gillmor; who led Santa Clara in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an historic time in which the City mapped out its long range plan for the Northside as well as a plan for electrical energy self-sufficiency. Like his daughter, he was never shy about saying what he thought. He did not, however, have anything with demolishing downtown, as is sometimes said; he didn’t serve on the Council until 1965.


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