As a lobbyist for Related Companies’ City Place Santa Clara project, political consultant Jude Barry appears to be more active managing press relations to advance the political interests of the Santa Clara public officials he lobbies than he does those of his employer.
Barry has long been acknowledged for his skill in setting up political smear stories.
In 1998 the Silicon Valley Metro credited Barry with being the man behind former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales’ political rise. As such, Barry “quickly developed a reputation for being both brilliant and cunning,” wrote reporter Will Harper.
“Media-savvy and reporter-friendly — he originally wanted to be a journalist before going into politics — he would be fingered by his peers as the source anytime embarrassing stories appeared in the newspaper about Gonzales’ foes”
Barry was one of the original writers at SanJoseInside.com, which was founded by former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery and is now a subsidiary of the Metro. In the early days Barry wrote a substantial amount of political commentary.
Measure J Builds Barry’s Political and Press Base
When the San Francisco 49ers were campaigning in 2010 to build a stadium in Santa Clara, it was Barry who was called upon to get press attention to carry Measure J across the goal line.
Working for the 49ers as a consultant involved actively building public support for Measure J — where his relationship with Yes on J Chair Lisa Gillmor began — and getting favorable press for the stadium proposal.
He also developed a close relationship with a former Santa Clara Weekly sports writer, 49ers fan Robert Haugh, who often took calls from Barry while at the Weekly and was in close contact with Barry throughout the Measure J campaign, according to those who worked beside him.
Haugh wrote about 30 articles on the proposed stadium between September 2009 and June 2010, the last of which describes Measure J’s passage as a “landslide” and “one of the biggest Touchdowns” in the history of the “fabled five-time Super Bowl Champions.”
After Measure J, Barry was dropped from the 49ers PR roster, but he stayed on the scene in Santa Clara, going to work as a lobbyist for Related. But this didn’t mean Barry was staying on the sidelines.
Sultan of Smear Moves Into Santa Clara
In 2012 Barry ran a charter school PAC campaign attacking County Board of Education Member Anna Song, who was running for re-election representing Santa Clara.
Barry also designed ads for a negative campaign against the controversial former Santa Clara Unified Board Member Christopher Stampolis — although he didn’t run the campaign. The ads were so ham-fisted they may have had a boomerang effect and helped elect Stampolis.*
The ads may not have helped Stampolis’ opponents, but they did get press attention. The Mercury News’ Scott Herhold’s column called it “an extraordinary attempt” and “more than a little unusual” in school board elections, which were typically “slumber fests.”
In 2014 Herhold slammed City Council candidate Dominic Caserta’s campaign money raising and reprised an oft-reported story about Caserta’s questionable 2007 phone bills.
Then-Council Member Lisa Gillmor, who backed Caserta’s opponent Roseann LaCoursiere in the race, shopped these stories to the Weekly — insisting to a reporter “you need to write about this.”
The next year Barry drove a San Jose Inside story about the accusation that local attorney John Mlnarik broke campaign laws when he ran for City Council in 2012 against Bill Collins and eventual winner Teresa O’Neill — endorsed by Gillmor who indicated privately that she regarded Mlnarik as something of an interloper.
On Nov. 26 Barry sent an email to blogger and political researcher and consultant James Rowen. The email reads:
“I finally got a reporter to request the Elena Franz lawsuit today. Josh Koen [sic] did. Lots of good stuff in it including claims that he kept track and paid employees to walk precincts and make contributions.
“We should see something in print in a week. Stay tuned.
A week later the Metro’s “The Fly,” written by former Metro Editor Josh Koehn, published a report on the Mlnarik lawsuit. The case, which was filed on Jan. 25, 2013 — nearly 11 months prior to the report — was dismissed on May 1, 2014.
Reporters from other Bay Area newspapers have privately described turning down attempts by Barry to dictate a story line that they said would soon after appear in Haugh’s blog.
Don’t Just Make the News — Deliver It Already Written
As time went by, Barry got more direct in his approach, proposing in 2014 that the Weekly publish a series of articles written by him and by-lined by Haugh.
When Weekly Editor-in-Chief Angie Tolliver refused to allow the paper to be used as Barry’s personal news outlet and shut down further attempts at story placement, Barry complained to Publisher Miles Barber.
Casting A Shadow On the 2016 City Council Campaign
The 2016 Santa Clara City Council election saw an unprecedented level of negative campaign expertise brought to bear for Gillmor’s slate of candidates: Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill, Tino Silva and Kathy Watanabe. But no one with that kind of political expertise appeared on campaign reports. At the time there was talk that Barry was managing the campaigns of Gillmor’s slate, although a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint made by Mlnarik was dismissed.
It is on the record that Barry met with Gillmor the summer of 2016 to talk about the “Santa Clara elections,” according to City Hall calendars.
Earlier that year San Jose Inside began attacking the Weekly, suggesting that its reporting on Levi’s Stadium was written by the 49ers. This accusation came shortly after a Weekly piece that challenged Gillmor’s narrative about the stadium rent reset dispute. Haugh’s blog also retailed that same accusation.
In August, San Jose Inside published a hit piece against Patricia Mahan — who was running against Gillmor ally Tino Silva — alleging that she was a lobbyist and had broken the law because Mahan had been a legal advisor to a billboard company with a City contract and was not registered as a lobbyist. A City investigation of the charge found no wrongdoing.
That year’s election saw independent expenditures that were exponentially higher than ever, with $85,000 in developer donations — called “participation” when they were solicited by Gillmor and a few close associates including Barry, according to Weekly sources with first hand knowledge of the operation — funneled through the police union PAC.
The campaign was characterized by vicious, defamatory attacks on opponents, some introduced and publicized in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Mercury News.
In striking ways it was similar to Barry’s special interest PAC campaign against County School Board Member Song.
City Hall Ghostwriter?
In December 2016, Barry sent Council Member Teresa O’Neill an email whose contents show Barry moving from lobbying the Council to operating like the Council’s political aide.
The body of the email, dated Dec. 2, contains a draft of an op-ed Barry authored to be submitted to the San Jose Mercury and a request that the Council Member call him to discuss it.
The email — which was sent to O’Neill’s personal Gmail account and not her City email despite being related to City business — consistently uses “we” in reference to Santa Clara officials.
The op-ed was to be submitted by O’Neill or other Council Members in response to a Nov. 19, 2016 Mercury News editorial about the City Place project. There is no record that it was ever published.
Read the email here: DRAFT Op-ed (Please call me)
Even when other PR specialists are on the job, Barry has managed to put himself in a position to sway local media on behalf of Santa Clara’s elected officials. For example, he was part of a May 2017 phone call between Banner Public Affairs’ Peter Hillan and Gillmor as the trio discussed an upcoming San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting, according to Hillan’s timecard.
The combination of timely hit pieces against Gillmor’s political opponents and Barry’s proven expertise in this arena could simply be a coincidence. However, the Santa Clara Weekly has obtained text conversations and emails that open a window into Barry’s cozy relationship with Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her Council allies.
The second part of this story will shine a spotlight on the extent of Barry’s efforts to shape Santa Clara news.
*Similar to the possible effect BLUPAC’s clumsy and tasteless negative campaign may have had on the 2016 City Council election.