“Shame on the Police Officers Association PAC. Shame on the mayor. Shame on the chief of police, Pat Nikolai. Shame on you,” said Santa Clara’s District 1 City Council candidate Harbir Bhatia during a rally near Santa Clara City Hall on Friday, Oct. 30.
With just a few days until the election, Bhatia was joined by District 4 candidate Kevin Park, District 5 candidate Suds Jain and District 6 candidate Anthony Becker to issue the strongest rebuke yet of the current city leadership.
They are especially angry about a recent mailer sent to voters by the Police Officers’ Association PAC. The mailer depicts a brown hand taking a check issued to Bhatia and Jain. It implies that the 49ers and Jed York are trying to buy seats on Santa Clara’s City Council.
“We are brown and we are fine with it. But to insinuate that we took money, because we are brown. Isn’t that the point of this? Why else would you do it?” asked Bhatia. “Until I saw these advertisements behind me, I did not want to believe that there was racism in this city.”
The candidates and their supporters say Mayor Lisa Gillmor and current City Councilmembers Kathy Watanabe and Teresa O’Neill are among the city leaders that continue to try and suppress minority voices. Under Gillmor, Watanabe and O’Neill’s leadership, the City of Santa Clara continues to legally fight a 2018 court ruling that says Santa Clara violated the California Voting Rights Act (CRVA) by using an at-large system to elect councilmembers. To date, the Council has yet to put forth a system of electing city councilmembers that complies with the CRVA and is approved by voters citywide.
“We are almost 40 percent Asian American in this in this city. Together with 25 percent of Latinos and other peoples of color, we are the majority. Make sure we understand that we are the majority. Yet, the City Mayor Lisa Gillmor is appealing the court ruling that came down,” said Wesley Mukoyama, the plaintiff in the 2018 voting rights lawsuit. “These four candidates who stand before you are our courageous warriors who are sticking their necks out and representing all of us who are people of color.”
This latest news conference was called in response to a news conference held on Oct. 22 by Mayor Gillmor, Santa Clara Police Chief Pat Nikolai and police union president Alex Torke at Santa Clara City Hall. In it, the trio accused 49ers CEO Jed York of trying to buy city council seats by supporting Bhatia, Park, Jain and Becker.
When the candidates tried to rebut the accusations from the same location, they were turned away.
“We had originally tried to put the setup where the mayor and the Police Officers’ Association, and Teresa O’Neill had their press conference last week,” Park told the audience. “When we said, ‘Well, we’d like to do something right in the same place.’ They said, ‘Well, now we’ve got some new stipulations that say, you can’t do it there anymore.’ So, we had to move.”
Bhatia believes what the mayor and other city officials are doing is illegal.
“It is unlawful, illegal, for city officials of any position, in offices like the mayor, the chief of police, the council members, city clerk to promote a political agenda to promote lies and misleading information,” said Bhatia.