Survival of the Fittest: Cindy Chavez and Matt Mahan go head-to-head for San Jose Mayor

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Riki Murase

Cindy Chavez and Matt Mahan go head-to-head for San Jose Mayor.

Surya Saraf

After plunging into a tense battle for San Jose mayor in May 2022, San Jose City Council member Matt Mahan and Santa Clara county supervisor Cindy Chavez emerged as the final candidates to compete in the nonpartisan runoff election on Nov. 8. The two were neck-and-neck in the last election — Chavez with 39% of the votes and Mahan with 32%. 

Widely supported by the majority of San Jose officials, Chavez emphasized her nine years of experience as Santa Clara county supervisor and dedication to social issues in her campaign. Her primary goal is to eradicate homelessness by managing the sizes of homeless encampments and increasing physical and mental health resources for all. As Santa Clara County supervisor, she expanded foster care and affordable housing, which she hopes to continue by increasing housing densities around the community and employing more skilled workers to construct affordable housing. With the funds she accumulated during her term, Chavez pledges to make San Jose safer, healthier and eventually homeless-free. 

Mahan, a firm proponent of what he has coined as  “Common Sense” — the idea of acting efficiently and advocating accountability in the government, shares similar social ideals to Chavez, but has a more business-like approach to them. On the issue of homelessness, Mahan proposed creating free individual living units, arguing that high-density housing is too costly and time-consuming to implement for all. A community advocate, Mahan strongly supports transparency and decisive action in the government. He noticed a lack of communication with the public in the San Jose City Council during his term, and pledged to shift San Jose’s government to one which prioritizes the common people.

Despite having similar goals, both Chavez and Mahan strongly oppose each other’s plans and question the other’s reliability to implement action. Mahan condemned Chavez’s attempts at social equity by claiming that she has not utilized the money she raised to eradicate homelessness or push for affordable housing. In response, Chavez labeled Mahan as having little credibility and experience in office, and thus someone who should have little say in the matter. 

But Mahan and Chavez’s disagreements go beyond social issues. A primary supporter of the South Bay Labor Council, Chavez opposed Mahan’s idea to lower taxes on businesses, leaving the candidates on opposite sides of the business-labor divide; the conflicting interests of a business and the laborers it seeks to employ. 

With a reputation solidified by her many years of experience, Chavez is favored to win the upcoming election, although her recent actions have raised skepticism among Mahan’s supporters. Last year, Chavez was found using her private email account to contact the incumbent mayor Sam Liccardo and one of her long-time supporters, Carl Guardino, about her budget plans and other election-related matters. Mahan’s supporters believed she was following in Liccardo’s footsteps after he repeatedly conducted general business using private accounts in 2017, resulting in a lawsuit administered by the Supreme Court against California. 

“Chavez should lead by example,” junior Niharika Emani, an intern who works with San Jose City Council, said.  “If she is honest and open about where she gets her funding, it really sets the standard of how much integrity people expect politicians to have.” 

Recently, a radical group of Mahan’s supporters took over Chavez’s website and wrote messages such as “Cindy Chavez. Wrong for San Jose” on the homepage. Additionally, after receiving backlash from Chavez’s supporters due to his endorsement from the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women, a pro-life organization that spread false information about COVID-19, Mahan denounced Chavez’s supporters as immature, emphasizing that he was for abortion rights and in favor of the vaccine. 

“From a practical standpoint city governments don’t play a functional role in the issue of abortion. And that’s where we get into the use of identity politics, the idea that someone who shares different social beliefs than the common people is untrustworthy because he or she is “not like us.” The issue shouldn’t sway people if they’re thinking about specific city policies, but it could,” AP US government teacher Jeffrey Bale said. 

In addition to their overwhelming public support, both candidates are heavily funded by outside organizations such as political action committees and the San Francisco 49ers. Despite Mahan leading in fundraising money, both candidates have raised millions of dollars, breaking the record for San Jose campaign funds. They continue to campaign tirelessly for the runoff election on Nov. 8.