Political shuffle on Santa Clara City Council means tough road ahead for mayor

Election Brings Major Power Shift
to Santa Clara City Council
Photo: santaclaraca.gov
By Wesley Severson - Published on November 10, 2020.

The 49ers may not be winning on the field this season but last week marked a huge victory for the team’s owner Jed York, who basically placed a massive bet that he could shift the power of the Santa Clara City Council, and won. 

York’s idea to drop $3-million dollars into a super PAC to help propel newcomer candidates onto the city council paid off in a huge way.

The Mercury News reported in October that the goal of York’s massive donation was to help Kevin Park for District 4, Suds Jain for District 5, and Anthony Becker from District 6 to take over three out of four council seats that were up for grabs, and that is exactly what happened.

The candidates ran campaigns that distanced themselves from the leadership of Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor, and were thought to be more 49er-friendly options as councilmembers.

For years, Gillmor and her allies on the city council, Teresa O’Neill, Debi Davis, and Kathy Watanabe, have called for greater oversight of the 49ers and made trouble for Levi's Stadium events in general. As SFist reports, the city and the team have been involved in a long-running feud over low ticket sales, management agreements, and 10 p.m. concert curfews. And the management of the Rolling Stones made a particularly high-profile stink last year after dealing with the city's dysfunction during the band's August 18 appearance at Levi's, with the promoter writing a letter to the city saying, "Do you not want touring shows anymore?"

The Press Democrat reports that York’s money accounted for around 90% of all spending on the city council campaigns, working out to about $150 per vote.

Despite that, City Councilmember Elect Kevin Park tells KPIX that the team didn’t buy him the seat, but he does hope the new additions to the council will help mend the relationship between the city and the team. 

“There is a perception that people are trying to buy a city council, or are trying to buy an election. I think the people who know me and the people who have been following my career know that I am not going to be bought by a team,” Park said.

City Councilmember-Elect Suds Jain also told KPIX that his campaign did not accept any money from the 49ers.

"I actually think I lost a lot of votes because of allegations saying that I would not be independent. I have always been independent. I have always opposed special interests," said Jain.

As for Mayor Gillmor, one of her main allies on the city council, Kathy Watanabe, was able to hang onto her seat in District 1.

That means, for the first time in years, Gillmor’s plans won’t automatically slide through because she will actually have to make concessions to win over new councilmembers instead of always having the 4 out of 7 votes needed to approve things.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the city’s relationship with the 49ers. But with how disastrous it has been recently there is really nowhere to go but up.

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