Features & Columns
Ties That Bind
Elected officials chafe at the notion that their votes are influenced by political contributions they receive. Every man or woman in office likes to say they vote their conscience, and that political contributions never enter into the decision-making process.
Once in office, elected officials tend to maintain relationships. Career politicians always have another expensive election cycle on the horizon.
Supervisor Shirakawa is without dispute a career politician, but he argues that money has never swayed his vote on the Board of Supervisors or at any other level. It's no secret, however, that Shirakawa maintains close ties to labor unions, public-safety groups, construction companies and developers. He suggests his 2008 campaign disclosure forms, which he will "try" to file before his second term begins in November, will likely include the following associations:
"Obviously, there's folks who are friends. There's lobbyist guys—all the lobbyist guys will be on there; a lot of labor folks will be on there; the Asian-American community, as I told you. You'll see the names. It's the same names you saw in 2008. You'll see."
What one might not see, however, is that Shirakawa has a longstanding policy of nepotism when doling out campaign cash. Shirakawa insists that he has often assumed the lead role of treasurer for his elected positions.
"I do it all," he says. "The name on [campaign filings] is probably one of my old buddies, I don't know. I do it all, except during the campaigns. You always have a treasurer in name, and [they] do a little help. Some people have a treasurer, but I like doing as much as I can, because it's my responsibility. Plus I like doing it."
But Shirakawa's record of delinquent filings suggests he likes the idea of filling out forms more than actually doing it.
According to campaign disclosure forms Shirakawa filed right up until a few months after he won the county board seat in 2008, Linda Delgado was listed as his campaign treasurer. What the forms don't note is that Delgado is the mother of one of Shirakawa's children.
"She served as treasurer, she does a lot of work with database for me. Um, she's my son's mother," Shirakawa says. "She's my son's mother. And she's actually, kind of, gonna try and help me out. But it's my responsibility."
Exactly how involved Delgado was in the campaign during that time isn't all that clear. Several of Shirakawa's colleagues said they didn't know who Delgado was when asked, including his chief of staff, Eddie Garcia. (Curiously, Garcia and Delgado are Facebook friends.) But during the 2008 campaign, according to filed forms—the last of which was amended a day after Metro's interview with Shirakawa because errors were noted in the accounting—Delgado was paid $22,924.90 in salary and expenses. She was also listed as still being owed $2,950.
In filings for the 2012 primary, which were also late, Delgado was named treasurer and paid at least $7,500 for managing a campaign in which Shirakawa ran unopposed.
Shirakawa also employed one of his daughters, Elena Reyes, as his campaign manager for a short period in 2008. In a two-month span running from mid-March to mid-May of 2008, Reyes was paid $3,900.
"She was working as a campaign manager, and then she went to work for Kansen after that," Shirakawa says in reference to San Jose Councilmember Kansen Chu, who is also closely aligned with the South Bay Labor Council.
Shirakawa also paid daughter Reyes at least $3,900 in this last election cycle, according to 2012 filings.
There were claims during the 2008 campaign that Shirakawa was a deadbeat dad behind in child-support payments. Shirakawa's camp aggressively denied these accusations and sent out a mailer in the final weeks of the campaign featuring Shirakawa's ex-wife, Esther Carrillo, disputing the accusations.
Carrillo was not paid any campaign money, according to forms that are on file with the Registrar of Voters. But their daughter, Catalina Carrillo, was paid $3,866.62 for work allegedly done in April and May of 2008. Additionally, Catalina Carrillo was listed as being owed another $2,500.
During that same time period in the first half of 2008, according to the campaign disclosure forms that were filed during the race, Shirakawa also employed one of his close friends, Ruben Flores, to work as his campaign manager.
Flores is the brother of Alex Flores, whose name popped up in the news this spring when it became known that Shirakawa had his own personal bodyguard provided by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. Shirakawa admitted that he handpicked Alex Flores, who was a high school football player at Yerba Buena High School when Shirakawa worked at the school as a coach. Amid widespread criticism, the Sheriff's Office reassigned Alex Flores, who was being paid roughly $90,000 a year to be little more than Shirakawa's driver.
Ruben Flores also attended Yerba Buena High School, graduating in 1992.
"Ruben worked in the first half of my campaign for me as campaign manager," Shirakawa says, "and then Gustavo [Caraveo] took over in July."
Ruben Flores received $17,185 total for his work in 2008, including $1,300 in the last half of that year, according to a campaign filing covering July 1 through Sept. 30, 2008. "He's Alex's brother," Shirakawa says. "One of my players."