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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
JUMP START: Teresa Alvarado is already collecting endorsements and money in preparation for the June election

And They're Off

Five candidates are already out of the gate for June county supervisors election

By Jessica Fromm

SITTING at a cafe table outside Original Joe's in downtown San Jose, Forrest Williams unzips his binder and starts flipping through the pages within, searching for a document. He finds what he is looking for: a slightly wrinkled, stapled packet of paper with a large amount of handwriting in the margins. This packet contains a long list of city councilmembers, county supervisors, assemblymembers, state senators and Santa Clara Valley Water District board members—everyone the former San Jose City Councilman has ever worked with in his two decades as an elected official.

Next to each name is a mark indicating the status of their support in his recently launched campaign for the District 1 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors seat. Among those names he points out who have already pledged their endorsement are San Jose Councilmember Kansen Chu, District 2 county Supervisor George Shirakawa, former city councilmember and mayoral candidate Cindy Chavez and state Sen. Elaine Alquist. He says many people on the list are still undecided.

"It's a Democratic group, so with all the people who are running, they're not picking sides yet," says Williams. "Right now I'm positioning myself, so I'm in a place where I should be the one. These are all elected officials; I haven't put any names down who are not elected officials. People in the community, like home and school club groups, I haven't asked them yet."

Though the deadline to file for the June election doesn't come until March 12, 2010, five candidates are already jockeying for position in the early stages of the race for Supervisor Don Gage's still-warm seat behind the dais. Williams and Teresa Alvarado were the first out of the gate, shortly followed by Santa Clara Valley Water District director Rosemary Kamei, Gilroy Councilman Peter Arellano and Los Gatos Mayor Mike Wasserman, the only Republican candidate so far.

With issues ranging from budget cuts to health-care and environment up on the table, collecting high profile endorsements and power schmoozing for dollars are at the forefront of these candidates' minds as they gear up for the June 8, 2010, primary election.

It seems that Williams has had his sights set on succeeding Gage since he was still on the San Jose City Council. The 72-year-old retired IBM engineer went so far as to apply for an internship in the county supervisor's office, though Gage politely declined his services.

"I asked for it, but there was no need for an intern," Williams says. "I'm sure it's because of who I am, too, because Don has many friends who're running. There is some relationship there, and it would be seen that I was the one, the knighting of the one."

Since being termed out last year, Williams has spent his time serving on the county's Sister-County Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women, all the while getting his ducks in a row.

Teresa Alvarado, however, has shown even more electioneering ambition. The former executive director of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, and daughter of former county Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, is already handing out glossy campaign bookmarks and fliers adorned with her mug and campaign donation information. She has launched full-force into the fundraiser circuit, and has been busy collecing her own impressive list of endorsements. County Assessor Larry Stone, former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, current District 5 county Supervisor Liz Kniss and San Jose Councilmembers Sam Liccardo and Ash Kalra all have their names displayed on her polished campaign website.

Surprisingly, Alvarado says that her mother, Blanca, whose second term as county supervisor for District 2 ended last January, wasn't overwhelmingly supportive when she first brought up running for the board.

"I've talked with her over the last couple of years about my interest in running, and her response was always very sobering," says Alvarado. "It was always 'Oh, you don't want to do that. It's so hard, and the budget in the county is so tough.' She was coming at it like a mom, after her many years in public office. ... But, I was determined, I care about the work of the county."

For Rosemary Kamei, the June election will be her second try at the supes seat, having lost to Gage on her first go at it 12 years ago. Since then she has continued to serve a total of 15 years on the Water District board of directors. Priming herself for the election, she quit her day job as vice president of development at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte to focus on her campaign.

As the wheels of the campaigns start to turn, there has been speculation of an impending face-off between Kamei and Alvarado, who are both members of several of the same Latino and community organizations. By sharing much of the same contingency, the two are in a competition with each other as they endeavor to draw supporters and donations from the same pool. As for now, though, both contenders appear to be playing nice.

"I don't think it's a big issue," said Alvarado. "I talk with Rosemary, we're friends, we've known each other for many years. I let her know early on that I was considering running, and I was aware that she was definitely planning to run. But that's OK. I think that if we have good candidates, I think that's a good thing. ... I'm not an elected official and I want to come at this with fresh eyes."

Kamei stresses the importance of her years on the Water District board and how that's prepared her to work outside of the Hispanic community.

"I think the world of Teresa, we've worked well together, and I like her. I have a lot of respect for her, but I do believe that my support is broader," Kamei says. "I've worked with all different communities from all different backgrounds."

Also in the run for the Latino vote is South County native Peter Arellano. A family practice physician at Kaiser Permanente, he is currently serving his fourth term on the Gilroy City Council. Arellano is banking on his heath-care experience to bring him kudos when it comes to county issues.

"I'm just letting people know about my background is in the medical field, the public health field and the government field. Almost 50 percent of the county budget now deals with health care and the health issues of the community, and for me, that's where I'm coming from," Arellano says. He points out that he has a master's in public health from UCLA and has worked in free clinics over the years.

Wasserman, for his part, has refused to officially comment on his candidacy until the launch of his campaign site on Oct. 15, though he has filed his candidacy papers. He did, however, mention to Metro how proud he is that the town of Los Gatos implemented several large new civic projects during his time on the council.

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