Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
The big winner: Chuck Reed at his campaign headquarters on election night, with wife, Paula (far right).
Dispatches from Election Night
Fear and Loathing at the Holiday Inn
We love election night parties. The exuberance, the fatalism, the cheese cubes. We even enjoyed getting tossed out of the Holiday Inn's Mediterranean Room banquet hall by a man who claimed to be Cindy Chavez's campaign manager, Justin Schall. "This is a private party," he explained with postal rage. (Was it something we wrote?) When we returned and sidled up to our attractive blonde armed bodyguard, a well-known elected law enforcement official, the hothead relented but threatened, "You and me are going to have a lot of fun in this town for a long time." This may go down as one of the only cases in local election history that a working member of the local press was unceremoniously plucked from a media event filled with TV cameras because the publication failed to write nice things about a campaign that refused to talk. Had the Mensa life members running Chavez's campaign studied San Jose media history they would have known that Metro's endorsement and reporting have tipped the elections in all three post-McEnery mayoral races. (What the victors do when they get into office, though, we can't control.) Maybe they'll return our calls next time.
When Mayors Were Funny
Speaking of Tom McEnery, we couldn't help but notice he celebrated the liberation of City Hall from the infidels with his first professional haircut in more than a decade. Lookin' sharp, Tom! Nicely combed and layered for the TV cameras, maybe he'll start wearing pancake makeup to interviews sometime soon. (Hey, could you give the mayor-elect your stylist's card?) McEnery weighed in with some recorded phone messages for the Chuck Reed campaign's automatic dialers. Hopefully McEnery hit more registered San Jose voters than Chavista Bill Clinton, who rang up Republicans in Milpitas and Los Gatos. (Memo to Bill: Africa needs you.) There are signs that the Adderall-deficient mayor emeritus grew bored being on the winning team. "Just for kicks, I called and read my script to three callers," McEnery shared. "And then when they grumbled about hanging up, I'd say 'Hey wait a sec, don't hang up." Ha ha. It's been 16 years since we had a mayor with a sense of humor ... and now it looks like it's going to be a while longer.
Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Sam dunk: Liccardo at Smoke Tiki Lounge, with Michael Mulcahy (center) in the crowd, on the night he won the District 3 run-off.
As San Jose Goes, So Goes the USA
The relentless focus on how this year's national election was a referendum on President Bush made it seem like it was all happening thousands of miles from San Jose. But the truth is, things aren't so different here in Silicon Valley than they are all over the country. A CNN poll of national voters revealed that the No. 1 issue on the country's mind was not the war in Iraq, or the economy, but corruption. Sound familiar? That's right, San Jose isn't the only place sick of scandal. Take Pennsylvania: Two incumbent Republican congressmen lost there, and, boy, were they a couple of losers. Don Sherwood was embroiled in a nasty bit of business about a mistress who claimed to have been assaulted by him. Curt Weldon is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly using his office to get lobbying and consulting jobs for his daughter. Now, who was surprised when the Democrats took back the House? Notice what the new speaker, our own Nancy Pelosi, zeroed in on during her election-night speech: the Democrats, she said, intend to lead the "most honest" and "most open" Congress in history. Of course, one could argue that San Jose has an even bigger image problem than the House. With scandal heaped on scandal, the Ron Gonzales years have tarnished San Jose's reputation. That's why the election was all about change here, too—starting at the top, of course, with Chuck Reed's mayoral victory. San Jose voters rejected the candidate who was Gonzales' vice mayor, Cindy Chavez, and went with the one who stood up to Gonzo time and again. Similarly, for district attorney, they picked Dolores Carr over the current deputy district attorney, Karyn Sinunu. They also chose energetic outsider Sam Liccardo over career politician Manny Diaz, and appeared to be putting another spunky newcomer, Pierluigi Oliverio, into the runoff for District 6.
Photograph by Dan Pulcrano
It's not my party: District 6 front-runner Pierluigi Oliverio at Chuck Reed's election- night party.
It might be the first time a San Jose mayor claimed victory on election night from a dingy tilt-up on a freeway frontage road. No catered hotel soiree or downtown tiki bar blast for the Chuckster. The no-frills campaign headquarters fit the bill, though. Reed led the pack of mayoral candidates in the primary on a penny-pinching platform. In an inner sanctum, he posed for photos with a clutch of turbaned Sikhs, chatted with the photogenic sombrero-wearing Tropicana clothing store owner who was starred in Chamber hit mailers and bumped fists with a Vietnamese recyling firm owner. As he soared ahead of Chavez by 30 points, a gap that held nearly three hours after the polls closed, campaign Saladin Vic Ajlouny gloated over the numbers. Ajlouny debriefed Reed, informing him that the Reedsters were winning the live vote—on top of the absentee voter head start. Reed's forehead glistened with sweat and a smile danced around the corners of his eyes, but he stopped short of doing the funky chicken victory lap. "It could be a long night," the candidate signed and joked about his "24-month labor" finally coming to an end. (To us it looked like Reed's been running for the job for 24 years.) Reed's supporters, however, didn't wait to celebrate. Outside the inner chamber, they did their best spastic white man dance moves to a classic rock band.
Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Rallying supporters: Cindy Chavez on election night.
Dean Machine Loses Steam
Election night festivities at the Cindy Chavez for Mayor camp resembled, in many ways, a junior high school dance. Held in the Mediterranean Room In the far back corner of the Holiday Inn on North First Street, a short three-minute drive from Chavez's campaign headquarters on Taylor Street and First Street, the party featured a room that was less that half full (with most of the space taken up by a platform set up for television crews) and a buffet table laden with plastic pitchers of flat soda and appetizers of the chips, salsa, cheese and crackers variety. There was also a young DJ spinning a mix of oldies, hip-hop and R&B, and a bar hidden in the back (perhaps Chavez's version of spiked punch). That a mayoral candidate's election-night party in the nation's tenth largest city could not attract a full house was perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the night—except that Chavez herself wasn't there for much of it either; the candidate didn't arrive until almost 10 pm. Meanwhile, the night did feature appearances by Silicon Valley power brokers, both past and present. Retired state Sen. John Vasconcellos was a star guest, as was Councilmember Madison Nguyen. Former Mayor Susan Hammer also floated around. (Zoe Lofgren partied in Washington, D.C.) But the biggest fish in the sea was none other than former labor boss Amy Dean, who flew in from the Midwest to stand behind her protégé. The hip-hop beats didn't help the crowd get into the groove, but they did begin to perk up when the emcee announced that Chavez would soon be arriving. A chant of "Cindy, Cindy, Cindy" was sustained for a good five minutes. When she finally showed up, she delivered a five-minute speech about her campaign themes of hope, BART to San Jose, and global warming. But mostly, she implored her supporters to stay, guaranteeing that it would be a long night. Then she gave the crowd a final quote, saying that during the campaign she learned "the more you get to know [San Jose], the better and better it is." Not exactly JFK material, but sweet.
Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Can you hear me now?: Dolores Carr at her election-night party at Britannia Arms, spreading the good news by phone.
Carr in the Driver's Seat
Britannia Arms has probably never seen a Tuesday night so packed with upscale folks over 50. The downtown bar's local poetry slamgoers stepped aside on election night for a crowd of lawyers and cops rooting for district attorney candidate Dolores Carr. The beer and cheer were flowing freely when ballot counts start coming in: 62 percent for Carr to 38 percent for her opponent, Karyn Sinunu. The candidate glided through her posse of supporters, shaking hands and flashing a beauty-pageant smile. "I have so many friends!" she gushed. One of those lucky guys is Rick Ehler, the local attorney who got a flurry of attention when he unsuccessfully defended the finger-in-the-chili scam artist Anna Ayala. He was lounging against the wall, taking a breather from the swarm of hopeful predictions and excited chatter. He told Fly he met Judge Carr when she was a prosecutor for the district attorney's office. Who knew that he'd go from a courtroom opponent to a political supporter? A more obvious ally was the young man whose bear hug enveloped Carr's petite figure—her 22-year-old son Chris. "How does it feel to have an almost-DA for a mom?" one lady asked him. "Good," he says with a shy smile. "She needs the job."
Sam Liccardo's hoedown at Smoke Tiki Lounge drew all sorts of local luminaries, and the place was rocking as early at 8:30pm. Folks wolfed down smoked meats and feverishly watched the national campaign results on CNN, almost minute by minute—at least those who weren't there to watch the Sharks game. As the evening progressed, a star-studded assemblage of local politicos made their way into the fray, including Michael Mulcahy, Larry Stone, Pat Dando, Ken Yeager and former District 3 candidate Candy Russell, who did not hesitate to scavenge the free food and complain about the Iraq situation. Liccardo himself was a rock star who came off as an absolute natural. The photographers hounded him all night. He evinced the John F. Kennedy poster-boy Democrat shtick with immaculate flair, and folks of all ages piled into Smoke for the grand celebration. By the way, Fly was so refreshed to attend a City Council candidate shindig at a unique local Tiki Lounge rather than a mayoral candidate gathering at a standardized Holiday Inn for the billionth year in a row. At least somebody somewhere has some panache, for crying out loud. More than anything else, you could easily observe a definite political future for Liccardo, who's only 36. He has nowhere to go but up. And you could just as easily sense a big zero in his opponent Manny Diaz's political future. Bring on Sam's Army!
Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
This is how America feels: One San Jose political display on Halloween night—from a conservative's lawn, ironically.
Guests walking under the blue-and-white balloon arch at Chief District Attorney Karyn Sinunu's election night party at Eulipia were more excited about blue victories in the House and Senate than Sinunu's results. The party peaked at 8:30pm with about 150 supporters and wound down an hour later, when she held 38 percent of votes for Santa Clara County's highest law enforcement position. There was some emotion, though—two of the loyal supporters who showed up were Rick Walker and his mom, Myrtle. Walker spent 13 years at Pelican Bay, California's most brutal prison, serving a life sentence for a murder that he didn't commit. It was Sinunu who took up his case and got him released. As the party wound down, Sinunu said she was exhausted and was on her way to Hawaii. She told Fly that it was a great day—for other Democrats, you'd have to guess, but not her. Luckily, she still has a job—working for Dolores Carr. "I'll be back on Monday," the red-dressed, amiable Sinunu said. "That's what I do, I'm a prosecutor."
Meet the Freeloader
Maybe the smartest winner of the night was Pierluigi Oliverio, who was leading the pack of District 6 contenders at presstime and appeared headed for a March runoff with the second-place finisher (it was too close to call between Steve Tedesco and Clark Williams. He didn't want to be tied down to his own victory party, so he didn't have one. "Why have my own party when I can go to everybody's else's?" he told Fly.
Around the Valley
Diane McNutt beat the sign stealers in Los Gatos. Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves hung unto his job after a nasty fight with Henry Manayan. Vending machine king Alan Aerts won a seat on the city council of the valley's smallest city, where his Monte Sereno holiday lights are the mini-municipality's biggest tourist attraction. John Vidovich lost in the Altos Hills. Greg Sellers led the pack in Morgan HIll. Lawyer Hab Siam led the pack of challengers to the ruling coalition in Saratoga, but fell two points short of landing a council seat. Is Berryessa school trustee Kansen Chu Chuck Reed's heir apparent in Berryessa?