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[whitespace] Ron Gonzales

With just a month remaining until San Jose's mayoral election, Ron Gonzales has six council endorsements, a reputation for efficiency and a strong campaign team. Will Ron Gonzales be San Jose's first Latino mayor? Maybe, if he can show the voters he's for real.

By Will Harper

SATURDAY, LIKE EVERY other day for Ron Gonzales, begins at 4am. He wakes up without an alarm clock. Five hours of sleep and he's ready to go. He shuffles into the study of his modest Berryessa home--a two-story $350K family pad with a neatly trimmed lawn and a basketball hoop in the driveway.

He closes the door so as not to wake his sleeping wife, Alvina, who splits time between her hair salon in Cupertino and her retail job at Saks Fifth Avenue in the Great Mall. He boots up his laptop and checks his email. Then he scans the online version of newspapers like the L.A. Times and Boston Globe, a habit he picked up while doing his job at Hewlett-Packard, where he manages an educational initiative with school districts from around the country. (His boss, Bess Stephens, says Gonzales is always on top of things--efficient and organized--and that his in-basket never overflows.)

Right now, though, he is taking an extended vacation from HP, where he's worked on and off for 11 years, so he can campaign full time for a job as mayor of San Jose. He's also put his morning jog on hiatus, sparing his 46-year-old legs for the grueling eight weeks of campaigning ahead of him, where he must attend countless neighborhood forums, walk dozens of precincts and spend hours on the phone hustling cash.

Finishing his morning routine, Gonzales heads out to campaign headquarters in his white '87 Ford Taurus, which he cheekily calls "the car of the people."

Gonzo Central is tucked away on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen, next to something called the Academy for Psychic Studies. "They predict Ron's gonna win," a campaign handler attempts.

The candidate's office, while clearly makeshift, is spotless and orderly. As advertised, no loose papers float on Gonzales' desk. Among the family photos and snaps of his late father, he keeps a 5-by-7-inch computerized image of Mt. Rushmore with his face superimposed next to the four famous presidents.

For today's agenda, Gonzales gets to wear casual threads: a pastel green windbreaker, blue cotton Oxford shirt, chinos and Hush Puppies. About 10am, the volunteers filter in and start snacking on bagels, cream cheese, donuts and pulp-free orange juice.

Gonzales thanks the 15 to 20 people there--their heads adorned with a mix of turbans and baseball caps--for spending the first sunny Saturday in weeks knocking on strangers' doors on his behalf. Then he summons everyone to their feet for an impromptu warm-up exercise.

He is raising his hands now above his head, fingers spread and fluttering, telling the volunteers to "get out those cobwebs." Now, he instructs them, it's time to practice those handshakes. "Turn to the person next to you and and introduce yourself," he commands them as though they are parishioners at Sunday mass.

The campaign aerobics conclude and Gonzales tells everyone to have fun. Looking at his watch, he explains he must leave for a hastily arranged appearance at the Labor Temple.

Jamil Khan, his campaign manager, takes the floor, using illustrated cue cards to explain the vagaries of precinct walking and what to do with the occasional hostile or insane voter. The advice is something along the lines of "Explain you're simply a volunteer and would be happy to take any concerns to Ron himself." In other words, get the hell out of there.

"Are we going to have to walk alone?" a woman whispers to another volunteer. "I don't know San Jose very well."

"Oh," says another, "where are you from?"

"Sunnyvale."

"Is that how you know Ron?"

"Yeah, we go way back."

It's a telling comment. Gonzales emigrated from Sunnyvale, his hometown, where he grew up and raised his three daughters, to San Jose in 1993--a move practically all insiders view as a premeditated conspiracy to take over the San Jose mayor's office. It is a point not lost on his opponents in the race, who bring it up every chance they get.

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The man behind Ron Gonzales is credited with his rapid ascension.

The players and pols backing Ron Gonzales.

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GONZALES JOINS HIS two opposing candidates, junkyard owner Kathy Chavez Napoli and Councilwoman Patricia Dando, behind the dais for a debate. This one is being held by the Santa Clara County Democratic Club in the Isaac Newton Center of the county building, where Gonzales worked for eight years.

During his opening statement, he seems rehearsed, polished, slick--a marked contrast with Napoli's earthiness and Dando's Southern folksiness. He punctuates his points with a Kennedyesque fist, a raised eyebrow, a Reagan head tilt and nod. He repeats the poll-tested slogan developed by his campaign handlers: great schools, less traffic and strong neighborhoods. As in the campaign kickoff speech he gave the previous month, tonight he talks about "leadership," about "moving San Jose into the 21st century," and about his experience in the high-tech world working for Hewlett-Packard.

As political consultants would say, he is staying "on message." He sounds like, well, a politician.

This is his home turf--he's a Democrat among other Democrats--but Gonzales' cool, measured delivery and squishy message don't inspire any spontaneous applause, except from campaign staffer Guisselle Nunez, who is sitting in the audience. (Napoli, by contrast, gets a big cheer practically every time she concludes her comments.) But despite his uninspiring performances in debates, Gonzales is considered by most pundits to be the frontrunner. "It's his to lose," says Terry Christensen, a political science professor at San Jose State University.

Impressively, Gonzales has the backing of both organized labor and Republican businessmen--like heavyweights Mike Fox Sr. and public relations whiz Peter Carter. He came just one vote short of winning the 60 percent majority required for an endorsement from the Chamber of Commerce's political action committee. (Dando, who is running a close second, didn't get the endorsement either.)

Nevertheless, his campaign hasn't generated the enthusiasm of, say, a City Council candidate like Cindy Chavez, the darling of the labor movement running for the downtown seat. With union foot soldiers behind her, she had some 30 volunteers helping her walk precincts in her first week, Christensen says. Gonzales, running in a citywide race, had just 10 to 20 volunteers turn out during his second weekend going door to door.

Liberal Democrats, environmentalists and organized labor may be listed as supporters, but in truth, some appear to be holding their noses all the while. A shop steward for a government-worker's union grumbled that she wished liberal stalwart Margie Fernandes was still in the race. An open-space advocate says Gonzales' record on the county Board of Supervisors was "terrible."

None of these people are working against him now. But off the record, they say they're not sure they can trust him. Gonzales, they say, has a reputation for making alliances when it's in his political interest to do so.

When he first ran for county supervisor against then Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood in 1988, Gonzales locked arms with environmentalists who perceived Livengood as the pro-development candidate.

After getting elected, he angered those same environmentalists by voting for a controversial project near the old Neary Quarry pushed by Sunnyvale developer John Vidovich, an old Gonzales acquaintance and once a high-ranking official in the state Republican Party. Gonzales later appointed Vidovich to the county Planning Commission, a move that cost Gonzales the Sierra Club's endorsement in 1992.

By promising to hold the line on development on San Jose's hillsides--Dando reluctantly supported the city's greenline ordinance--Gonzales won the support this year of both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation voters. At the same time, more than half his donations are coming from development interests, including several $500 checks from members of the Vidovich family. Gonzales insists donations don't influence his public-policy decisions.

WHAT SOME CALL political opportunism, Gonzales says is pragmatic independent thinking. When forced to choose among friends, he tends to pick the winner.

He angered 1990 mayoral candidate Shirley Lewis, a Gonzales booster and fundraiser in his first supervisorial bid, when he signed on as co-chair of Susan Hammer's campaign. Later, Lewis publicly speculated about running against Gonzales in 1992 but accepted a job with the San Jose Symphony instead.

Now Gonzales' bet is paying off: The popular mayor is endorsing Gonzales and actively campaigning for him. But even Hammer's support comes with an asterisk: She had been grooming her skiing partner, Councilwoman Margie Fernandes, to replace her, until Fernandes abruptly dropped out of the race in November.

Labor had also been looking forward to a Fernandes candidacy. Now, the unions practically have no choice but to back Gonzales, a Democrat emphasizing efficiency and fiscal responsibility.

Gonzales won't rule out the possibility of contracting out city services to the private sector if it saves money--a position the unions abhor. But for organizations such as the Committee on Political Education--a union political arm--the dilemma is this: It's either Gonzales or Republican Pat Dando, who has made a campaign platform out of contracting out city services. Gonzales at least expresses some reluctance.

Given the limited options, his critics in the unions and the party are leery of trash-talking him in public--Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, an old Gonzales foe, didn't respond to repeated requests for an interview--but they readily do so in off-the-record chats.

One Democratic regular I bumped into at the gym while doing this story started to dish dirt on Gonzales and then abruptly stopped himself. "I'm not going to be responsible for Pat Dando being the next mayor of San Jose," he explained.

It's not just his politics that critics and reluctant converts question: It's his motivation. His heart.

Gonzales' slickness lends to the perception that he is a cold, mechanical man who runs on high-octane ambition, constantly plotting his next career move. "He doesn't have any depth," sneers a former board aide who worked for another supervisor. "Ron's best at taking care of Ron. If he's mayor, he'll take care of business because business takes care of Ron. Deep down I don't think he has any core convictions."

When asked what he stands for, Gonzales produces words that reflect the bottom-line mentality of the corporate high-tech world of spreadsheets and cost-benefit analyses he comes from: hard work, good government. He often refers to the people who receive government services as "customers."

So, he'll run the city like a business, but a nagging question remains: Will it be a company that has any soul?

The answer to that question might be found in the family life he has so fiercely tried to keep private.

Ron Gonzales Strong Suit: A tuxedoed Ron Gonzales did a lite schmooze at last month's Silicon Valley Charity Ball, chatting mostly with old friends and known supporters, not chasing new ones.

Lee Ballard



NINE YEARS AGO, Bob Gonzales Sr. decided to volunteer in his son's new office, but wanted a desk. He wanted a desk, and he wanted a phone to go on top of his desk. These were his demands.

Ron, in his first year as a county supervisor, complied with his father's wishes. Bob Gonzales, a retired teamster truck driver who never attended high school, proudly took his place behind his new desk.

Soon after, Bob Gonzales realized that a desk and a phone weren't enough. He needed a business card, too. He bugged his son for days about getting his own card. Finally, Ron told his chief of staff to order his dad some business cards and get the old man off his back.

Gonzales Sr. carried his new business cards everywhere. Everyone he met got a "Bob Gonzales Sr.--District Volunteer" business card.

Then Bob Gonzales got appointed to the Human Relations Commission. Because all commissioners get their own business cards, now Bob gave everyone he met two cards. Then he got some other appointment where they gave him yet another business card. Now he was stapling all three cards together and handing them out all over town.

For the longest time, Ron didn't understand his father's obsession with the business cards. Then it dawned on him. "Here was a man who drove a truck for all of his life back and forth from San Jose to San Francisco," Gonzales says. "The whole time, he never had a business card." A card gave his father a new status, a type of validation Bob Gonzales never got as a truck driver.

Unlike his father, Ron, a college-educated businessman, has had his own business cards nearly his entire adult life.

When Ron Gonzales delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral four years ago, he urged the 500 or so mourners at St. Martin's Catholic Church in Sunnyvale to leave Bob their business cards in a bowl next to his casket. "He'll take them with him," Ron assured everyone.

The influence of Bob Gonzales in Ron's life cannot be overstated. It was Bob Gonzales, a union activist much beloved in the labor and Chicano movements, who got Ron interested in politics. As a teenager, Ron started tagging along with his dad to school board meetings. Afterward, they'd trade notes about each political player's performance, like the way other father-and-son teams might talk about baseball.

At age 18, Ron Gonzales won a seat on the student council at De Anza College. In his college days, first at De Anza and then at UC-Santa Cruz, where he graduated in 1973 with a community studies degree, Gonzales practiced a mainstream form of activism.

His moderation showed in his appearance: While others of his generation went in for the Jim Morrison look, the student Ronzo usually kept his hair above his ears and didn't brandish kitchen-knife sideburns.

But like his father, Ron supported the grape boycott advocated by Cesar Chavez. As president of MeCHA, the Latino equivalent of the Black Student Union, he pushed to establish an ethnic studies program at De Anza. He was occasionally spotted at various student demonstrations, according to an old schoolmate named Mike Rotkin, the former mayor of Santa Cruz and a councilman there now.

Gonzales was never the type to toss a Molotov cocktail, recalls Richard Rios, a teacher at De Anza College during Ron's days there. "Ron was more mainstream than that," says Rios, deputy executive director for the Redevelopment Agency. "He was a get-things-done kind of guy."

Like so many other young men from his generation, he opposed the Vietnam War. Yet he dutifully registered for the draft, though the military didn't call his number.

Ron Gonzales has always preferred to work within the system. And it didn't take him long to learn not just how to work within the system, but how to work the system to bring him the political success his activist dad could only dream of.

GONZALES' POLITICAL career got off to a disappointing but promising start in 1977 when he first ran for a spot on the Sunnyvale City Council. His volunteer campaign manager came up with a surefire way to win the election: They rented a hot-air balloon with a "Gonzales for City Council" sign to fly around Sunnyvale and woo voters.

One slight problem: The wind unexpectedly shifted and took the balloon over into neighboring Mountain View. Gonzales lost the election by 300 votes.

Since then the winds have blown in Gonzales' favor. He waltzed into public office in 1979, running unopposed in Sunnyvale.

It wasn't until 1988, however, when Gonzales ran for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, that he really hit his stride and earned his reputation as a robo-candidate. His opponent, Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood, had the backing of then San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery. Developers and unions, the top sources of cash for local races, were lining up behind Livengood. Developers bankrolled half of Livengood's war chest; they donated only half as much to Gonzales.

Nevertheless, Gonzales raised more money than Livengood, piecing together an unusual coalition of environmentalists, high-tech firms and Latino leaders. The $500,000 he put in the bank that year still holds the record for money raised for a county campaign.

No one was prouder than Bob Gonzales when his boy got elected to the board of supes. The centerpiece of Ron Gonzales' living room is a framed picture of his father, beaming with pride, hugging his son after being sworn in as supervisor--the first Mexican-American supervisor in the county's history.

Yet father and son were very different. Ron was successful not because he practiced his father's brand of activist Chicano politics but because he didn't. His moderate views were white-friendly. Throughout his career, he has sounded popular themes like law and order, good government and fiscal responsibility.

Ron's more conservative views occasionally made his father seethe. One day in the county building, riding the elevator up to the 10th floor office, Bob and Ron were overheard arguing about requiring fingerprinting of welfare recipients. "If you do this, I'll disown you," Bob Gonzales barked. He turned to another board aide who had been on the elevator, shaking his head and muttering, "Sometimes I just don't understand my son." (Though the staff discussed the idea of fingerprinting, aide Jude Barry says, Gonzales never formally proposed anything.)

But Bob Gonzales Sr. couldn't ever stay mad at his son. Ron's older brother, Bob Gonzales Jr., remembers one event, when Ron was about 7, that caused his dad to have a conniption. "He was chasing Ron in the back yard, around and around for at least 10 minutes," Bob Jr. recalls. "Ron's screaming the whole time, and my father's turning all kinds of colors. After my dad finally caught him, he just started laughing."

Bob Gonzales Jr. says Ron and his dad balanced each other. They were yin and yang, passion and reason.

A local political consultant argues that when Bob Gonzales Sr. died, Ron, to use a handy Star Wars metaphor, succumbed to the dark side of the force. Without Obe Wan Kenobe around to keep the young Jedi politician real and honest, Ron Gonzales became consumed by his ambition, willing to do whatever he needed to do in order to advance his career plans.

It's a tidy metaphor, but an oversimplification. Gonzales is a complex man, not easily reduced to a pop-culture metaphor. Besides, even before his idealistic father passed away, Ron Gonzales had a reputation for tapping into the dark side.

Ron Gonzales
Power Play: Gonzales, wife Alvina and Councilman Frank Fiscalini had a happy chat days before Fiscalini threw his support to Gonzales instead of fellow San Jose Councilwoman Pat Dando.

GONZALES WAS ACCUSED of playing a Darth Vadar-like role in choking off a former colleague's chance at a plum federal job.

In the winter of 1992, Democrats around the nation were rejoicing. For the first time in more than a decade, one of their own would be occupying the west wing of the White House.

To paraphrase an old saying, with victory come the spoils. Prominent elected Democratic officials from around the nation were being courted for various posts in the new administration.

One of those Democrats was Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon. The Clintonites put Diridon, considered the father of the county's mass-transit system, on the short list to assume a high-ranking job in the Department of Transportation.

New transportation secretary Frederico Peña, once mayor of Denver, didn't know much about Diridon. He decided to ask his friend Ron Gonzales--who was in Washington, D.C., for a convention--his opinion of his county colleague. In a D.C. hotel room, the two talked about Diridon.

What Gonzales told Peña in the D.C. hotel that day is a matter of controversy, but afterward, Diridon was crossed off the list. A former Diridon aide says that his boss got dropped from the short list when Gonzales brought up old rumors that had haunted Diridon.

Gonzales, however, insists that he only told Peña about his policy differences with Diridon. At the time, their most prominent disagreement came early on in Gonzales' tenure, when he battled Diridon to add an East San Jose route to study plans for bringing BART to the South Bay. Gonzales won, although the plan was eventually scuttled.

His influence in getting Diridon's name stricken, Gonzales says, has been overblown. "I know to this day people blame me for torpedoing [Diridon's appointment], which is ridiculous," Gonzales says.

Gonzales also didn't get along with Zoe Lofgren, another former colleague on the board of supes. He was never willing to play the warm-up act for circuit veterans. And on controversial votes, he often found himself in the minority.

The enmity would sway Diridon and Lofgren to oppose even Gonzales' better ideas, such as his proposal to sell technology bonds to buy more computers for the county.

Gonzales also butted heads with department heads, particularly Valley Medical Center chief Bob Sillen, who is sometimes called the most powerful bureaucrat in the county. When Sillen wanted to rebuild Valley Medical Center, Gonzales openly complained about being given misleading information by the VMC director. But Sillen had something Gonzales didn't: a three-vote majority on the board. As a result, Gonzales lost major battles with Sillen over rebuilding the public hospital and, later, trying to get the board to approve a management audit of VMC.

Sillen, an acquaintance says, still detests the man.

But Gonzales has taken pains in his mayoral campaign to demonstrate that he's not a vendetta on legs who has trouble working with others. He boasts about the endorsement from Bob Livengood, his opponent in 1988. And a little more than a month ago, he met with Diridon and his son in a Sunnyvale restaurant to work out their differences. Shortly after, the senior Diridon, an executive member of the local chapter of the California League of Conservation Voters, made the motion, to everyone's surprise, to endorse Gonzales for mayor.

Though his battles with Sillen make insiders suspect he'll be giving the short-leash treatment to the city's most powerful bureaucrat, Redevelopment executive director Frank Taylor, Gonzales assures Taylor and other department heads in City Hall that he doesn't like to prejudge anybody.

So far, he scored a coup in his efforts to portray himself as a team player by securing the endorsements of six returning councilmembers. If he's elected mayor, there is prima facie evidence that he'll have a working majority.

Now, if he has could just figure out exactly what he's going to do when they hand him the gavel.

ALVINA GONZALES is applying dye to a client's hair in her salon and talking about her man, Ron. "Everyone who meets him likes him," she gushes. "He can talk to anybody."

She met her husband 22 years ago at a party at the home of a mutual friend, who, as it turned out, was playing matchmaker. Like Ron, Alvina grew up in Sunnyvale. They even went to the same high school but never met.

The two hit it off immediately. Ron shared Alvina's love of movies and dancing. He eventually proposed to her during dinner at the now-defunct Sebastian's; Alvina burst into tears over her dinner plate and accepted.

About the same time, Alvina's brother became unable to take care of his two daughters, so Ron and Alvina brought them to Sunnyvale and adopted them. It's something few people know about. Gonzales is clearly uncomfortable talking about their adoption and reluctant to provide any details about what happened to Alvina's brother.

"We don't hide the fact, but we don't advertise it either," Gonzales says. "We raised them as our daughters." The Gonzales also have one biological daughter, Alejandra.

Though he seeks the public limelight, Gonzales is ultimately a private man who likes to keep his family life private. It's his refuge from the cutthroat world of politics.

Ex-Supervisor Susanne Wilson recalls that in his early days on the board, where they served together during Wilson's final two years, it was practically impossible to get Gonzales to make weekend appearances. "The weekend was family time for him," she says.

But for this race, the whole Gonzales family is getting involved. Gonzales' mother, Dolores (who will say of her son in his youth only that he was a "typical kid" who "liked his chocolate cake"), dishes homemade enchiladas for the volunteers at campaign headquarters. A daughter delivers campaign literature on rollerblades.

Two days after I chatted with Mrs. Gonzales at the hair salon, Alvina gives me a tour of her home.

The Gonzales home is filled with family photos, big and small. There are family pictures on practically every wall and flat surface in the house, with a few political photos thrown in--like one of Ron posing with President Clinton.

The centerpiece, Alvina says, is the shot of Bob Sr. hugging his newly elected supervisor son. "His dad is his hero," she says.

While her husband is upstairs showering, Alvina continues the tour. A hutch in the den holds books like Reinventing Government and The New City-State. Those are Ron's. The other side is obviously Alvina's. Prominently featured are two picture books, one on Princess Diana and another on Jackie Onassis, whom Alvina greatly admired.

In the living room, which has an unused feel, there are still more pictures. There is also a piano, given to Alvina by a relative, that no one knows how to play, except for maybe Cleo, their long-haired cat, who from time to time jumps on the keys. (Alvina's a cat person; Ron's a dog person.)

Her husband is a meticulous man--that's why he does the laundry in the house, she explains. Well, that, and because Alvina hates folding clothes. Ron, on the other hand, carefully folds everything and puts them in neat piles.

Meanwhile, Ron is still in the shower. The couple had a late night the evening before, attending the year's biggest social event, the Charity Ball. At the ball, Ron may have been the center of attention, but Alvina was hard to ignore. She loves to talk and laugh, and she exudes warmth.

They are a charming sight: There with the richest of the rich stands the man who might become the next mayor of the nation's 11th-largest city, next to his proud wife, the hair stylist and part-time retail clerk.

"How many high-tech managers would be proud to say, 'My wife's a hair stylist'?" Susanne Wilson says. "That's what's special about Ron. He doesn't have to have a trophy wife to go along with his trophy job."

Ron Gonzales
If Dogs Could Vote: During a recent precinct walk in the Rosegarden neighborhood, Gonzales' spiel was shouted down by barking basset hounds Betty and Wilma. But Gonzales, a self-described dog person, was unfazed.

'VENDIDO." It means "sellout" in Spanish. In 1993, Latino activists held up signs with the slur in the board chamber. They wanted Ron Gonzales to see it. The sign was meant for him. The supervisor was opposing a contract with a Latino-run job-training program.

Gonzales has an uneasy relationship with Latino activists, many of whom don't trust him. One of them, Felix Alvarez, a school board member in Alum Rock, puts it this way: "Most of the community on the East Side are like, 'Ron who?' He hasn't been around here."

The fact that he can't speak Spanish doesn't help. Bob Gonzales and his wife, Dolores, raised their five children to speak English. They didn't want their kids to endure ridicule or discrimination because of having an accent.

When Mexican TV covered the Board of Supervisors, they'd have to talk to bilingual Mike Honda. "Mike has the pulse of the people," a board watcher says. "Ron has the surname of the people."

On the debate trail, candidate Kathy Chavez Napoli blasts him for being the last candidate to come out against Prop. 227, the anti-bilingual initiative.

The American G.I. Forum, a Latino veterans group, recently made fun of him in its newsletter with jabs like "Ron Gonzales fondly remembers Sunnyvale," and quoted one observer as saying, "I sure wish it was his dad running." The editors of the newsletter gave him a "C" grade. Republican Pat Dando got a "B+."

The G.I. Forum is sore from the time Gonzales voted against renewing a contract for its alcohol rehabilitation program, Vida Nueva. But it was a fiscally responsible move on Gonzales' part. County staff had slammed the program as ineffective and incompetent, saying a walk in the mall passed as structured activity in the program. The Mercury News later bashed the three board members who voted for the $248,000 grant, accusing them of pandering to political cronies in the G.I. Forum.

"He is a minority candidate for mayor that the business sector trusts," says longtime pal Larry Stone, a former Sunnyvale mayor now serving as county tax assessor. "They don't believe he's the stereotypical minority politician that's going to get elected and take the city checkbook to the barrio."

Gonzales refuses to be pigeonholed as a "Hispanic" politician. "I have always told voters that I wanted them to look at my qualifications first. Every case where I've run I felt that my qualifications were better than my opponent. I just happen to be of Hispanic background, and proud of it."

From a political standpoint, it's a wise move: Despite their growing numbers, Latinos vote irregularly. Hispanic precincts often have among the lowest turnout in the city.

Nevertheless, Gonzales is predicted to ultimately win over most Latino voters in the city. They certainly aren't going to vote for Pat Dando, pundits say, though Napoli will siphon votes from him in the primary.

In addition to the vendido slur, Gonzales has been called a carpetbagger. San Jose's political insiders long have believed that Gonzales uprooted his family from Sunnyvale in 1993 to run for mayor here. Dando's first campaign brochure alleges that that was Gonzales' sole motivation for moving, putting in print what in the past had been cocktail gossip.

Gonzales' two standard explanations for his move are less than convincing. A couple of years ago, Gonzales explained to reporters that he wanted to move closer to the center of his supervisorial district. Now, he likes to refer to his family's--i.e. his dad's--history of activism in San Jose. "My family and I have been involved in San Jose for two generations," he often says on the debate circuit.

"It doesn't make sense," argues Erik Schoennauer, Dando's campaign manager. "He grew up in Sunnyvale, he raised his children there, his parents lived there, and all of a sudden he uproots his family and moves to San Jose."

Voters may also be suspicious of some of Gonzales' more vague proposals. His plan for San Jose schools ranges from the direct--establish a housing trust fund, buoyed by city and Fannie Mae funds, to help teachers become first-time homebuyers--to the squishy: "Within my first 100 days as mayor, I will convene a group of educators, parents and community leaders to talk about how we can help our schoolchildren."

As for one of his more tantalizing proposals, bringing BART to San Jose, Gonzales offers no clear ideas as to how to fund such a massive proposition.

But there is an issue out there that Gonzales isn't talking about too much, but is clearly passionate about. He doesn't have a detailed plan yet, but he might be the best candidate to make a deal happen. And if he pulls it off, he will have secured a prominent place in San Jose history.

'CAN I HELP YOU, sir?" asks a lean twentysomething wearing a Sabercats polo shirt, shorts and a cap. "I'm Ron Gonzales," the mayoral candidate says, looking around for a familiar face among the crowd packed into Cesar Chavez Plaza for the arena football team's season kickoff celebration.

The name Ron Gonzales obviously means nothing to the guy in the Sabercats shirt.

"Are you with the company?"

Gonzales calmly drops the name of the person who told him there would be a table waiting for him. Unimpressed but convinced, the team rep motions to a plastic white table near the stage.

This day he has to pay homage to a sport even Third World countries would find ridiculous. Gonzales describes arena football as an amusing combination of NFL football, a rock & roll concert and professional wrestling. His main reason for coming, he explains, is to show respect for one of his loyal supporters.

Though arena football may not be a favorite, Gonzales is a sports fanatic. Too short to ever play basketball in school, he played football and baseball. He is lucky enough to have had 49ers season tickets for the past 10 years; at the 'Stick he transforms from Gonzales the politician to a proud member of the "Bleacher Creatures." He even drives up to chilly Candlestick Point to eat hot dogs and watch the Giants.

Twice Gonzales has tried to bring baseball to the South Bay; twice he's failed--the last time done in by voters who didn't want to fund a new stadium with a regressive utility tax.

But the times are different now. The recession is over; the boom is here. The Oakland A's are looking for a new home. The sports-talk radio shows are speculating about the "San Jose A's." Gonzales confesses that although he grew up a Giants fan, "now I may have to become an A's fan."

Gonzales carefully selects his words when he talks about bringing the Athletics to San Jose. From his past experiences--and from the nightmare Oakland taxpayers are suffering at the hands of Raiders owner Al Davis--Gonzales knows voters won't approve any huge public giveaways to a professional sports team.

The deal would have to be modest. Perhaps donating the use of public land, he muses. It would have to maximize private investment and minimize public risk. Certainly not another utility tax.

To his good fortune, Gonzales is good friends with Steve Schott, the owner of the A's. Schott knew Gonzales before he bought the team, when he served as a board director for the Role Model Program--a nonprofit agency Gonzales founded that sends community leaders to talk to schoolkids.

"San Jose's a major-league city," Gonzales says. "I think they should look at moving here. I'll use my business skills to make sure it's an appropriate deal for the city."

Imagine: "Ron Gonzales Municipal Stadium."

That sure would look impressive in a TV ad for a politician running for governor or, say, the U.S. Senate. But, no.

"I think this," Gonzales says with the dismissive laugh of a man exhausted by the task at hand, "is enough."

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From the May 7-13, 1998 issue of Metro.

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