SAN JOSE -- Labor scored impressive wins in California's primary elections today. Labor-backed Democratic governor Jerry Brown has a healthy lead against his nearest Republican rival and is considered a sure winner in the November elections. Labor-backed candidates in other races, all Democrats, also fared well.
Results were particularly striking in San Jose, where working people, and city workers in particular, have faced an antagonistic city government for the past eight years.
Termed-out mayor Chuck Reed, with allies on the City Council, sought to solve the city's budget woes on the backs of city workers, putting a pension-slashing measure, Measure B, on the ballot two years ago. Faced with the threat of drastic cuts to city services, voters approved the measure by 70 percent.
The result has been an exodus of angered and demoralized police and firefighters to other cities where they can get better treatment, causing San Jose to slip from its former status as among the safest large cities in the country.
In a decisive call for a change in city leadership, 33 percent of voters cast their ballots on June 3 for County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who opposed Measure B, in a crowded field of candidates to take over as mayor of the 10th largest city in America. Council member Sam Liccardo, a Reed ally, will challenge Cortese in a November runoff, coming in 9 points behind Cortese with 25 percent of the extremely low turnout vote.
"Eight long years of failed leadership is finally coming to an end," Ben Field, Executive Officer of the South Bay Labor Council (SBLC), told a crowd of labor-backed candidates and volunteers. "Dave Cortese is going to take San Jose from austerity to recovery, from attacks on city workers to restoration of city services, from rising crime to improved public safety."
Labor Council volunteers, among them this writer, spent thousands of hours phoning voters and knocking on doors to deliver information about Cortese's campaign.
Pro-labor candidates for City Council also did well. One, Don Rocha, won outright in the primary, capturing 75 percent of the vote. Former Assemblyman Paul Fong, in a downtown district now represented by a termed-out Republican, came in first, five points ahead of his nearest rival. Only one labor-backed candidate in the South Bay lost, city councilperson Xavier Campos, tainted by a serious corruption scandal. The chances for a labor-friendly City Council in San Jose look good.
That's not to say that a people's victory in the November elections is a slam-dunk. On June 5, the San Jose Mercury News, which supported Measure B and vehemently opposed Cortese, published a front-page article characterizing him as a possible "underdog" in November, predicting that the candidates who didn't make the run off, all of whom supported Measure B, will urge their supporters to vote for Liccardo. And it is likely that Liccardo, who got substantial money from corporate interests in the primary, will pull in lots of campaign cash from those same interests for November.
Looking at the election results on a map shows what class interests are in play here: the city's central area and eastside, which are mostly working-class and poor, voted for Cortese, while the more affluent west side went for Liccardo-except for the particularly tony Willow Glen neighborhood, which voted for their City Council representative, Pierluigi Oliverio, a close ally of Mayor Reed. (Oliverio did poorly in the city as a whole, garnering less than 10 percent of the vote.)
So labor and other progressive forces have their work cut out for them. But it appears that many of San Jose's working people understand what's at stake. Corporate interests, and the Mercury News that backs them, may find that Cortese and his allies will put up a tough-and, hopefully, victorious-fight.
Photo: Dennis Raj, SBLC Political Director, instructs a field volunteer on distributing campaign literature. SBLC.