SAN JOSE, Calif. - Like many cities, San Jose is struggling with finances. And, like many cities, mayors and the establishment want workers to pay the price. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, together with several council members, has put forward a ballot measure aimed at depriving city workers of their pensions.
But this move is not going unchallenged. Steve Kline, a workers compensation lawyer and longtime community activist, is challenging City Council member Pierluigi Oliverio, one of the most enthusiastic backers of the pension-bashing measure, for the seat in the June 5 municipal elections.
Kline has won the endorsement of elected officials, community activists, police and firefighters unions, the South Bay Labor Council AFL-CIO, and, most recently, the county Democratic Central Committee of which Oliverio has been an active member for several years.
Kline says city unions have made a number of proposals to resolve the financial problems regarding pensions, but the mayor and council have dismissed them, opting for the controversial ballot measure instead. Kline says that the union proposals offer at least a basis for negotiations-but serious negotiations are impossible when the mayor keeps putting forth wildly different figures for the extent to which the city is in arrears on its pension obligations.
Pensions and fair treatment for city workers aren't the only issue on which Kline is running. He and his husband moved to San Jose, located in the heart of the famed Silicon Valley, because it offered an ethnically and culturally diverse community, was among the safest large cities in the country, and had open and transparent government.
Today, Kline says, only the first of the reasons still holds true. Massive layoffs in the police department have greatly increased police response times and left crime victims helpless. (San Jose's police force, though certainly not free of incidents of racist and other mistreatment of citizens, has a better record in that regard than those in most other large urban areas.)
Kline detailed at a meeting with district residents the difficulties he has had in getting even the most basic information on municipal expenditures.
The incumbent Oliverio has accumulated a substantial campaign chest, mostly from Chamber of Commerce members and real estate developers. Kline is running a grassroots campaign, relying on community people doing door-to-door canvassing in the district to point up the differences between him and Oliverio.
Judging from the discussion and enthusiasm of a recent community meeting this writer attended, Kline stands a strong chance of beating the corporate-friendly incumbent and turning the politics of this formerly fairly progressive city around.