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San Jose appoints first councilmember in nearly 30 years

After months of contentious debate on how to fill its vacant seats, the San Jose City Council appointed a Stanford University administrator to represent East San Jose.

Domingo Candelas was selected for the District 8 seat, marking the first time since 1994 that a vacant San Jose council spot has been filled through appointments rather than a special election.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Candelas said about his new role, “from keeping our community safe to homelessness to environmental issues.”

The district covers the city’s Evergreen neighborhood, from Lake Cunningham Park in the north to Evergreen Valley Community College to the east all the way down south to the Silver Creek Valley Country Club.

Candelas, who works as Stanford’s Director of Local Government Affairs, was interviewed by councilmembers on Tuesday afternoon and then selected through a vote among a pool of four other candidates. The vote was 7-2, with Mayor Matt Mahan and Bien Doan voting against Candelas.

The new councilmember’s term will begin Jan. 30 and last until the next general election in 2024 — and Candelas has said he will run in that contest.

A former staffer of Sen. Jim Beall and the county’s Water District, Candelas says he wants to focus on housing affordability, stronger social services and cleaner public spaces.

“I’m excited,” Candelas said in an interview. “My top priority is to make sure the residents of District 8 have a voice at City Hall. An office that is responsive, accountable and engaged with people.”

Candelas faced off against Evergreen School District Board Trustee President Patricia Andrade, city employee Salvador Alvarez, Sikh community leader and software manager Sukhdev Bainiwal and police sergeant Tam Truong.

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The District 8 seat became vacant in November after former councilmember Sylvia Arenas was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Almaden Valley’s District 10 seat — previously held by Mahan — was also left vacant and will be filled on Thursday through a similar process.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan is photographed during appointment interviews session at City Hall, in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (Josie Lepe for Bay Area News Group) 

Efforts to fill the seat started after last November’s election when Mahan immediately came out with a proposal to hold a special election for the two vacant council spots. Along with former Mayor Sam Liccardo, Mahan argued that despite the costs of the elections — estimated to rise up to $11 million — residents should have a voice in who represents them.

But progressive councilmembers rejected the mayor’s suggestion, arguing that a special election would be costly and that low voter turnout would produce a candidate that didn’t accurately reflect the community.

At stake was the council’s ideological makeup. A special election would have increased the likelihood of Mahan nabbing a moderate ally on the council, while an appointment could allow for the council’s majority-progressive members to vote in one of their own.

Councilmembers in December voted 7-4 for appointments — with moderate councilmember Dev Davis voting along with her progressive colleagues — a stunning rebuke of the city’s top leadership and Mahan’s first political swing at bat as mayor.

The drama continued on Tuesday night after councilmembers abruptly entered an emergency closed session halfway through public comment. City Attorney Nora Frimann later explained that concerns were brought to the city clerk’s attention about the “legitimacy” of the night’s appointment process.

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