Progressive candidates jostling to represent District 1 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors are seeing a growing influx of donations to their campaigns for a seat that conservatives have held a tight grip on for more than two decades.
Sylvia Arenas, a San Jose councilmember and a late comer to the race who announced her candidacy at the beginning of the year, has seen donations soar, according to the latest campaign finance reports. In just a handful of months, the District 8 councilmember has brought in over $120,000, with funds coming from a mixture of sources, such as labor groups and a number of real estate interests that include $1,000 donations from San Jose-based developers Michael Van Every and Antonio Arreola.
Despite these financial gains, conservative candidate Johnny Khamis’ aggressive fundraising efforts since 2020 still place him at the head of the pack at over $250,000 as the June 7 primary election approaches.
But Arenas remains optimistic.
In an emailed statement, Arenas said that her “proven record fighting for Santa Clara County families” has translated into a successful set of campaign contributions. Now, she said, her focus is knocking on doors “from Gilroy to Evergreen.”
Arenas, who has been endorsed by the county’s Democratic Party, is also getting help from an independent fundraising committee created to support her and has raised $15,000 on her behalf. The groups behind the committee are the Laborers Local Union 270 PAC and Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 89.
The influx of cash to Arenas leaves her main progressive challenger playing catch up.
Claudia Rossi, a Santa Clara County Board of Education member and registered nurse who has also been endorsed by the county’s Democratic Party, was able to tack on an additional $28,000 this year to the roughly $75,000 she raised last year. This year she’s garnered $1,000 donations from the county fire department’s union and Democratic Activists for Women Now, a female-led San Jose-based organization that advocates for progressive policies in the region.
But Rossi also has some major dollars behind her through an independent fundraising committee of her own. The committee, which is also supporting incumbent District Attorney Jeff Rosen and sheriff candidate Kevin Jensen, has raised $150,000 for the three politicos.
The money comes from both law enforcement and labor interests, including the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Santa Clara County PAC and the County Employee Management Association, a union that serves administrator-level employees in the county. In addition, the committee has accepted $20,000 in consulting services from the Registered Nurses Professional Association Political Action Committee.
In an interview, Rossi distinguished herself from Arenas, saying that she’s shied away from taking money from developers.
“The sources of the contributions to our campaign reflects what I value,” said Rossi, who emphasized her focus on preservation of D1’s vast open spaces while also flexing her endorsement by the Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group.
In response, Arenas said that her campaign has been able to garner a “broad base of support,” but refused to respond to Rossi’s points directly.
“What I won’t do is engage in negative attacks against a fellow progressive woman of color,” Arenas wrote in an emailed response.
Khamis, a former San Jose councilmember who has billed himself as a fiscally responsible conservative, said that on top of his vast fundraising resources, his endorsements are what keeps him confident in the race.
“(Arenas and Rossi) have a lot of work to catch up with the support I’ve received from the community in every measurement,” said Khamis, whose endorsements include San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley and two former Morgan Hill mayors.
Former San Jose State University political science professor Terry Christensen said that while he still views Khamis as the frontrunner, Arenas has swooped in to vie with Rossi for the number two spot.
“I’m not surprised Sylvia has done well” when it comes to fundraising, said Christensen. “She’s a sitting city councilwoman in a big city where she’s making big decisions now. And even if she loses, she’s still making decisions for two years (on the council). Developers are showing up to keep her friendly.”
Christensen said Khamis is still in a solid spot considering his endorsements from key individuals in District 1.
The race’s two other candidates include Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine and case manager Denelle Fedor. Constantine was able to raise over $20,000 this year in addition to the $60,000 he raised last year. Fedor, another late comer to the race, has managed to raise a little over $4,000.
The District 1 seat has been held held by Los Gatos resident and conservative Mike Wasserman since 2010. Prior to Wasserman, Gilroy resident and conservative Don Gage held the seat since 1997. District 1 borders include large area’s of the county’s unincorporated land from the San Antonio Valley in the northeast down south to Coyote Valley and Gilroy.