Sam Liccardo took the helm of one of California's most diverse and economically polarized cities Tuesday night with a light touch belying the serious issues he is facing as the new mayor of San Jose.
After being sworn in before a crowd of more than 2,000 people at San Jose's Center for the Performing Arts, Liccardo said he was glad the inauguration venue was changed at the last minute.
"We didn't want to turn anyone away -- particularly since because about half of you are my relatives," quipped Liccardo, a San Jose native.
After winning the mayoral race by a slim margin over Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese -- who attended the inaugural -- Liccardo said it might have been a little easier for him on election night "if we could have got this many people to show up to vote in November."
In his speech, Liccardo repeatedly declared, "We're from San Jose," as a call for his audience to celebrate the city, its culture of innovation and its diverse population.
"Today we can stop lamenting. We're from San Jose. Let's embrace our city's distinctive identity," Liccardo said. "… But we're not simply diverse; we're accessible. Newcomers do not experience the hierarchical or pretentious social landscape of other cities here."
Liccardo promised to rebuild the city's Police Department, now plagued by severe staffing shortages. In recent years, the city once called "America's safest big city" has seen a sharp increase in a wide range of crimes, including home burglaries and car thefts.
While budget cuts during California's recession led to the biggest loss of police officers in San Jose, changes in the city's system of public pensions are getting most of the blame for the exodus from the department's ranks.
San Jose voters in 2012 approved a ballot that cut retirement benefits for city employees. Portions of the measure are now being challenged in the courts.
Wednesday, Liccardo plans to take the first step toward getting back to the bargaining table with the police union on disability and salaries when he meets with the City Council's Rules Committee.
"I expect we will increase pay. That will be on the table," Licarrdo told reporters after his speech.
San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel, also in attendance Tuesday night, said a pay increase is a start but there's a long way to go with the total compensation package to keep officers from leaving the force.
"Retention is huge," said Esquivel, who will privately meet with the new mayor for the first time on Thursday.
Liccardo, a former City Council member, said getting back to the bargaining table with the police union will involve getting an outside negotiator to represent the city. San Jose's chief negotiator was fired last month.
In what was considered a controversial move, Liccardo selected retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, San Jose's independent police auditor, to administer the oath of office. She spoke briefly before asking the mayor to raise his hand.
"A leader takes people where they want to go," said Cordell. "A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go but where they ought to be. Sam, as you take the helm of the city of San Jose, your challenge is to do just that. Take us where we ought to be."