“I think because there is so much dissatisfaction, there is a great desire to ensure a public dialog occurs as voters determine who they want to select as mayor next year,” Cohen said.
But the window to launch an effective challenge is closing. Voting will begin in early February, giving any new candidates less than a month after the holidays to make their case to voters.
That compressed election calendar is partly of labor’s own making.
Last year, in an effort to boost turnout in future mayoral elections, unions in the city successfully pushed a ballot measure that moved future races for San José mayor to align with presidential elections. But labor leaders didn’t expect the beneficiary of those changes to be Mahan, who will be back on the ballot just two years after his initial upset victory and could then have the opportunity to run for a second four-year term in 2028.
Adding to the time pressure is California’s early primary in presidential election years. While a labor-backed candidate could be bolstered by outside spending from union super PACs, South Bay political strategist Brian Parvizshahi said few candidates have the connections to raise the $1 million to $2 million he estimates they’ll need before March.
“Fundraising started in August, and traditionally, this season right now is the hardest time to raise any type of funds,” Parvizshahi said. “So it is a very short turnaround time for any candidate that would run for office.”
For his part, Mahan returns to voters after a year as something of a happy warrior who has often eschewed compromise and sought to draw clear contrasts with his opponents.
“When I go back before voters, the message is that we are following through on my promise of being more focused,” Mahan said. “That was the number one thing I ran on — was that we were going to focus on reducing unsheltered homelessness, making the city safer and making the city cleaner.”
“So I’m not really running a campaign so much as focusing on solving problems and doing my day job, which is getting San José back on track,” he added.
But a dashboard of statistics piloted by Mahan in late October showed mixed results on his top priorities. The report highlighted new public safety investments, such as license-plate readers, and showcased survey data showing that most residents feel safe. But it also showed that San José’s police department continues to be plagued with a high vacancy rate, particularly in field patrol and traffic enforcement units.
Mahan has touted a decrease in the number of unhoused people on San José streets. And the city’s most recent annual point-in-time homeless survey, released in May, shows that city programs to prevent homelessness appear to be working: Roughly 95% of households receiving aid to avoid homelessness retained their housing a year later. And a similar share of households who moved from the streets into permanent or temporary shelters remained housed.
But that count reflects work done before Mahan took office in January. And the mayor’s push to open new temporary shelters has moved painfully slow. To date, Mahan has only reached about 30% of his goal to create 1,000 new shelter spaces in 2023 — and is only about halfway toward his related goal of opening 1,000 temporary housing units by the end of the year.
But without a tough reelection fight, as appears increasingly likely, Mahan can turn his attention to toppling the labor-backed majority on the council, said Diep, the former city council member. Competitive seats in the North San José and Evergreen neighborhoods are up for grabs, and labor groups are eyeing an opportunity to win the District 6 seat in Willow Glen, currently held by termed-out Councilmember Dev Davis, a moderate.