Battle Heats Up Over How to Choose a Mayor in Sunnyvale

By Tracy Seipel_San Jose Mercury News
Posted: 11/04/2011

Opponents of a controversial ballot measure in Sunnyvale that would allow residents to directly elect their mayor are accusing developers of hijacking the issue for their own benefit.

Those battling Measure A worry that big-money contributors who help put a mayor into office will expect to be rewarded with lucrative contracts and favors in return.

The measure’s critics say the proof lies not only in the generous campaign contributions from mostly out-of-town developers and builders but also in what some are calling the proponents’ flagrant effort to mislead the public before Tuesday’s election. 

A recent pro-Measure A flier, opponents note, warns that “politicians and special interest groups will say ANYTHING to keep you from voting for your mayor. … Vote for Community Interest Over Self Interest.”

Measure A opponents say they’re outraged by the tactic because it’s trying to confuse voters into thinking that special-interest groups are fighting the measure when in fact they’re funding it.

“It’s unethical for the Yes on A people to portray themselves as being for the community movement. That’s not true. It’s a developers’ movement,” said Tap Merrick, a supporter of Citizens for Good Government — No on A. “Why are we bringing in outside money so that one side can wallop the other financially?” he asked. “Does that sound equitable?”

But backers of Measure A say all’s fair in love and politics — and that those “special interests” are creating jobs and opportunities in Sunnyvale, as well as contributing to the city’s tax base. “Measure A doesn’t have anything to do with who the mayor will be, or how he will run his campaign or who he accepts contributions from — or doesn’t,” said Bill Ritter, a backer of the Committee for Measure A — Citizens Right to Choose Their Mayor. “The opponents of Measure A have a hard time dealing with the fact that the people of Sunnyvale would like to vote for their mayor — and can’t.”

According to the most recent campaign contribution records filed with the Sunnyvale city clerk’s office, the pro-Measure A group raised $18,694 dollars, of which $13,858 came from developers and business interests.

The anti-Measure A group has raised $11,930, largely from Sunnyvale residents. “The sponsors speak for themselves,” said Steve Hoffman, a City Council candidate and Measure A critic who believes developers also are keenly interested in another aspect of the measure: extending mayoral term limits, which he says bolsters their influence over an officeholder.

If passed, Measure A would set an eight-year lifetime term limit for a directly elected mayor. So someone could serve a combined total of 16 years as mayor and council member. Currently, the council-appointed mayor can serve no more than two years.

Anytime you have that increase, it’s difficult to run against and win against an incumbent,” Hoffman said. Measure A supporters, however, say the measure would offer a transparent opportunity for all residents — not just the city’s seven council members — to decide who should be mayor.

Supporters say an elected mayor with a four-year term would better represent Santa Clara County’s second largest city than a mayor chosen by political colleagues. “He, or she, is not accountable to the people of Sunnyvale, only to those people who voted for him or her,” Ritter said of the current system of selecting a mayor. “They’re not accountable to the people of Sunnyvale because they’re not elected by the people of Sunnyvale.”

Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.

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