The Mercury News Lacks Understanding of Santa Clara, Diversity, and Districts (OPINION)

The Mercury News Lacks Understanding of Santa Clara, Diversity, and Districts

By Robert Haugh

The Mercury News recently ran an editorial calling for the creation of council districts in Santa Clara.

It was something of a head-scratcher, like when the 1-2-3 Kid somehow beat Razor Ramon.

First, they say:

“There are no concentrated neighborhoods of specific ethnic groups, like San Jose’s largely Asian Berryessa area, to carve out as districts.”

But they conclude the opposite:

“Santa Clara needs to adopt a district system to better represent its ethnic diversity and its different neighborhoods.”


We reported over two weeks ago how the charter review committee won’t be able to diversify the council with districts.

That’s because Santa Clara is an integrated community. Our neighborhoods are racially mixed and economically mixed. That’s a good thing for any city.

I don’t see how a lawyer can show that districts will result in more minority candidates being elected. So, I agree with the Mercury News’ first conclusion, the one they made before they contradicted themselves. But it’s like they felt they had to support the lawsuit no matter what.

Why? Are they trying to make up for past editorial sins?

In 1988, the paper said they would not endorse Santa Clara city council candidate David Hahn, a Korean American, because of his accent. Really. That’s what they wrote.

So I wrote to Mercury News editorial page editor Barbara Marshman to ask if this was a factor in their recent editorial, since she was an editorial page editor back then, too. She was nice enough to write back.

Here’s what Barbara wrote in an email to me:

The editor, my boss at the time, Rob Elder, wrote it, and the rest of us cringed. The editorial was completely insensitive and actually inaccurate in saying the problem was his “accent.” The entire paper felt embarrassed, and I’m sure that cavalier remark discouraged many immigrants from stepping up in the next few years.

I hope Barbara’s candid comments don’t cause the lawyers suing Santa Clara to sue the Mercury News, too, for discouraging immigrant candidates.

Barbara also wrote to me:

Even district elections won’t guarantee that, since Asian-Americans are not concentrated in a particular area to focus their power. But it would be a start.

I agree with the first part of Barbara’s statement. Districts aren’t really a solution if you want to elect Asians. I don’t agree that it’s “a start,” because, if it won’t work, why start?

I really appreciate Barbara answering my questions honestly. But I think the editorial and her answers show that the Mercury News doesn’t really understand Santa Clara, or ethnic districts, or ethnic politics. They haven’t for a long time, at least since 1988.


  1. A huge problem in Santa Clara is that our council members have been concentrated in one area of the city which has been noticeably protected from the massive developments going in on the north side, along El Camino, and along Lawrence Expy. (I realize we now have 1 council member on the north side.) I want to see geographic representation in our city because without such representation, council members will continue to vote ‘yes’ on massive developments which do not personally impact their own neighborhoods. The result is that many people in Santa Clara feel like we have no representation on our council and that council members do not care what the residents who actually live here want for our city, while developers, the 49ers, public employees unions, and other large campaign donors receive a lot of attention from the council and city staff and a lot of representation of the outsider special interests brought into our city through campaign contributions.

    While the voters’ rights law (upon which lawsuits forcing cities and other forms of local government is based) does not care about geographic representation for voters for the reasons I mentioned above, it would be a very good thing for representation for people all over Santa Clara if our city was divided into voting districts so that all voices in the city could be heard on the council.

  2. Is this the same Barbara Marshman who dissuaded Barbara Keegan from running for Water District so that the Merc could endorse a friend of Barbara’s? If your paper has a person in charge of the editorial page who doesn’t have integrity, your editorials are not going to have integrity.

  3. Districts will not be the magical fix some want, but it’s the right direction for the city.

  4. The Mercury News supported the stadium then they didn’t. They have a history of changing their positions. But they don’t usually do it in the same editorial. Nice catch.

  5. Barbara certainly seems to be a candid person. But she needs a refresher course in logic as this site points out with the torturous and ill founded conclusion in the editorial. Also, I have to say that there’s a difference between candor and publicly throwing a boss or colleague under the bus as she clearly did with her candid comments.

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