Plaintiffs Suing City Want to Eliminate Santa Clara’s Directly Elected Mayor

By Robert Haugh

The redistricting/civil rights lawsuit against Santa Clara took an interesting and political turn yesterday. The plaintiffs suing the City now propose seven council districts and the elimination of Santa Clara’s directly elected at-large mayor. The mayor would be selected by the council, not the voters.

That’s interesting because the plaintiffs previously proposed six council districts with a directly elected at-large mayor. A few sources who are closely watching the lawsuit think the plaintiffs are taking political aim at Mayor Lisa Gillmor.

One source says that some, not all, of the plaintiffs and their supporters were major backers of former Congressman Mike Honda. They are still unhappy that Gillmor was an early and prominent backer of Congressman Ro Khanna who defeated the long-time incumbent Honda in 2016.

We did a quick look at Honda’s campaign finance reports. Two of the plaintiffs are financial contributors to Honda: Michael Kaku and Ladonna Yumori Kaku who made her first contribution to a Honda congressional campaign in 2001.

Some addition political speculation suggests that Kathy Watanabe is also a target for political payback. She was also an early and active Khanna supporter. During the last few months, the plaintiffs contend that Watanabe should not represent the Asian community even though she has an Asian surname and her spouse is Asian. Go figure.

Court Hearing

Yesterday, Judge Thomas Kuhnle’s courtroom was packed.  No decision was made after many hours of testimony and deliberation. A decision could be made by Friday or early next week.

According to multiple sources, two councilmembers were spectators in the courtroom:  Teresa O’Neill and Patty Mahan.

O’Neill sat with the City’s delegation including City Attorney Brian Doyle.

Mahan and her sister, Jeannie Mahan, sat with the plaintiff’s delegation. Patty has publicly supported the plaintiffs against the city in the lawsuit and the Measure A election. Jeannie organized the independent expenditure for former disgraced Councilmember Dominic Caserta’s supervisorial campaign earlier this year.  She raised big money from developers and 49er contractors.

ABC7 News reporter Matt Keller broadcasted a report.

Mercury News Reporter Emily DeRuy also wrote a story.





  1. […] These two were also long-time contributors to former Congressman Mike Honda. That financial relationship raised suspicion that when the plaintiffs tried to force Judge Thomas Kuhnle to choose a 7-district map and get rid of the elected mayor. Some saw it as payback for Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe who supported Congressman Ro Khanna who… […]

  2. […] An expert witness for the plaintiffs, demographer Dave Ely, said during his cross examination by one of the lawyers for the City that Jeannie Mahan drove him around Santa Clara. She helped Ely draw the plaintiff’s seven-district map. That raised a lot of eyebrows on the City’s side when it was said in the courtroom.  That was the map that got rid of the directly elected mayor. Some people thought it was politically …. […]

  3. What the heck is wrong with Mahan. As if all her bs and Lying about her prepared speech, disrespecting the applicants, Santa Clarans, Back peddling changing her story and playing the victim wasnt bad enough. She is working with/for the enemy, sitting with the enemy and her and her sister supporting a lawsuit/lawsuits that will cost the city hundreds of thousands maybe millions of dollars draining our general fund. How can she work for the people of Santa Clara and support the plantiffs who are suing the people of Santa Clara. After reading this i feel she needs to immediately step down from her seat and save us from spending additional money on the censure process. This is beyond a conflict of interest, frankly a censure is to good for the traitor.

  4. Patty and Pat did what we want them to do and the rest of the council new they didn,t have the votes . We want to have the vote i dont want a hand picked council and if we cant make 5 mos to vote there is a real problem.

    • James Lee,
      1. The open seat, if filled, would it still be on the November ballot.
      2. There were a number of minorities to choose from and this was an opportunity to adjust the ethnic balance of the council.
      3. If Patty and Pat were taking a principled stance, which assumes principles, they would have stated upfront that they would not be voting. This would have saved the council, candidates, and the city reaidents a lot of time and trouble. Instead they put everybody through a lot of grief, inconvenience and wasted time by waiting until well after midnight to say they wouldn’t be voting.
      Utter disregard and disrespect for EVERYONE.

      To take a principled stand you need to demonstrate principles. Neither of them did this.

  5. Teresa O’Neill is interesting. She sits with Brian Doyle now, but sometimes she votes with the two Pats: Mahan and Kolstad. Remember this is how Mike Sellers got his raise and spiked his pension. Maybe she’ll be sitting with them next week at the trial.

  6. Henry —

    Doubt that
    Believes your
    Really obvious comments

    Rhetoric is
    Same as
    Someone with the initials D.B. who left town.

  7. … and Robert … Kathy Watanabe is NOT Asian! She’s IRISH! Someone’s ethnicity doesn’t change when their last name changes .., I hope you’re kidding because I thought you were smarter than that.

    And no one, on the City of Santa Clara side is REALLY claiming she IS Asian, are they? No one can be that stupid …… you ARE kidding, right?

  8. Great comments. 100% with Henry. This is not new. Plaintiffs have been talking all along that rotating Mayor might be an option. There was no discussion or moaning about current mayor. (I went to the hearings.). As usual people taking this all personally (and costing us a lot of money). Re Watanabe, I think only comment was she isn’t really Asian. We do benefit from northside resident in Council, which I’m sure districts would provide (though I’m not a big fan of districts). Agree with Meyers that replacement objection should have been identified and resolved earlier, though I understand their (Mahan & Kolstad’s) position to wait 5 months for an election.

    • Saying all that, I’m now convinced we should have selected a replacement. Doubtful we will have a November election for those 2 open seats. Probably not for Mayor either. There were several candidates who would have been intelligent, independent minds, which would have at least provided articulate debate regardless of what the majority bloc decides (and even they have occasional divergence).

    • Good arguments to make City Clerk a non-elected position which, in effect this does, but an obvious power play. I always appreciated going to Rod for straight forward, unbiased info, even though he was appropriately confidential re internal discussions and CM intents. Folks reporting to CM were very guarded in any comments, even confidential. That was preceding Santana and Sparacino as well, and I assume even before that (Von Raisfield). Just seems wrong the way it happened, but may have been the only way.

  9. Judge Kuhie is correct that we have not elected an Asian-American to the council, but there have been Asian-American that have ran. You can’t force the people of Santa Clara to vote for someone for the reason of race. You vote for the most qualified no matter where he or she comes from. There have been two Charter review committees over the past years to deal with Mr. Robert Rubin’s self-dealing law suit against the city. We have just voted in June to change our vote system and the voter turned it down. Now what, does Judge Kuhnie just want to pick our next council because he doesn’t like the outcome of the Santa Clara voters. Leave it to the voting rights to the people of Santa Clara to decide. There should be a couple of options for Santa Clara voters to choose from this November and whatever passes start the phase in process without penalizing current council persons that was voted in and haven’t’ completed their term. I was part of the 2011 Charter Review Committee and most of us felt that splitting the city into six districts lessen the chance for diverse council, a person could only run if their district had an opening and couldn’t run in another district. My feeling a two or three district would meet the needs of the law and give a better opportunity for diversity. And keep rank choice out of the equation. Hopefully Judge Kuhie will give voter of Santa Clara the right to choose for ourselves, that would be the right thing to do.

  10. This lawsuit seems petty and punitive. They failed at taking their idea to the people in the general election, so now they’ll pursue a lawsuit. C’mon people, grow up and move on. Feel free to bring another proposal to the people at the next election – and this time, make it a compelling argument not tied to rank-choice voting and maybe I’ll get behind your idea. But suing your own city only wastes taxpayer dollars, distracts from other important work, and makes the plaintiffs look childish.

    • I think you are the one to grow up. What was done to the people, running for the empty seat, was cruel and mean. Maybe you should have been one of the 16 applicants that were waiting to speak.

  11. Six or seven council members; Direct Mayor or not. What does it really matter? As long as the good ‘old boys and girls network is finally broken up — the rest doesn’t even matter! Let’s just get on with it … Santa Clara is spending millions of dollars, it doesn’t have, on all this childish ego-centric nonsense. Just settle this stupid lawsuit and get on with it!

    In real honestly, and if people really stood back and looked at the Council mix, we have been getting the same the same people and same tired, old families for decades … or people controlled by those old families! Will seven districts and no mayor solve this? I sure hope so — Then let’s go for it and let’s move on and get on to dealing with the spiraling financial out-of-control situation and corruption that’s is crippling Santa Clara — like changing the role of the ELECTRD City Clerk without a vote and not voting in a replacement when that officer’s seat became vacant. The City of Santa Clara is a huge mess! And I think the newest City Manager’s hands are all over it … she wants it all her way and is installing her wishes and people and damn the City Charter and those Laws — she, with the help of the over-paid and questionably-qualified City Attorney are manipulating our city hall to meet Deanna’s wishes and wasting our money. Now, that is another problem that we, the people, do need to address and solve ASAP. Or are there even more lawsuits on the horizons … stain?

    Let’s settle this Council lawsuit and accept what the judge wants and move on … we have even bigger problems that needs our immediate attention haunting City Hall hallways …

  12. I am surprised to see Patty damage herself so much politically when it really wasn’t necessary. She could have gone with the first option, take a principled stand against the council selecting the replacement member. Instead she string it out and caused harm to the applicants, the residents and everyone around her.
    Now, I think she has less leverage to push her real agenda. Like so many things in politics, there’s a lot going on under the water that we don’t see. Murky.

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