By Robert Haugh
Late Friday, Assistant Police Chief Dan Winter sent an email to police officers and others announcing that he’s decided not to run for police chief.
That means that Lieutenant Pat Nikolai is the only major candidate — so far — to seek the position in a special election in March 2020.
Nikolai received 49.9 percent of the vote in 2016 and almost knocked off the incumbent, former Police Chief Mike Sellers. Sellers decided to step down early this year. That’s why the City is having a special election.
If Sellers had served a few months longer and stepped down, there would be no special election, just the regular one in November 2020. The City is expected to pay about $174,000 for the March special election, according to the Registrar of Voters.
Sellers has been receiving criticism in the department and at City Hall about the timing of his departure. Sellers’ decision is costing the City a lot of money and forcing candidates to run in two elections. Even Winter took a little swipe at Sellers in his email:
Since Chief Sellers announced his retirement, I have heard from many of you. A consistent theme of those conversations has been the concern of our department going through two potentially contentious elections in one year. An election can hurt relationships, cause tension in the workplace, and lead to more stress in an already demanding occupation. I do not want an election to be a distraction from our mission of providing quality police service to the public.
Winter looks like he made a good political decision by not entering the race. He was always a long shot. We had him at 15/1 in mid-September after the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association PAC endorsed Nikolai. Nikolai was a 1/5 favorite in our book.
But then Winter’s prospects got even worse. In early October, three highly-respected retired Santa Clara police captains wrote an oped supporting Nikolai and calling out Winter for being a weak and indecisive leader.
Then in late October, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen endorsed Nikolai. Rosen is the County’s top law enforcement official.
Winter told us recently that he didn’t have any endorsements to announce. At City Hall, Winter was being pushed to run by Vice Mayor Patty Mahan and Councilman Raj Chahal. But they hadn’t publicly endorsed him yet. He wasn’t sure when they would.
Winter also hadn’t secured Sellers’ endorsement. According to multiple sources, Sellers wasn’t happy with Winter, his “former right-hand man throwing him under the bus” during the POA endorsement interview in September.
Unless a candidate gets into the race by early December, Santa Clarans may have only one choice for the only elected police chief in the state. We’ll keep monitoring.