Mayor Lisa Gillmor leads challenger by 53 votes in Santa Clara

Real estate broker was backed by $250K from Related Companies, while three City Council members received $4.5M from NFL’s 49ers

Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilman Anthony Becker with Levi’s Stadium (City of Santa Clara, Becker is Better, Google Maps, Getty)
Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilman Anthony Becker with Levi’s Stadium (City of Santa Clara, Becker is Better, Google Maps, Getty)

Real estate broker Lisa Gillmor, mayor of Santa Clara, led by 53 votes to defend her seat against Councilman Anthony Becker, who has financial backing from the San Francisco 49ers.

Gillmor led with 50.2 percent to Becker’s 49.8 percent of the vote with 15,000 votes cast in early returns, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Incumbent councilmembers Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy, who also received 49ers backing, led respective challengers Larry McColloch and Christian Pellecchia by more than 20 percentage points each.

In Santa Clara, where the 49ers have played at the city-owned Levi’s Stadium since 2014, the team has battled city officials over the venue’s management, settling a lawsuit earlier in the year.

The 49ers spent $4.5 million in this year’s races hoping to knock out critic Gillmor and defend Chahal and Hardy. Becker, Chahal and Hardy insisted they weren’t influenced by team support.

Gillmor, a real estate broker, received $250,000 in political committee spending from Related Santa Clara, poised to break ground on a major mixed-use development near the stadium.

Related California has become a major player in Santa Clara real estate and is behind the $8 billion, 9.2 million-square-foot Tasman East project to contain 5.7 million square feet of office space, 1,680 homes, 700 hotel rooms and 500,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

The mayor has been a strong supporter of the development.

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The Related Companies is owned by Stephen Ross, the majority owner of the Miami Dolphins football team and a big political spender.

Record campaign spending this cycle in Santa Clara widened the split among council members and impacted relationships with the team and its oversight of Levi Stadium. The stadium was lauded as a potential cash cow when approved in 2010, but has faced challenges in drawing non-NFL event revenue.

Gillmor and Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe have been critics of the 49ers, while other council members say the city needs to improve its relationship with the team.

In a recent op-ed piece, Becker, Chahal and Hardy accused Gillmore of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on lawsuits, creating a toxic City Council culture, driving Santa Clara into a $27 million budget deficit and cutting “sweet deals” for Ross at the expense of residents.

The same three council members backed by the 49ers were criticized in a recent civil grand jury report alleging their relationships with the team were unethical. Last month, the city’s police chief urged the district attorney to investigate the report’s findings for potential violations of city and state ethics laws.

In the race for San Jose’s first new mayor in eight years, San Jose City Councilman Matt Mahan held a slim lead over Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, according to the Mercury News. In early voting, he led by 51.8 percent to Chavez’s 48.2 percent, with 132,000 votes counted.

— Dana Bartholomew

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