SAN JOSE -- They supported and defended him while he was in office, because George Shirakawa Jr. had grown up like many of them on San Jose's working poor East Side.

But on Saturday, some of his District 2 constituents, whose lives have never achieved the heights or the renown that came from being the son of a beloved politician, had little empathy for the Santa Clara County supervisor who resigned Friday after being charged with five felonies, including perjury and misappropriation of public funds and seven misdemeanor charges.

"We elected him to do a job for us, to take care of people and issues out here," said Gerardo Silva, a former rental car driver who was eating breakfast with his wife at the Denny's at Alma Avenue and Monterey Road.

"It's very disappointing because he is supposed to be working for the public, instead of gambling and stealing," Silva said.

Shirakawa's pai gow-playing days effectively ended his political career.

After a four-month investigation, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office concluded that Shirakawa had gambled away more than $100,000 in political and public funds over the past five years, something prosecutors characterized as a pattern of prolonged deception.

Shirakawa said he will plead guilty to all the charges on March 18. He could be sentenced to up to one year in jail, something District Attorney Jeff Rosen on Friday said his office will seek to ensure Shirakawa's punishment is not reduced to community service, such as picking up trash. Shirakawa also can never again serve as an elected official in California.


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In a statement announcing his resignation from office, the 51-year-old supervisor blamed his crimes on depression and gambling.

But that didn't sway some residents.

"He says he knew he had a problem, and if he knew that, he should have taken care of it," said former planning engineer Bobby Reyes, who wondered why the supervisor's troubles had gone on so long without being addressed. Even so, he said, Shirakawa's actions must be punished with jail time.

"Because if it was any one of us, and we had done that," Reyes said, "we would have gone straight to jail."

Reyes said he's also sorry that the Shirakawa family name, which graces a community center and elementary school in the district in honor of Shirakawa's father, a former San Jose City councilman who was popular with constituents, will be "put through the trash now."

"Anyone who comes after him with that name will be hurt," Reyes said.

Rosen's office on Friday outlined how Shirakawa Jr. had hidden for years his spending spree from the public, during which time he had moved $130,000 in and out of campaign accounts while using his county credit card for personal purchases. But the majority of his spending was done in casinos from Southern California to Nevada.

As bleak as Shirakawa's future appears to be, however, he has his backers, including Juan Estrada, president of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

The 43-year-old nonprofit worker said that without Shirakawa, streets in his neighborhood wouldn't have been paved, and sidewalks wouldn't have been installed to help protect schoolchildren from traffic.

"Someone might question why we would spend money on sidewalks, and if I recall correctly, it was not very popular for him to propose this funding," Estrada said. "But he was willing to do what was right."

Shirakawa's public service also included helping to establish a downtown medical clinic, spearheading a program to incorporate released prisoners back into society and an effort to end the detention of undocumented immigrants solely for the purpose of being interviewed by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

"I hope that he overcomes the challenges that brought him to this situation," said Estrada, who said the criminal justice system will determine what the consequences will be for Shirakawa, whether that is jail time or something else.

While the district remains without someone to represent its residents -- the county already has excised Shirakawa's photo, bio information, and news releases from the Board of Supervisors website -- the board on Tuesday is expected to take up the matter of how to fill his vacated seat, either through an appointment or by calling for a special election.

Meanwhile, on the street off Tully Road where Shirakawa Jr. spent time growing up, a longtime friend remains loyal.

"You've got to learn the hard way sometimes, and he's learning the hard way," said the 52 year-old truck driver, who asked not to be named.

"Nobody's perfect. He's not proud. He's not happy," said the friend, who has been in touch with Shirakawa since the charges became public. "But I'm not going to run away from him because of what he did."

Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.