SAN JOSE -- Santa Clara County leaders moved quickly from shock over the Friday arrest and sudden resignation of Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. to the now-urgent question of who should fill his District 2 seat and when.

Shirakawa, 51, has agreed to plead guilty later this month to multiple felony charges that he abused public funds and political donations. Facing up to a year in jail, the supervisor last week blamed gambling addiction and depression for his crimes.

Now, supporters of Shirakawa's constituents -- who include many of the county's poorest residents -- say they should not have to suffer a lack of representation as a result. They want someone appointed quickly, so the district is well-positioned as supervisors approach critical budget talks in the coming months. But others see an election as the best way to hear the people's voice.

Yet another camp sees a bright, if unexpected, side of Shirakawa's dramatic downfall: A woman could soon join the all-male board, which has no female member for the first time in 37 years.

"Very often, opportunity arises when it's least expected," said former supervisor Susanne Wilson, 84.

At a meeting Tuesday, supervisors will vote on the two options before them: appointing someone to the District 2 seat, or scheduling an election between now and June 25.

Board president Ken Yeager has so far pushed for an election, allowing citizens to choose their representative rather than someone the board hand picks.


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But in a feverish flurry of calls and emails Monday, community activists sought a third alternative -- appointing someone until an election is held. Shirakawa's predecessors Blanca Alvarado and Dan McCorquodale were approached and both said they'd be willing to step in for a short time through the May budget hearings. But by day's end, the option of an interim appointee appeared to be on shaky legal ground.

"The timing is not ideal," said Andrea Flores Shelton, who lives in District 2 and worked for both Alvarado and Shirakawa before she left his office last year. But whatever option supervisors choose, she added, "the community's voice must be represented during a $4 billion budget deliberation that impacts our community the most."

Patricia Gardner, executive director of the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, agreed, noting that District 2 constituents are among the most desperate for county services -- from immigrant assistance to public health care and senior nutrition. "There's not a service that's provided in this county that's not provided in District 2," she said. "Each district has a representative, but who's going to be there for District 2?"

A number of the potential candidates would begin to even up the board's gender imbalance. Two prospective supervisorial candidates are former San Jose City Councilwoman Cindy Chavez, and Blanca Alvarado's daughter, Teresa Alvarado, who now works for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

"I do believe it's a very sad and almost tragic way for this to happen," recently termed-out Supervisor Liz Kniss said of Shirakawa's downfall. "But it ironically could mean that a woman could be back in that office again -- right now it's out of whack."

With all eyes on the next steps for the supervisor's seat, the District 2 office had another shake-up. Shirakawa's former chief of staff Eddie Garcia was dismissed by the county Friday, and a new employee -- Vanessa Compean -- began her first day Monday under the oddest of circumstances.

County officials would not elaborate on Garcia's dismissal, which ends his four-year tenure and his $139,998.56 annual salary. But Karyn Sinunu-Towery, assistant district attorney, said that although her office investigated the roles Shirakawa staffers may have played in his spending of public finds at casinos, golf courses and upscale eateries, Garcia was not found to be complicit.

As Shirakawa tried to pass off his misspent public funds by submitting "missing receipt memos," Garcia tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to submit the required paperwork, she said: "We believe that Mr. Garcia tried to get detailed receipts from Shirakawa and was unable to."

Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.