SAN JOSE -- San Jose city Councilwoman Rose Herrera teared up at one point Saturday during a speech to a couple of dozen supporters in her re-election campaign kickoff at an Evergreen Village Square coffee shop.
"Being your council member has been the privilege of my life," Herrera said in the emotional pause during a celebration otherwise filled with fiery confidence in which she was joined by Mayor Chuck Reed and Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen.
The fall campaign for two City Council seats kicked into high gear on the first weekend after Labor Day, as the four candidates in the Nov. 6 runoff hit the streets with their messages to voters.
It was clear Saturday that the Measure B pension reforms that drew national attention to San Jose in June still loomed large for Herrera and the three other candidates.
For Herrera, the tearful moment reflected a rare vulnerability in the two-term-limit world of modern city politics where incumbents seldom sweat re-election. Herrera far outpaced her two re-election challengers in the June primary. But thanks to an anti-Herrera barrage from unions furious at her support for Reed and his controversial pension cuts, she finished short of the majority vote needed to win re-election outright in June.
Herrera now faces a November runoff in southeast San Jose's District 8 against Jimmy Nguyen, an attorney and political novice who opposed Reed's pension reforms and whose Saturday evening fundraiser at a seafood restaurant on Monterey Highway drew a crowd of about 250.
In southwest San Jose's District 10, financial adviser Johnny Khamis and TV sports broadcaster Robert Braunstein are vying to replace termed-out incumbent Nancy Pyle, a swing vote on the 11-member council. Khamis finished one vote ahead of Braunstein in a six-way primary contest in which both pledged to support Reed's pension reforms.
Nearly 70 percent of city voters approved Measure B over heavy opposition from unions, which a day after the election sued to block provisions that would make current workers pay more for their pensions or reduce benefits for their remaining years.
Since June, San Jose has reduced pensions for most new hires and is headed to arbitration to cut pensions for police and firefighter recruits. But the measure's critics have pointed to a rash of police departures and a late-summer spike in violence to argue that it's driven away cops and emboldened criminals.
"Measure B was supposed to be a solution," Nguyen said, "but it's caused more problems."
Herrera's defeat would cost Reed an ally he has counted on in close votes to tackle pensions, wh ose costs have more than tripled in a decade and siphoned funding for staffing and services.
"It's a really important election -- she's important to fiscal reforms," said Reed, arguing that Herrera's support for his agenda helped avoid deeper layoffs of officers and other city workers amid soaring deficits.
In District 10's Almaden Valley, volunteers arrived at Braunstein's and Khamis' homes just a few blocks apart to begin a weekend of door-knocking to make their pitch to voters.
Braunstein launched his campaign with endorsements from Pyle and from Edesa Bitbadal, the third-place runner-up in June who also is supporting Herrera. A few dozen volunteers showed up to begin walking precincts. Though Braunstein and rival Khamis both supported Measure B and say they will make public safety their priority, Braunstein is campaigning as the moderate who aims to keep officers from leaving the city.
"Johnny's pretty far to the right," Braunstein said, arguing that he's "in step with the majority of the district."
Braunstein said keeping a lid on crime by building up the police ranks will be the main issue in November, and he pointed to endorsements from Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Sheriff Laurie Smith and the San Jose police officers' union to demonstrate that he's "the best person to handle that."
Khamis, in his living room with a handful of volunteers ready to knock on doors, questioned his rival's commitment to fiscal reforms he says are needed for the city to afford more cops or higher officer pay. He noted that the San Jose Police Officers' Association that is backing Braunstein is also fighting Measure B in court and cuts to other costly perks such as retirement sick-leave cashouts that limit funding to hire officers.
"Someone who doesn't have a background in finance doesn't understand we don't have the money," Khamis said. "Without money, we can't hire them."
At Nguyen's fundraiser, attorney, Jenny Do, 47, said the 35-year-old would offer a fresh young perspective on the council.
"He represents the young generation," Do said. "He's passionate about what he does."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.
Occupation: San Jose city councilwoman, District 8
Politics: Her standing with Mayor Chuck Reed on pension reforms and other cuts to city worker pay and perks -- reforms they said were needed to avoid deeper layoffs -- drew the wrath of public employee unions. Though she far outpaced two re-election challengers in the June primary, her 48 percent finish fell short of the majority needed to avoid a November runoff.
Campaign website: www.roseforsanjose.com
Occupation: Attorney and mediator.
Politics: A political novice, Nguyen edged out veteran East Side Union High School District trustee Patricia Martinez-Roach in the June primary for the right to challenge District 8 incumbent Rose Herrera in November. With his opposition to Mayor Chuck Reed's pension reform Measure B, he benefited from independent anti-Herrera spending by her union foes.
Campaign website: www.votejimmynguyen.com
Occupation: Chief executive officer of consulting firm Western Benefit Solutions and a financial adviser.
Politics: Khamis finished first in a field of six candidates in the June primary to replace termed-out District 10 Councilwoman Nancy Pyle, campaigning as a conservative and solid ally of Mayor Chuck Reed and his pension and fiscal reforms.
Campaign website: www.johnnykhamis.org
Occupation: TV sports broadcaster for Annabelle Productions, Cal-Hi Sports.
Politics: Finished one vote behind Johnny Khamis in the June primary to replace termed-out District 10 Councilwoman Nancy Pyle, a swing vote who has endorsed him.
Campaign website: www.voterobert2012.com