SAN JOSE -- Sal Si Puedes is a working class, Latino neighborhood in East San Jose. It means "get out if you can" in Spanish. Depending on the historian, the nickname stems from the old neighborhood's stubborn poverty or the mud holes that once trapped cars there after heavy rains.
Poverty persists in East San Jose, but the deepest mud hole today must be the political pit featuring a nasty rematch for City Council District 5. Challengers Magdalena Carrasco and Aaron Resendez lost to incumbent Xavier Campos four years ago, and they're bent on running against his record and the scandals spinning around him.
"My number one is getting Xavier Campos out of office," says Resendez, a business consultant who finished fourth four years ago. "He's ineffective and corrupt. He's got to go."
Carrasco, a political consultant, feels the same way and has a bigger campaign war chest.
"He's detached. He's absent," Carrasco says of Campos. "I often think he's like an absentee slumlord."
They're saying Campos is more interested in keeping himself and his political cabal in power than in addressing the district's high crime rate, lack of affordable housing, proliferation of illegal dumping and other pressing problems.
Campos finds himself on defense. His former boss and ally, former Santa Clara County supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., is in jail for corruption. Campos refused to testify for a grand jury probe into a dirty political mailer Shirakawa allegedly sent to voters on his behalf during his initial 2010 run for office. And he insists he knew nothing of the fraudulent practices at the Mexican American Services Agency that led to felony convictions of two top officials, even though he was the nonprofit's chief operating officer at the time.
Campos declined an interview but in written responses dismissed Resendez and called Carrasco a carpetbagger.
"When you have no roots or commitment to a community," Campos wrote, "her promises are hollow and meaningless."
Resendez also describes Carrasco as a carpetbagger, bankrolled by Southern California contributors and allies, including her former husband, state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.
Carrasco said she grew up near the Del Monte cannery in central San Jose where her parents worked and that she's lived in what is now District 5 for "a number of years." She represents the area as an East Side Union High School District trustee.
"I have lived in San Jose my entire life, except when I was at college," Carrasco said. "I am from here."
Despite the mudslinging, the candidates do have positions on issues.
All three said public safety was their top priority for District 5.
Campos blames Measure B, the 2010 municipal pension reform act overwhelmingly approved by voters, for persuading police officers to quit the force and leave District 5 streets to criminals.
"We must undo the damage done by Measure B," Campos said, "and hire more officers and get our public safety programs back to full strength."
Rather than cut other services to make up the loss of Measure B savings, he would consider putting a half-cent sales tax on the ballot to increase revenues. He did not address the prospect of growing pension costs devouring much if not all of the sales-tax revenue.
Campos says he has "worked hard" to repair broken sidewalks and street lights and to improve express bus service from District 5 to jobs in the heart of Silicon Valley. Campos says a "housing impact fee" is worth pursuing so that more affordable housing could be built, but he did not say who would have to pay and how much.
Better policing is Carrasco's highest priority, too, but she would leave Measure B alone and consider a sales tax increase or dedicated tax to pay for new cops and bring other services back to strength.
"We need to figure out how to get more police officers to that part of town," Carrasco says. She admits other council members would resist the idea of having fewer cops in their districts. "You need to manage personalities and priorities and strike a balance."
The services she would try to improve with or without new revenues include senior centers, street cleaning, parking in overcrowded East Side neighborhoods, and public transit. She's for more affordable housing in the district but says it would take a large investment from state or federal governments.
Aside from getting rid of Campos, Resendez's next priority is public safety. He voted for Measure B.
"I don't have a single regret," he says.
A member of the police chief's community advisory board, Resendez says he has enough good rapport with the brass to get the department to focus on robbery, drug-dealing and illegal dumping in District 5.
Resendez describes himself as an honest independent with his feet on the ground. As president of his neighborhood association, he used to walk his dog in the afternoons in search of housing code violations, illegal parking and dumping. A new problem, he says, is that the proliferation of charter schools has choked neighborhood streets with more traffic.
"A council member has a lot of input and can organize the community on the scrutiny of these proposals at the planning level and before any construction is made," he says, claiming to support the charter school movement. One of his daughters graduated from a charter high school.
Increasing revenues to improve services, he says, is a matter of growing the economy by bringing in job-creating businesses. He is the only candidate not proposing a new tax. After a failed business and first run for council, Resendez became a consultant three years ago for Spanish-speaking businessmen navigating their way through government requirements.
"I know how city government works," he says, "and I can make it work for East San Jose."
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him at Twitter.com/joerodmercury.
Occupation: San Jose City Council member
Education: Overfelt High School graduate; attended San Jose State
Hobbies: Photography, sports fan
Occupation: Political consultant
Education: Bachelor's degree, UC Santa Barbara
Hobbies: Cycling, reading, gym work
Occupation: Business consultant
Education: Two years college in Mexico
Hobby: Coaching youth soccer