By Khalida Sarwari
In a hotly contested primary race for Santa Clara County District 4 supervisor where accusations of sexual harassment sometimes drowned out a discussion of transportation, housing and other issues, Susan Ellenberg emerged as the top vote getter and likely will face former San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio in a November runoff, election results showed Wednesday morning.
Oliverio ended up with only 105 more votes than current San Jose Councilman Don Rocha for second place, according to the unofficial election results.
Ellenberg, president of the San Jose Unified School District board, had 32.1 percent of the vote to Oliverio’s 20.2 percent and Rocha’s 19.9 percent.
Just before midnight, Ellenberg said she was feeling “cautiously optimistic” about her chances after initial returns showed her well ahead of the next candidates.
“It looks like I have a very solid chance to be in the top two, so I’m definitely feeling grateful to the voters for this strong show of support and it’s gratifying to me that the message we are sharing that our county needs a strong advocate for families and children has really resonated with voters,” she said.
Seven candidates sought to replace termed-out Supervisor Ken Yeager. The race, marked by scandals and negative campaigning, took a dramatic turn when Dominic Caserta, considered a front-runner in some circles, dropped out and resigned from the Santa Clara City Council on May 15 after former campaign volunteers accused him of unwanted advances and impropriety and students at Santa Clara High School, where he taught civics, also surfaced with accusations. He has denied the allegations and on Tuesday his name still appeared on the ballot, where he held steady at fifth place.
Oliverio too had come under criticism by the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and various South Bay labor groups who questioned his suitability for the office, citing allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse against him in a 2014 lawsuit by his chief of staff Denelle Fedor while he was a sitting councilman five years ago. Fedor later dropped Oliverio from the lawsuit and settled with the city of San Jose for $10,000.
During the campaign, Ellenberg said she wants to expand housing access for all income groups and advocate for families, seniors and women who are survivors of domestic violence.
Oliverio ran a campaign that prioritized helping the severely mentally ill, reducing homelessness, putting county jail inmates to work cleaning roads and turning over dangerous undocumented immigrants to the feds.
The other candidates are Jason Baker, a former Campbell councilman and mayor, Maria Hernandez, a San Jose-based marketing consultant, and Mike Alvarado, an IT consultant and small business owner.
The November winner will represent an area that spans the cities of Santa Clara, Campbell and most of West San Jose and the unincorporated Cambrian and Burbank areas.