Don Gage, Santa Clara Valley Water District director and former Gilroy mayor, confirmed Thursday that he is running for mayor, adding another player to an already complicated race for the seat.
“People were stopping me in the grocery store and asking me if I would run,” Gage, 67, said Thursday. “I just couldn’t ignore it any longer.”
Gage said his entering into the election scene as a fourth candidate is positive for Gilroy voters.
“I think it’s good for Gilroy to have choices,” he said. “And I’m up for the challenge.”
City Council members Dion Bracco, Perry Woodward and Peter Arellano have also declared they will run for the mayor seat occupied by Mayor Al Pinheiro. Pinheiro has said he will not run for re-election.
Almost two weeks ago, the Dispatch reported that Gage said he was thinking about running; saying on March 5 that, “I’ve been watching all the shenanigans that have been going on, and have been getting a little sick about it. I’ve had enough of it.”
Gage, a lifelong Gilroy resident, served on Gilroy’s City Council beginning in 1981 then served two terms as mayor from 1991 to 1997. He then won the seat to represent District 1 (South San Jose to Gilroy) as a Santa Clara County Supervisor, before his term expired.
He has been on the water district’s board of directors since 2010, a publicly elected seat.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and I just want to make sure that things in Gilroy are going well,” he said, referring to what he described as the “bickering” going on in the City Council.
Dion Bracco, who said he plans to remain in the race, said the addition of Gage to the race will make for a better election. Bracco said that Gage has been an inspiration to him for years.
“It will be fun to run against him,” Bracco said.
Woodward said he was surprised that Bracco was even eligible to stay in the race after it was revealed in a Feb. 24 Dispatch story that Bracco had a criminal history: He was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and felony methamphetamine for sale in 1990. The city attorney later advised the City Council that Bracco was eligible to serve on the council since he did not commit a felony while seated.
Woodward also said he was surprised that Gage was leaving the water district just a year-and-a-half into his four-year term.
If Gage were to be elected in November, he would have to resign midterm from the water district, a move he said the district won’t be thrilled about.
“They’re not so happy,” he said, but mentioned that even if elected, he would finish out the year. “They’d be able to pick it up from there,” he said.
Woodward said that the water district would have to hold an expensive special election to replace Gage.
“We’re lucky to have someone from Gilroy on the water board,” Woodward said, adding that Gage stepping down from the water district would be a loss to the community.
But those things aside, Woodward said he was glad to hear that Gage is running.
“Of all the folks I’m running against, Don is the one I’m most likely to support,” he said.
Woodward remembers Gage as a councilman years ago, just as Woodward was becoming old enough to vote. He said he has voted for Gage consistently since then.
Woodward said that although he believes that Gage is a capable man and has great regional contacts, he doesn’t think that Gage is unbeatable.
On Thursday, Peter Arellano did not return several requests for comment.
Gage said that while some people think he is just trying to “clean house,” that is not why he is running for mayor.
As mayor, Gage said he would work with the City Council and act as a uniting force among them.
“We can work together and do that positively,” he said. “I can work with the council so that in the long term, everyone will be happy.”
Gage, who is a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, said that it is time to take realistic views of the city budget and plan for the future.
One of the biggest things Gage said he did during his mayoral term was bring the Outlets to the city, which he said has significantly improved Gilroy’s revenue. Other accomplishments during his public service career include fighting to bring a courthouse to Morgan Hill and creating diversion programs for juveniles in trouble with the law.
Other issues of importance to Gage are problems such as teens dropping out of high school and gang violence.
Councilman Bob Dillon said that because Gilroy’s election aligns with a presidential election this year, the results could lean Democrat, which doesn’t bode well for the conservative Gage.
“We live in the bluest state in the country,” he said Thursday. “Democratic voter turnout will probably be big.”
But Gage dismissed that notion, saying he probably gets as many votes from Democrats as Republicans.
“I don’t care if you are Republican, Democrat or Independent” he said. “If you need service, you get service from me.”
Dave Cortese of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for District 3, who worked with Gage on the board of supervisors before Gage was elected to serve on the water district, said Gage is a direct leader with great character and a lot of compassion, especially for working people and their circumstances.
“I think he’d be good at just about anything he tries to do, public service wise,” Cortese said.
Cortese said it would be a loss to the water district if Gage stepped down to be mayor, but added, “I suppose it depends on what he think is his greater calling.”
Liz Kniss, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for District 5, said she worked with Gage on the board for 10 years. Kniss, a Democrat, said even though she and Gage were different politically, she had a great working relationship with him.
“Don is a fence mender, and he can find middle ground,” she said. “He was a effective board member and has been an effective mayor before.”
Gage graduated from Gilroy High School in 1963, when he began a 30-year career at IBM. He and his wife, Jeanne, have three children and six grandchildren.
Gage said that the reason he is running for mayor is that the city has problems he can’t turn his back on.
“I’m not ready to go to pasture, so to speak,” he said. “I’ve done a lot for this community. And I’m not done yet.”