SAN JOSE -- Teresa Alvarado was born into an East Side family steeped in politics and public service.
Her father, Jose Alvarado, was a Spanish language radio announcer and community activist who urged his fellow Latinos to fulfill their potential. Her mother, former city councilwoman and county supervisor Blanca Alvarado, marched alongside farm labor icon Cesar Chavez.
Now, the youngest of five Alvarado children wants to continue that tradition by winning a tough race for District 2 supervisor. It's the same seat once held by her mother and recently vacated by George Shirakawa Jr., who has pleaded guilty to misusing taxpayer and campaign donor funds.
But unlike her mother, Teresa Alvarado has spent most of her life working in the private sector and for nonprofits. Her only other run for office for District 1 supervisor 2010 was unsuccessful, in part because of her lack of name recognition in the West Valley and South County district.
These days, however, she's back on her home turf, standing "on the shoulders of those who have come before her -- none more so than her own mother,'' said J. Manuel Herrera, a longtime East Side Union High School District board member.
Yet, some criticize her as lacking sufficient political experience.
"I don't know that she has done anything -- she has no track record at all,'' said Ron Golart, Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Association vice president and longtime supporter of Alvarado's chief rival, labor leader Cindy Chavez.
But others say Alvarado's lack of political baggage could be an asset. "She's a fresh face, and not perceived to be as hyperpartisan to any cause'' said Herrera.
Alvarado is trying to tie Chavez to her longtime ally Shirakawa by emphasizing a multipronged ethics reform platform to clean up county government in his wake. Among other goals, she wants more transparency about who is meeting with county elected officials to try to influence county policy.
But Chavez backers are hoping labor's recent efforts to improve the lives of District 2 residents -- the poorest in the county -- will trump Alvarado's reform agenda. They're betting residents are more interested in union-backed victories to raise San Jose's minimum wage and bolster the county's sales tax to fund social services that district residents rely on most.
Alvarado counters that her family has a strong union background. She noted that every one of her mother's campaigns received labor's support and that one of her brothers, a former electrician turned social activist, was a union member, as were her two sisters, who worked in public school and civil service positions.
What's crucial about her reform message, she said, is that the public feels confident that their government is using their money effectively. And that, she said, will open up more funding for county services. "That's absolutely linked to reform," she said.
Moreover, she said her years in the private sector and nonprofit worlds -- from PG&E to leading the Hispanic Foundation -- have given her valuable insights into budget and management practices that she believes will enable her as a supervisor to work well with her constituents, as well as labor and the business community.
"I think government has to change, and that happens more naturally in the private sector in response to their customers," said the 48-year old communications manager at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, an organization that her critics note has struggled with its own lack of transparency issues. While she acknowledges room for more improvement there, she believes the district has made strides in greater accountability and public outreach.
The county must fall in line. During a recent interview with the Mercury News editorial board, she gave County Executive Jeff Smith a "D" grade for his performance. But she quickly added that supervisors share responsibility for the low grade because "I assume he's following the direction of his bosses in how he manages and leads the organization."
Growing up on the east side, Alvarado faced challenges from a young age. After her parents divorced, she found herself bouncing between the homes of her mother and father. She spent more time with her father than her siblings, who by then were either in high school or college. His death linked to pneumonia when she was 13 was crushing. She had lost an important anchor.
With her mother working, she drifted, bonding with kids at a park near her home. By the time she was 15 across town at Archbishop Mitty High School, where she said she felt like an outsider, she was pregnant by a boyfriend from the east side. Their daughter was stillborn.
Heartbroken, Alvarado returned to school, but with a new outlook: She made up the school credits she'd lost, joined student government and focused on new goals.
One was college, and she headed to San Jose State, where she was a part-time student for more than a decade, taking classes in everything from business to marketing to political science, while supporting herself through temporary jobs at companies from Atari to ROLM.
Eventually she discovered her passion in environmental studies, graduating with a bachelor's degree in environmental technology and management. She then earned a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from Tufts University in Boston.
Back in San Jose, she went on to cofound the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley to train Latina women to become civic leaders. By 2008, she had set her sights on her mother's supervisorial seat, but through a snafu, moved back into the district too late to qualify. Along with her second husband, she has now relocated to Japantown with the goal of winning the same seat.
"My focus will be a government that serves people in a transparent way," said Alvarado, "not to continue business as usual or use government to benefit special interests."
Education: Bachelor's degree in environmental technology and management from San Jose State University; master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from Tufts University.
Family: Husband Jess Morales, two adult stepsons
Job experience: On leave as communications manager at the Santa Clara Valley Water District; former CEO of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley; former outreach specialist at PG&E's Solar Schools Program; worked in environmental health and safety issues at NASA Ames Research Center
Key endorsements: San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed; San Jose City Council members Sam Liccardo, Rose Herrera and Madison Nguyen; San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; San Jose Committee for Good Government; La Raza Roundtable de California; Latino Democratic Victory Club; Frank Biehl, president of East Side Union High School District board of trustees; Melissa Hippard, program director, Greenbelt Alliance