The December before a San Jose mayoral election is like the charge of covered wagons in a land rush. Each candidate wants to grab enough contributions from the right people to leave their competitors in the dust, wondering if it's worth carrying on.

All the candidates, that is, except for two. Councilman Pete Constant is avoiding holiday season campaigning because of his father's recent death. Then there's Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who took out a full-page ad in the Willow Glen Resident to explain that he would not be soliciting contributions in December. "I have always felt that December is a month best dedicated to the enjoyment of family, friends and our community," he wrote.

A shrewd move to attract givers who tire of being hit up for contributions? An attempt to dress up a potentially empty cupboard? A nod to the season? Or maybe a bit of all three?

In any case, don't dismiss Oliverio out of hand. He is the only candidate -- with the exception of Madison Nguyen -- who is instantly recognizable by his first name.

Texas report clears away cloud over De La Torre

A Texas investigation that failed to find organized test-score manipulation has dissipated a cloud over the head of Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Xavier De La Torre.


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Outside attorneys reported that the Socorro Independent School District did not have illegal policies, rules or practices, nor have a "high-level, widespread, intentional effort" to skew state and federal school rankings. De La Torre served as Socorro superintendent for three years until June 2012, when the Santa Clara County Board of Education hired him.

After the report was released late Tuesday, the Socorro district reinstated De La Torre's former top deputies. Four of them had been placed on leave in August pending the outcome of the investigation.

In an emailed statement, De La Torre wrote, "I remain steadfast and am not surprised that the report bears out my belief that the administrators are individuals with unquestionable integrity and have always worked to serve students in the best way possible."

At the same time, it appeared he sought to quell speculation about his own tenure at the county office.

"I remain committed to the work here in the Santa Clara County Office of Education and moving forward with meeting the needs and providing the high level of service and support to our districts, communities, schools and students," De La Torre wrote.

Socorro and other Texas border districts had rushed to look into the retention and promotion of special education students and transfer students from Mexico, after the superintendent of the neighboring El Paso Independent School District pleaded guilty in 2012 to federal fraud charges for manipulating yearly standardized tests.

In its grade-level assignments, El Paso enabled students to avoid taking sophomore-year tests used to rate schools. The Socorro report -- available at www.sisd.net/externalreview (click on "Second-Level Investigation Report) -- found isolated incidents, confusion and inconsistency in student placement but not an orchestrated effort.

"Our goal is to ensure that this never happens again," it quoted Socorro board President Cynthia Najera.

Reed appeals $1 fine

for campaign violation

After getting nailed with a whopping $1 fine from the state's campaign watchdog group in September, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has filed an appeal.

But don't call him Mayor Cheapskate just yet. The appeal is about more than a buck for Chuck -- he is also trying to recoup costly lawyer fees, clear his name and enact changes to political contribution rules.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission had ruled in October that Reed and his pension reform committee violated state law when they funneled $100,000 to an independent group that helped elect Rose Herrera to the City Council in 2012.

But after initially proposing a $3,350 fine following complaints from the San Jose police union, the FPPC ruled the violation was not intentional and charged the mayor only a dollar.

The issue came up because California candidates are barred from giving political funds to independent committees that try to get other candidates elected. That's what Reed and his supporters did for Herrera in helping her defeat Jimmy Nguyen in a tight race in council District 8.

Reed's lawyers, in a petition filed in Sacramento Superior Court on Dec. 13, argued that Reed should not be considered a candidate because he wasn't running for anything in 2012. Lawyer Jesse Mainardi, citing the landmark Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United case, among others, argued that the state's campaign contribution law was unconstitutional and should be scrapped.

In a statement, the FPPC noted its September decision on Reed's "illegal actions" came from a bipartisan unanimous vote that followed a full hearing on the case.

"The FPPC welcomes the chance to vigorously defend California law to limit campaign funds and demand disclosure from all elected officials and candidates," the FPPC said.

Rocha gets unexpected backing from chamber

San Jose Councilman Don Rocha, who is running in perhaps the only non-crazy race for council in June, has picked up what to some may be a surprising endorsement: from local businesses.

The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce's Political Action Committee, which serves as the main fundraising arm for local businesses, last week threw its support behind Rocha's re-election campaign in the southwest District 9.

The chamber PAC typically serves as the main political adversary to the local unions, and Rocha has long been considered labor-friendly by many in City Hall. Rocha has not appreciated being labeled such, noting he has at times cast votes that crossed labor.

Still, it may be a no-brainer for the chamber. Unlike the competitive races for mayor and council Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7, Rocha is thus far running unopposed in the June primary.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Scott Herhold, Sharon Noguchi, Mike Rosenberg and Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-920-5782.