SAN JOSE -- Of the two important City Council runoff contests this fall, the race in District 10 to replace Nancy Pyle will be decided by subtle but important differences in the way the two candidates would implement Measure B, Mayor Chuck Reed's controversial push to trim soaring employee retirement costs that was passed overwhelmingly by voters in June.
Sportscaster Robert Braunstein, who has been endorsed by the police officers' union, is pushing to restore pay cuts to police as one important step toward improving the bitter relationship that's grown between the union and the city over the measure.
While his opponent Johnny Khamis also would like the officers to receive a raise, the financial adviser questions how Braunstein could make that happen when the city is facing multimillion-dollar deficits, and Braunstein is proposing neither tax increases nor cuts to other programs. Moreover, Khamis believes the police union endorsement will undermine Braunstein's long-term support for the measure, which still must be approved by the courts before the city can implement it.
As the two men knock on doors seeking support throughout Almaden and Blossom Valleys and Vista Park -- the district boasts the city's highest median household income at slightly more than $100,000 -- it's evident that many voters are still weighing their options.
After all, each candidate has spent much of his life in the district, and each has his own base of supporters in the nonpartisan race: Braunstein, a Democrat, is recognized for his work running Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area, which televises weekly high school sports games. Khamis, a Republican businessman, is known for his work with a variety of neighborhood associations and service clubs.
Both men say they want to see San Jose's economy grow, to ensure that the city remains a safe place to live and work, and to implement the controversial pension reform measure that advocates say would strengthen the city's budget.
Measure B was supported in the district by 74 percent of voters, the highest percentage of any district in the city, where it passed with a 69 percent vote. The measure would make all city workers either reduce the retirement benefits they earn for their remaining years on the job or pay more for their current plan. The savings generated from the plan would boost the city's general fund, allowing the city to hire more workers and enhance city services, such as keeping libraries and community centers open.
Employee unions vehemently opposed the effort, calling it an illegal maneuver that erodes negotiated contracts.
San Jose Police Officer Rob Harris, a District 10 resident, is so disgusted over the issue that he says he may follow the stream of angry officers who have fled San Jose for greener pastures.
If the courts don't block it, Harris said outside his home last weekend, "I want to go somewhere else."
Braunstein believes he can help stop the bleeding by promising to restore the 10 percent pay cut the police had to take before the measure passed.
Braunstein made clear, though, that he's not advocating spending money the city doesn't have. Instead, he argued, the money will become available as the economy improves, property taxes rise and the benefits from Measure B kick in.
Khamis said Braunstein is ignoring a harsh reality: The city is facing a $22.5 million shortfall next fiscal year, with more to come in future years, largely due to rising employee retirement costs.
The first thing Khamis said San Jose needs to fix -- before making promises to anybody -- is its bloated pension system, whose costs have tripled in the last decade. Only after the savings from Measure B kick in, he said, would he focus on reversing the public safety cuts.
Khamis said Braunstein "wants to be the nice guy." But more than ever, Khamis said, what the city needs is a pragmatist like him on the council.
"I'm the one who says: We don't have the money to pay you back, and we might not have it for several years, especially because we're spending so much money and time fighting with the police officers' association over pension reform."
Both candidates say their histories of running their own businesses has helped them understand budgets and finances, knowledge they say can help them tackle the city budget.
Both men oppose Measure D, which would raise the minimum wage in San Jose from the statewide floor of $8 an hour to $10 with inflation adjustments. And both men also oppose Santa Clara County's Measure A, a one-eighth cent sales tax that would raise $500 million over 10 years.
Braunstein founded Cal-Hi in 2002, which in addition to himself, now employs five people. The Emmy award-winning program covers schools all over the Bay Area.
Khamis, meanwhile, is a founder of Western International Securities, a financial brokerage firm, where he works as a financial adviser; he also owns Johnny Khamis Insurance, where he is a broker.
Both candidates say that if elected, they would have others help them run their businesses.
While Khamis' campaign literature touts his "financial leadership," property records show that he once filed for a foreclosure.
Khamis said the incident stemmed from a home he signed over to his first wife when he was in his 20s after they divorced. He said that in order to keep the home, she agreed to make the mortgage payments but never did. The home went into foreclosure, a mistake he said he regrets and which happened before he became a financial adviser.
Meanwhile, Braunstein said the caustic relationship between the city and its employee unions in the aftermath of the bitter fight over Measure B requires a more collaborative nature that he brings to the table.
Khamis calls that disengenous, pointing to his own years on the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission where he navigated sensitive issues between opposing sides.
What's more, Khamis believes Braunstein's endorsement by the police union threatens the future viability of Measure B.
"When you're beholden to somebody,'' Khamis said, "you will compromise your principles.''
Braunstein disagrees. If elected, he insisted he "will not be co-opted" by any group that has endorsed him, whether it's the police officers' union, the Democratic Party, or the Chamber of Commerce.
"This is the toughest way to run, from the center, like I am, with people endorsing you from both sides," Braunstein said. "I'll do what's in the best interest of the district and the city."
Standing on the sidelines at a recent Leland High School football game, Almaden Valley resident Jim Greer said he's torn over whom to support.
"I know them both, and like them,'' said Greer, who is retired from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. "But I haven't made up my mind.''
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.
NAME: Robert Braunstein
OCCUPATION: President and executive producer of Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area
CIVIC BACKGROUND: Former member of the San Jose Small Business Development Commission
EDUCATION: B.A. in radio, television and film, San Jose State University; Masters Degree in Journalism, University of Missouri
FAMILY: Married, two grown children
KEY ENDORSEMENTS: San Jose Police Officers' Association; San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; Sierra Club of California; San Jose City Councilmen Sam Liccardo, Don Rocha, Ash Kalra and Xavier Campos.
NAME: Johnny Khamis
OCCUPATION: Founder and CEO of Western Benefit Solutions
CIVIC BACKGROUND: Chairman of the San Jose Small Business Development Commission; former member of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission; former member of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's transition team, business and economic development committee
EDUCATION: B.S. in business management and communication, San Jose State University
FAMILY: Married, two young sons
KEY ENDORSEMENTS: San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; Silicon Valley Taxpayers' Association; San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant; Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman and Santa Clara Valley Water District Board member Don Gage.
Sources: Robert Braunstein and Johnny Khamis