SAN JOSE -- The South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council announced a leadership shuffle Tuesday in which Ben Field will replace Cindy Chavez as executive officer starting next year while she remains as director of affiliated think tank Working Partnerships USA.
Chavez, who took over in 2008, said that while she and other executive officers historically have served dual roles running both the labor council and Working Partnerships, she had long believed each should have its own leadership.
"They're both really important organizations," Chavez said. "They need to have all the attention that one leader can give to each institution. This change really offers me the opportunity to focus on the next generation of public policy initiatives that we're going to be working on."
The labor council has served as the South Bay's principal vehicle for promoting liberal-progressive politics and candidates at the local level where government typically is nonpartisan, a counterpart to the more conservative San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. With its phone-banking and precinct-walking operations, it boasts a formidable campaign operation.
Field, 48, a former Santa Clara County prosecutor, has served as the labor council's chief of staff since July 2009, responsible for its political operations.
"He's a really skilled leader and a skilled manager, and the labor movement will continue to thrive under his leadership, no doubt about it," Chavez said.
Field, who earned a political science degree from Columbia University and both a law degree and a doctorate in American history from UC Berkeley, was a rising star in the Santa Clara County district attorney's office.
But he joined the labor council after the state bar suspended him from practicing law for four years after finding he had committed misconduct in four criminal cases, violating the defendants' constitutional rights.
As the labor council's chief of staff, Field was in charge of several successful campaigns this year: San Jose's Measure D minimum wage increase, Santa Clara County's Measure A sales tax for health care and public safety, the Santa Clara Valley Water District's Measure B tax to continue funding for a safe, clean water supply, and the election of candidates in the El Camino Hospital District.
Field said he plans to continue in the direction Chavez has charted.
"There's going to be continuity," Field said. "I expect to build on the legacy that Cindy's left. It's a legacy of great political victories, and opportunities because of those victories to go along with more progressive reform in the South Bay."
Chavez, a former San Jose vice mayor who lost the 2006 mayoral race to Chuck Reed, said she had told the labor council's executive board in September that she planned to step down next year, but it was not announced at the time to avoid creating a distraction in the middle of the campaign season. The executive board, made up of representatives of some of the 89 member unions, approved Field as the next executive officer Monday night.
The announcement ignited rumors in Silicon Valley's political circles that Chavez may be preparing for a return to politics, perhaps to succeed Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. -- who's embattled over delinquent campaign reports and improper expense-account charges -- should he step down. Stepping out of the more political labor council role to focus more on policy work would perhaps moderate Chavez' public image.
But Chavez dismissed such talk.
"I know there will be a lot of ridiculous speculation, but at its core is what functions best," Chavez said. "There's no better way than two leaders instead of one."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.