It turns out the 49ers did get a win last week after all. Only it wasn’t on the field.
In a way, you could say it was about the field — the one at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Earlier we told you about the efforts by 49ers owner Jed York to vote in team-friendly candidates to the Santa Clara city council. And when we say “efforts,” what we really mean is mounds of cash. In all, York contributed a staggering $2.9 million to the campaigns of four candidates. A cool $3 million . . . for a city council election.
And when the votes were counted last week, three of of those backed by the House of York were elected. And no wonder, calculations by Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell tabulated that “York’s money accounted for around 90 percent of all spending on city council campaigns.” He says it worked out to $150 per vote.
Here is where we might accuse York of “trying to buy the election.” But we won’t.
Because at this point we can say he wasn’t trying to buy the city council. He did it.
Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor has called the move “shocking and obnoxious,” and no wonder she isn’t happy. York’s candidates ousted a Gillmor ally, Teresa O’Neill, and won two open seats. That means Gilmore’s majority of supporters on the council are no longer the majority.
There are actually a couple of non-49ers issues to this election, and we will give them a look in a minute. But the real takeaway is York now appears to have a 49ers-friendly majority in the city council. It will be interesting to see what that means to the future of Levi’s Stadium.
It’s not a very big city — about 130,000 — but Santa Clara is feisty. The football team and the city have engaged in an increasingly bitter series of disagreements. It began with the infamous “Soccer Mom/dad Uprising,” when the team ran into an activist buzz saw when it wanted to use youth soccer fields for Super Bowl hosting, and has only gotten nastier and more personal.
They’ve feuded over the amount of rent owed the city, maintenance costs and — famously — the 10 p.m. curfew on weekday concerts at the stadium. The early night rule was such a sore point that pop star Ed Sheeran dropped Levi’s from his concert schedule.
Groups like Stand Up For Santa Clara are railing against the council re-shuffle, convinced the newcomers will be a rubber stamp for York.
“He’s got a stadium. Now he wants to buy the city council,” Stand Up president Burt Field has said.
It’s not an unreasonable concern. Winning candidate Suds Jain has already been quoted as saying the city should consider making the curfew later.
So we should keep an eye on what happens, stadium-wise.
But there are a couple of other points. First, although York definitely blew through the fund-raising ceiling, there are other big money players. Related Companies, a development firm that The Silicon Valley Voice says has an $8 billion development deal with the city, also poured in money, but in support of Mayor Gillmor’s candidates.
It wasn’t peanuts, but Related’s contributions were still far below York’s. News reports estimated Related Companies contributed $11,000-14,000 to four candidates.
The other issue in Santa Clara politics is diversity. Although the city is only about 40 percent white, the city council has generally had a white majority. The city even passed a Voting Rights Act in 2018 that divided the city into six districts in the hope that it would promote a more diverse council.
It hasn’t really worked. At the time of this election, five of the six seats were filled by white council members.
But now, after the York Revolution, the city council added two Asian council members. And that, York insists, is what the 49ers were really trying to do all along. It wasn’t about the stadium and money. It was about diversity and commitment to people of color.
Which ousted council member O’Neill thinks is hilarious.
“If Jed York cares so much about civil rights,” she told Politico’s Carla Marinucci, “why isn’t Colin Kaepernick still playing for the 49ers?”