Leadership Starts with Trust

The current conundrum at City Hall has been exacerbated by the inability of personalities to work together on Measure B and pension reform. The more the issue is raised, the tighter the Gordian knot becomes, leaving the city less equipped to move forward on critical issues. Morale declines, frustration persists and attitudes harden.

The late Sen. Alan Cranston used to try a different approach. When faced with an intractable disagreement with a colleague, constituent or political adversary, he tried to find one issue on which they could agree. Peace activists were outraged over the senator’s support for the B-1 bomber, but they could agree to work with him on a nuclear freeze.

This approach builds trust between individuals of differing views. There would still be disagreement, but it would not become personal in the future. The late Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch had a famous friendship as they worked with each other, despite plenty of disagreements.

Mayor Sam Liccardo and his opponents, public safety unions in particular, should try to find one issue on which they agree. Leaving the battles of Measure B aside, they should identify a single issue on which they can work together and share credit. Labor’s working families agenda is full of promise.

The new mayor has been an advocate for affordable housing. Working Partnerships is a community-labor organization working on the root causes of inequality in our society. They both have solutions regarding affordable housing policies. This is a natural fit for both sides to come together on something they both passionately support. It’s easier to gain trust in a project when both sides agree on the goals.

Another possibility for collaboration is transportation and transit-oriented development. It has nothing to do with pension reform, but it’s a subject on which many people can agree.

The key to working on common initiatives will be bringing in people from both sides of the current divide. The issue must be inclusive, separate from the pension angst. Building trust between these individuals—when none exists today—would go a long way toward working on other issues.

While pension reform and the lack of police officers in our city remains a primary issue, the simple fact of the matter is that there can be no solution when there is no trust. In the best scenario it will take a minimum of five years to rebuild San Jose’s emergency services.

It could take longer than that to build trust between different leaders in San Jose. But we need to take those steps now to bring the city together. In my personal experience, there has never been a time where I couldn’t agree on at least one topic with someone to begin forging a friendship around that issue.

The late Ron Smith ran a campaign against Sen. Cranston in 1986. There was no one considered more “evil” than Ron during that campaign. He died last year and by that time he had become very good friends. We still disagreed on many things, but we had common goals on certain issues: political ethics, gay rights and civil discourse. We continued to disagree on many things, but I learned you could trust Ron Smith, even when I thought he was wrong.

It is time for San Jose’s leaders to learn to trust again.


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