San Jose Mercury News (CA)
February 17, 2002



An open seat in the 22nd Assembly District has enticed three candidates to the Democratic primary, all of whom are city council members seeking state office for the first time.

Rod Diridon Jr. is serving his sixth year on the city council in Santa Clara; Sally Lieber is serving her fourth year in Mountain View; Rosemary Stasek is serving her sixth year in Mountain View.
The primary winner should emerge a strong favorite in this traditionally Democratic district. The Republican opponent in the general election is businessman Stan Kawczynski of Sunnyvale, who has run and lost in two previous Assembly elections.

Education is one of the common themes highlighted by the candidates, but each has a different perspective.

A substitute teacher for one year, Diridon likes to say that he has encountered public education at its most unglamorous level. He points to his stewardship of a school bond campaign in 1997 that raised $145 million for Santa Clara schools. Diridon wants to find more ways to help local governments develop housing for teachers and refine statewide student tests.

Lieber attended several Bay Area community colleges before taking some classes at Stanford University in her mid-30s. She left school to enter politics. Lieber says she would focus on improving remedial education and GED resources. She would also give communities more flexibility in how they spend money on education.

Stasek has taught networking and systems engineering courses at De Anza College for six years, and she's also taken mid-career classes there. Community colleges are an oft-neglected part of the state's educational system, Stasek says, and they should play a greater role in job training.

Stasek and Diridon have sought to distinguish themselves based on their experience, particularly in high tech.

The 22nd District includes all of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, most of Santa Clara and a northwestern part of San Jose, including a slice of the Berryessa neighborhood. Residents of the 22nd District claim it is the heart of Silicon Valley; some of the biggest tech firms are headquartered here, including Intel, Yahoo and 3Com.

As a contractor, Stasek has worked as a systems engineer for a dozen years at a who's who list of Silicon Valley companies, including Oracle, Cisco and Netscape. That employment history has given her a breadth of insight into the area's tech economy, she says.

Combined with her work on the city council and at De Anza, Stasek says she has the firsthand experience to understand a range of issues in the Assembly. It's ''an incredible opportunity for me to take all of these things and be able to import all of them into one job.''

Diridon spent several years in community relations at 3Com, coordinating some of the company's philanthropic efforts in education. Having worked with local governments on behalf of 3Com, he says that he knows how to make the most of public-private partnerships.

Lieber, who worked for many years hanging wallpaper and restoring Victorian homes, has been an active volunteer. She worked to help new citizens register to vote and also chaired a committee that merged two school districts in Mountain View.

As the region struggles to produce additional housing and ease traffic jams, all three candidates talk about ''smart growth'' and building affordable housing along transportation corridors.

Diridon supports building high-density housing at light-rail stations and extending BART to the South Bay, as well as constructing a high-speed rail linking Southern California to the Bay Area and Sacramento; Lieber would give incentives to local governments that produce good land-use planning and withhold transportation funds from communities that don't complete housing plans; Stasek wants to see developers build more townhomes and condos in the area as a way to increase home ownership.

For Diridon, this campaign is a chance to work with his father, a former Santa Clara County supervisor. He says he refused to use his father's considerable connections in his first election, for Santa Clara city council, to prove he could do it on his own. But this time around, Diridon is proudly showcasing his father's involvement, even listing his dad's name first on the campaign Web site.

''I come from a family of real strong public service. It's only natural that I followed,'' Diridon says.

Lieber has tried to cast Diridon as the establishment candidate and position herself as a woman for the working class. Lieber and Diridon have battled each other to land endorsements from civic groups and local politicians, and both have raised much more money than Stasek.

Lieber's husband, an engineer, has lent the campaign about $200,000 -- out of the more than $320,000 she has raised so far. Without the loan, Lieber says, ''a candidate like me wouldn't be able to compete in this race.''

Diridon has raised nearly $400,000, which he says comes from a range of supporters, from labor unions to individual citizens.

Stasek has raised about $55,000 and has not focused on gathering endorsements.

Diridon, 32, says he can emphasize his dedication to the community where he grew up, attended high school and worked briefly before entering politics.

The top reason Lieber, 40, is running for Assembly is to make California a ''state of the art'' place for children, she says. It includes a push for affordable child care and more support for foster families.

Stasek, 38, is a staunch defender of letting women choose on the issue of abortion. A co-founder of California Catholics for Free Choice, Stasek says that as an Assembly member she will put pressure on Catholic hospitals that take over public hospitals to continue providing reproductive services, often in areas where alternative medical help is far away.