Morgan Hill resident Steve Chappell—known among locals as an active administrator of online social media community pages—has qualified as a write-in candidate for mayor in the Nov. 3 election.
Chappell, a 58-year-old technology consultant, was notified Oct. 19 by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters that he met the qualifications to receive votes as a write-in candidate. In order to qualify, Chappell had to submit a petition signed by at least 20 registered voters in Morgan Hill—though he gained 30 such signatures.
The only name printed on the Nov. 3 ballot for the mayor’s race is incumbent Rich Constantine. If a voter wants to select Chappell for the office, they must physically write his full name in the blank field below Constantine’s name on the ballot.
Chappell submitted the petition to Morgan Hill Deputy City Clerk Michelle Bigelow, who forwarded the paperwork to the registrar’s office for verification. Bigelow swore him in as a candidate Oct. 15, with his wife, Marina, by his side at City Hall.
Chappell said until recently he never considered running for elected office. He decided “at the 11th hour” to run as a write-in candidate after nobody qualified to have their name on the ballot against Constantine, who is running for his second term as mayor.
“I received dozens and dozens of messages and calls the last several weeks to run against the incumbent who was unopposed,” Chappell said in an email. “Never running for any public office before, I had always been happy just as a civically involved advocate and community organizer. However at the urging of others, I decided we had to do something as residents to get control through democracy back in our city.”
Chappell vows to bring a more “conservative” approach to governance to the city council if he is elected. He cited as qualifications his years of participation in public city council and local government meetings as an advocate for his fellow residents. That advocacy includes his leadership of the “Morgan Hill Community Group” and other Facebook pages that are geared to local information and participation.
“If elected, my first out of the gate goals are to apply instant reform in the way the City Council operates. That means establishing clear two-term limits max for all positions of civic involvement,” said Chappell, a Santa Clara County native who has lived in Morgan Hill about 20 years. “Our society has evolved so quickly recently that we must always bring in fresh ideas and perspectives. And the only way to do that is by eliminating career politicians from our City Council and leadership.”
He also takes issue with the length of city council meetings, which often last until near midnight. “That needs to end and I plan on extreme and swift re-calibration of how the council meetings operate to maximize the residents’ and taxpayers’ use of this resource,” he said.
Furthermore, he thinks the city is on a path to “financial ruin and disaster” due to “inaction” by the current council, though he didn’t cite details or budget figures. Earlier this year, the council cut about $5 million worth of services due to declines in revenue related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the mandated shuttering of programs that attract public gatherings.
He also thinks city services need to be “streamlined” to a more basic level. “That means we need to keep the street lights on, the garbage picked up and water coming out of the faucets. It also means that every resident in this city should rest peacefully and safely at night knowing that if they need help in medical, fire and public safety, someone is coming to help,” Chappell said.
Chappell added that, as a community advocate, he was motivated by a recent discussion among the county board of supervisors in consideration of consolidating fire services in South County and Los Altos Hills—which Chappell feared would lead to a “hostile takeover” of the Morgan Hill Fire Department. Constantine submitted a letter to the supervisors opposing the consolidation, on behalf of the city council. But Chappell said he was bothered by what he saw as a lackluster response by Morgan Hill officials in opposing the plan, which the supervisors ultimately abandoned.
“We really need new leadership to step in and take charge that our city is not going to allow the takeover by any county agency when it comes to our public safety,” Chappell said.
Constantine, who was first elected as the city’s mayor in 2018, was the only mayoral candidate who qualified to have his name on the ballot when the qualification period ended in August. Qualifying as a write-in candidate is a separate formal process, for which the deadline was Oct. 20.
“The democratic process does not work unless people put their names in the ring,” Constantine said when asked about Chappell’s write-in candidacy. “I am all for people running for office. The voters should have choices.”
Although Constantine is not running an active re-election campaign, he has reported $3,050 worth of campaign contributions so far this year. Contributors are four area labor unions, according to his campaign disclosure reports posted on the city’s website.
Chappell said he doesn’t plan on fundraising or spending any money on his write-in campaign. He is promoting his efforts on Facebook, and this week established a page on the social media site titled “Official Candidate Steve Chappell for Mayor of Morgan Hill.”
He acknowledges he has an uphill battle to win as a write-in candidate, but either way he hopes his effort renews the voters’ faith in the democratic process.
“I’ve only pledged my sole allegiance to the residents and voters and not some (special interest group) or politically motivated campaign funding. That’s the ultimate pureness of unbridled democracy at work,” Chappell said.