At the end of last year, Leticia Cantu seemed poised to take over the District 4 Council seat as her fiancé Philip Cortez termed out. She briefly held the seat last spring while Cortez was out on Air Force Reserve training. Then, once she announced she was running, Cantu gained support from a broad range of former and current city officials, including the mayor.
Then January’s campaign finance reports came out.
Though Rey Saldaña announced his candidacy in November, the 24-year-old recent Stanford University graduate raised eyebrows when he reported just over $32,000 in campaign contributions, making him one of the most successful fundraisers in any council race, putting him roughly $100 ahead of Cantu.
“We wanted that first report to show that I was serious, that I was really going to do this,” Saldaña told the Current recently. “And I think it did.”
Saldaña, who attended Stanford on a full scholarship and earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s, first got a taste of city leadership while still in high school at South San, when he helped lead an effort dubbed “Books in the Barrio” aimed at bringing a bookstore to the Southside. “I remember it wasn’t until we had the help of our city councilman that we were able to actually accomplish that. I’d say that was the first instance where I got exposed to what a councilperson actually does and how they work,” he said.
While in college, Saldaña came back to work in state Representative Joaquin Castro’s office over two summers and spent another summer working in Cortez’s field office. One summer, instead of coming back to SA, Saldaña went to D.C. to intern with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Now Saldaña, who teaches an urban studies course at Trinity University, says the only thing he reads other than school work is the city’s budget. “I learned early on that if you’re going to be an effective council member you have to know the budget better than anyone else.”
That preparation shows. At a candidate forum last month with opponents Cantu and retired civil service worker Kathy Luna, Saldaña’s most convincing moments came whenever he brought up targeted budget figures to make his point, saying the district needs to look for creative solutions to better utilize the money D4 already gets.
Saldaña insists any suggestion that he’s too young, too inexperienced, or too busy for the council seat is bogus. “There’s this saying I love that goes something like, ‘If you want something to get done, give it to a busy person.’ I think that’s fitting.”
While versed on topics of infrastructure, stray animals, and other “quality of life” issue candidates love to tout, Saldaña says his goal is to turn District 4 into a place that attracts people like himself — the young and educated. “If you look at the district now, that would not necessarily be one that attracts a student that graduated from Harvard or Stanford. … We don’t want to lose someone who came from the district, went off to these great schools, and then doesn’t want to come back.”