Patricia Dando, former vice mayor and civic advocate, dies

SAN JOSE — Former councilwoman and head of the chamber of commerce Patricia Dando was remembered Monday by colleagues, political leaders and close friends as a fierce and fearless advocate who never stopped working.

Dando, 71, died Sunday night of lung cancer.

“If she saw a problem, she wanted to solve it. If she saw a need in the community, she wanted to fill it,” said consultant Erik Schoennauer, who worked as Dando’s chief of staff for five years and ran her political campaigns. “And she would not stop until she got results — she certainly never took no for an answer.

“It was not uncommon to get a phone call at six in the morning or at midnight because she had an idea about a new policy we could initiate or wanted to make sure projects were getting done,” Schoennauer added.

While the political community reflects on Dando’s civic accomplishments, her family remembers her as a dedicated mom, wife and grandmother. Dando leaves behind three kids and nine grandchildren who called her “teeto.”

“Most people only know the public side of my mom, but if you asked her what her biggest accomplishment was — she would say her greatest accomplishment was her husband and family,” said daughter Lesa Triolo. “She was a great wife, a great mom and a great grandma.”

Dando got her political start working for former Mayor Tom McEnery during his second term from 1987 to 1991. She then worked for the city’s redevelopment agency for three years before running for the city’s District 10 council seat in a special election.

Dando served 10 years on the San Jose City Council beginning in 1995, and was vice mayor for two years during the administration of former Mayor Ron Gonzales. Dando unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Gonzales in 1998 — losing by a razor-thin margin.

“I found her to be a formidable opponent, but I was always pleased that we could develop a working relationship soon after the election was over and I became mayor,” Gonzales said. “She was a dedicated public servant and very supportive vice mayor.”

McEnery credits Dando for spearheading a successful 1988 campaign to finance the construction of what eventually became HP Pavilion, now the SAP Center, and home to the San Jose Sharks. Dando took a leave from McEnery’s office to run the campaign.

Courtesy Pat Dando -- Picture is former San Jose vice-mayor Pat Dando, former president and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Courtesy Pat Dando — Picture is former San Jose vice-mayor Pat Dando, former president and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. 

“If you look at what she accomplished in her tenure — she came very close to being elected mayor when nobody gave her a chance,” McEnery said. “But the things she accomplished were as significant as most mayors.”

The arena brought significant revenue and life to downtown, city officials said. In a 2008 interview about the arena’s 20th anniversary, Dando said, “That vote has had a huge impact on the way San Jose feels about itself.”

After leaving the City Council in 2005, Dando served a stint with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a local government liaison before joining the chamber of commerce, now called “the silicon valley organization.” After serving as president for six years, Dando retired but remained active in Silicon Valley politics, advocacy and public policy.

William Baron, a partner at Brandenburg Properties, led the business group’s effort to name Dando as chamber president. He said Monday Dando was “pleasant, gracious and honest while principled, fearless and tenacious.”

Dando suffered a stroke in 2001. After learning that the emergency medical response system in Santa Clara County didn’t have a single certified stroke center, she co-founded the Stroke Awareness Foundation the following year with Chuck Toeniskoetter and Chuck Hoffman.

The Stroke Awareness Foundation has been successful in getting more stroke centers in Santa Clara County than any county in the U.S.

“Pat was a great leader, a great person and role model in how she conducted herself in politics,” said former Mayor Chuck Reed. “The policy and politics are less important than the person — and she was just a great person.”

Dando, who was supported by business leaders, is remembered as one of the most conservative city council members. But that didn’t stop her from making friends on the other side of the political aisle — with labor leaders — and listening closely to political opponents, even if she didn’t agree.

“When she was running for office, she always came to labor to be interviewed. She knew she would never get their endorsement but she went and spoke and made her case respectfully,” said Terry Christensen, a political observer and professor emeritus at San Jose State University.

“It humanized her,” Christensen continued. “She wasn’t the evil opponent — she was someone they could talk to even if there was disagreement.”

Memorial services for Dando have not yet been announced.