Barbadillo is back.
I met the pragmatist in his law office last Monday. I walked in and was shocked to see that during the pandemic lockdown period, the former Milpitas City Councilmember had somehow managed to make himself look 20 years younger. “Look who it is,” I said, eyes widening, then squinting with confusion.
It turned out it wasn’t Garry Barbadillo. It was his younger brother, Freddy Barbadillo, out there manning the front desk.
Garry himself walked out a moment later. He, too, looked young enough, just not as young as Freddy. I remarked that the two of them could be twins. Garry corrected me that he was the better looking one.
Barbadillo reminds me of a past time on the Milpitas City Council. He’d sit up there sneering like an irritated Jimmy Smits, all but rolling his eyes at the pace and reasoning of those around him. Which is not to say he’s unpleasant; he’s known for being nice. But what his supporters appreciated most about him was his commitment to facts and research – his lawyerly fidelity to the truth, above matters of partisanship or cronyism.
Now he’s running again. His kids are off in college, studying Nursing (son) and Philosophy & Political Science (daughter). In reverse-gender formation, they’re taking after their parents: Garry’s wife Vilma is a nurse (“I’m proud of her,” he says, noting how she was among the healthcare frontliners dispatched to administer COVID vaccines). Garry himself: the philosopher and political scientist.
He works in Civil & Family Law. I asked why he’s running. He said that to answer that “I have to go with history…”
He started off as a Commissioner, back in 2012, as a newcomer to Milpitas. He sat on Parks and Recreation as well as Planning. His thought process was, Why not do something not only for the family, but also for the community?
When he won his City Council seat in 2014 (placing 2nd in the race behind Carmen Montano), he considered it a temporary state of affairs: if the people wanted him to stay, he’d stay. Come ‘18, he lost, coming in behind Montano again (1st) and Karina Dominguez (2nd).
While away, he participated silently from the sidelines, feeling he might add value whether or not anyone was watching. His mentality was to try and do what was best for Milpitas. He cites a couple basic ways in which people and families can make contributions: “Don’t do drugs, no littering…” Sometimes, if asked to, he’d advise those who were in power, but for the time being, the private sector was his primary sphere.
As he runs again, he explains, “You don’t decide for any other reason than what you believe is good.”
He points to his voting record. He says he decided on the facts and needs at hand, no matter where his colleagues stood or what third-party interests or developers were in play. He admits that his choices weren’t always popular, but he adds that he always considered the greater good.
“My life purpose,” he explains, “is being a dad and a husband. Being a family man, and fulfilling the American dream of an immigrant like me…Once you have reached a certain stability in your personal life, now you go out: you hope to spread that, not only as inspiration, but also a tool to help other families…”
Barbadillo moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in his late 20s. He worked at Target and Pay Less, waited tables in Los Gatos. Eventually, having studied law back home, he got a job with Santa Clara County, working as a courtroom clerk at the Hall of Justice.
But as he says now, “The dream never died.”
He wanted to have his own law practice. In ‘07, he asked his court manager if he could take time off to go study for the Bar Exam. The manager wouldn’t let him have it. In ‘08, he asked again, but got the same response.
He shares, “I had a come to Jesus, heart-to-heart talk with my wife.” He told her he was getting old – that his memory when it came to reading and memorizing things was getting worse. “If I quit my job,” he asked her, “will you be able to support me?”
He was around 30 years old.
Vilma said she’d support him. He self-studied for the bar. Bought his review materials on eBay. Pulled late nights at Santa Clara County Library, often staying there past midnight. If he failed the bar, he might not have a way forward; his job wouldn’t necessarily take him back.
But in July of ‘08, he took the exam and passed.
As for Barbadillo’s interest in public service: “It stems from my dad.”
His parents came to the states in 2005. His dad had worked in the Philippines as a provincial officer for a department called Environment and Natural Resources, attending to logging and other nature-based concerns.
“I grew up with his principles that you have to protect the place where you live in. You have to protect natural resources.”
So does this mean Barbadillo’s a flag-waving Democrat?
He squints when he thinks about it. “I believe,” he says, “I am a registered Republican…”
He doesn’t seem to know, though, and furthermore, he doesn’t seem to care. When he became a citizen, back near ‘08, he was walking in a mall one day with his wife when they came upon a little booth. He thought it was a place where he could register to vote. He beamed with excitement! But unwittingly, he signed up to be a Republican.
However, as of now, he doesn’t think he’s still on the list of Republicans in Santa Clara, as he doesn’t get their emails or their mailers.
Anyway, it’s an afterthought. Says Barbadillo, “I vote based on what I believe in.”
What does he believe in?
Sustainable energy, as expected. He was proud to see Milpitas given the Smart 50 Award, and he wishes to keep pushing the city in that direction. He’s also concerned about the pandemic, as well as mental health issues (namely for seniors) stemming from it. With his parents, both in their 70s, living with him, he says, “I was stricter than Fauci.”
Barbadillo also seeks to tackle homelessness, which he views as “not just as a city problem.” He says the City, County, and State need cross-cooperation: “We just need to work together.”
Even though he gets his passion for public service from his father, he’s the first Barbadillo to have served in public office. Given his daughter’s major, maybe she’ll follow someday. But that’s something to ponder down the road. In the meantime, the near future is calling.
Garry Barbadillo has his sights set on November.