In 2006 newly elected Mayor Steve Tate stood at the groundbreaking ceremony of Morgan Hill’s soon-to-be library and told the crowd he was so excited he could jump up and click his heels—and then he tried.
For those who see Tate only at council meetings, where he is a reserved and respectful listener to the public he serves, the heel-clicking attempt may come as a surprise. But for the people who have served alongside Tate and known him well his past 12 years as mayor, this is just a tangible example of Tate being “Morgan Hill’s cheerleader,” as they like to call him.
After December, for the first time in nearly three decades, the city’s cheerleader will no longer be holding public office.
Tate moved to Morgan Hill with his wife Jennifer in 1977. He served on the planning commission for seven years before graduating to elected office as a two-term councilmember. For the past 12 years, Tate has served as mayor.
It’s safe to say many residents might not know a Morgan Hill without a Mayor Tate. An undoubtedly popular mayor, Tate has been elected six times to his two-year seat, but he still can’t point to any one thing he has done to gain that level of popularity.
Notoriously humble, Tate credits a competent council and highly qualified city managers for the booming success the city has seen in recent years.
While campaigning for his last election in 2016, Tate pledged he would not to run again. Although he believes he still has it in him to lead the city, he thinks now is the time to pass the proverbial torch.
Tate told the Times,“I love the city, I love the job. I think it’s time to leave it to somebody else.”
Although he had previously endorsed Greg Sellers, a mayoral candidate and friend who had served alongside Tate when the two were newly elected council members, Tate has stepped up to support Rich Constantine since he was elected in the Nov. 6 election.
Constantine has served as a council member for nearly eight years under Tate’s mayorship. The two appeared at Tate’s final “Coffee with the Mayor” at BookSmart in Morgan Hill on Nov. 10.
The monthly coffees have been a staple of Tate’s tenure as mayor. The informal sessions allow time for him to answer questions from the community and do what those around him continuously say he is best at: listening.
“The coffees have been helpful,” said Tate, “to come and have an exchange where other people can chime in, too.”
Whether it’s listening to constituents or council members, those who have worked with Tate while he’s been mayor all praise his ability to listen to all sides of an argument and make a decision. Although he admits to wishing council meetings were occasionally shorter, Tate is noticeably present at the meetings, always encouraging constituents and council members to ask questions and share their point of view.
Councilmember Larry Carr, who has a long personal history with the Tate family and has served on the city council for all 12 years Tate has been mayor, said listening has always been central to Tate’s philosophy of service.
“He starts from a perspective of ‘I’m going to learn,’” Carr said.
Carr believes that Tate’s quiet, methodical approach to public service has helped to build strong public policy while allowing all viewpoints to be heard.
If you ask Tate what his biggest accomplishment is as mayor, he won’t say navigating the city through a major economic downturn or seeing the Morgan Hill through the growth of a thriving downtown. He will tell you, “The three city managers that we hired in my tenure.” He’s referring to Ed Tewes, Steve Rymer and the current city manager, Christina Turner, who were hired while Tate served on the council as a member and as mayor.
Consistently modest, Tate won’t take credit for the economic success of the city he has helped to run for nearly three decades. “The downtown is getting all of the focus and all of the acclaim right now, so I’ll probably get associated with that,” said Tate. “I had a lot to do with it, but it was the entire council that really made it work.”
It’s the library that Tate got so excited about all of those years ago that he hopes will be his legacy to the city. He has served on the library joint powers authority for Santa Clara County since he took office in 1998 and led two campaigns to continue the parcel tax for the library.
“I just love libraries,” said Tate.”I just think they’re the heart of the community.”
The passions he has cultivated during his time on the council won’t be entirely put aside after Tate ends his time of public service. Sitting in an office full of memorabilia acquired over years of working for the city he loves, he can’t imagine abandoning that altogether. Although he says he will only show up at a council meeting if he truly feels it is necessary, he does hope to continue working on committees that serve the community.
Carr credits Tate’s service and passions as a leader in helping to cultivate the essence of Morgan Hill. “He helped us to understand and appreciate the feeling of Morgan Hill,” said Carr.
It is that not-quite-tangible feeling that Tate believes makes the city such a special place. Although he says he has never heard a completely accurate description of all that feeling encompasses, he still tries to put it into words.
“What they talk about is how everybody comes out on the Fourth of July, how everybody supports neighbors and smiles at each other rather than looking away when you pass each other,” said Tate.
What he loves most about Morgan Hill? “Everything.