By Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — A contentious era in San Jose is drawing to a close as Mayor Chuck Reed is termed out. Now the battle is heating up between two men vying to be the next mayor of Northern California’s largest city.

Earlier this week, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo appeared at a mayoral candidates forum. And there was a moment when Cortese spoke to hundreds of students at Bellarmine College Prep School about making mistakes.

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“It’s OK to make a mistake,” he said. “If you turn back, correct that mistake, make amends and move on.”

After the June primary election when Cortese easily advanced to the runoff, donation checks started coming in the next day. Documents show Cortese’s campaign began receiving money on June 4.

The problem lies in Cortese’s campaign workers filed this paperwork on June 17, only then could he legally begin accepting donations. In that two week window, 18 checks came in for a total of $9,825.

When asked if it was an honest mistake, Cortese responded, “I guess so, yeah. No harm, no foul is another way to put it.”

Cortese says he has returned the checks.

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“I’m glad that the Cortese campaign returned the money after they were caught doing something illegal,” Sam Liccardo said. “But frankly people should be following the law, not wait until they get caught.”

It’s important to note, Liccardo’s campaign manager Ragan Henninger filed the complaint, a possible sign that this race is heating up.

“Fortunately, after we raised the issue, they then went back and corrected their illegal conduct,” Liccardo said. “That’s not going negative, that’s simply urging everyone to play by the rules.”

The San Jose Ethics Commission found no deliberate intent of wrongdoing on Cortese’s part, concluding “We see no purpose served by the imposition of a penalty.”

Cortese has held public office and run multiple election campaigns over the past 22 years.

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“You should always know better,” Cortese said. “Everybody should always know better 100 percent of the time. In a perfect world, you’d have a world where’s there’s never an error, never a mistake.”