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12.10.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

A bridge-building moment in Watsonville politics meets something less than euphoria.

A Vote for Peace

Just because an Obama moment happens doesn't mean everyone's happy about it. One person's "reaching across the aisle" is another person's "selling out." Case in point: last Thursday's Watsonville City Council vote for the city's next mayor. Large groups of supporters had turned out for Councilmember Luis Alejo, including his immediate family and the Brown Berets, to advocate for another year with Mayor Kimberly Petersen in charge and Alejo as her new vice mayor. "She's a female role model," said Ruth Alejo, Luis Alejo's sister, speaking of Petersen during the public comment period. "She touches every heart." Others hailed Petersen as a "bridge builder.

"But the partylike atmosphere screeched to a halt when Councilmember Greg Caput nominated District 7 conservative Dale Skillicorn. "I believe this is a flawed process," he declared. "We're talking also about experience."

In the end, the progressive Petersen won votes only from Manuel Bersamin and Alejo--the two other reliably progressive votes on the council--and moderate Antonio Rivas, who's served as vice mayor for the last year, was voted into the office.

Undeterred, Alejo's supporters soldiered on, asking that Alejo be voted in as vice mayor. His parents lauded his achievements in high school wrestling and his returning to Watsonville after graduating from Harvard. Resident Elias Alonzo said solemnly, "I've seen many councilmembers go by. I've been waiting for Luis Alejo. "

Caput jumped in. "I'm not up here to be a nice guy," he said. "I'm here to do what's best for Watsonville. Dale Skillicorn's time has come." Following that, Petersen, Rivas and Bersamin made comments that seemed to indicate all three would vote for Alejo. But then Petersen suddenly raised her hand to be recognized again. "I'm having a hard time here," she said haltingly. "I have a lot in common with Luis and Manuel. But maybe we need to buck some of the past divisiveness." Someone in the audience actually gasped.

"I have to wonder if we're missing an opportunity here as a city," she said, "to do as Obama has done, actually--enemies become allies. Maybe we need to give that a shot." Bersamin nominated Alejo with no second. As soon as Skillicorn had clinched the vote, the Alejo family stood angrily and began to leave, along with much of the audience. "Mom--Ruth, please stay," said Alejo from the dais. "That's the way politics works, you know?" Alejo thanked his supporters, who trickled out into the night gathering in whispering clumps outside the council chambers. Petersen closed the meeting, saying, "I know some people are not very happy about my vote tonight. But I hope you understand the intent."


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