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[whitespace] Mark Primack, Michael Schmidt and Mardi Wormhoudt
Clubbing: Mark Primack, Michael Schmidt and Mardi Wormhoudt debate the issues at the Rural Boony Doon Association.

Nüz

On Trial

With only two months to the March 5 election, Nüz spent the week clubbing, not, alas, at Dakota or the Blue Lagoon, but at meetings of the Santa Cruz Action Network, the Rural Boony Doon Association and Santa Cruz County Labor Unions--clubs that boast political breakdancing, instead of disco balls.

Judging from SCAN's Jan. 7 meeting, the once great progressive club has dwindled to an endorsement machine, cranking into action to bless preselected picks--with or without candidate face time.

Former Santa Cruz mayor John Laird, currently running for termed-out Fred Keeley's State Assembly seat, got 72 out of 85 votes cast. Resisting any inferences that he's a shoo-in for the seat, Laird did say that voting for him "is your chance to elect the first openly gay man to Congress."

No one was surprised when incumbent Mardi Wormhoudt got 77 votes in the race for Third District supe, but there was some concern that district attorney challenger Bob Lee, who got 50 votes, and incumbent Kate Canlis, who got one vote, weren't there to answer questions about the death penalty.

With SCAN's endorsement of Wormhoudt a foregone conclusion, Third challenger Mark Primack refused to discuss his platform, requesting instead that SCAN, "for credibility's sake," hold a democratic forum before endorsing anyone.

"I don't consider this a public forum" said Primack. SCAN steering committee member Nora Hochman promptly quashed that notion. "There'll be no other forum," she said. Primack's attack may have explained why he picked up only one vote, but insiders say the outcome would probably have been the same, even if he'd danced naked on the tabletops.

"Mark knew the meeting was pro-Mardi, he should have come prepared to debate Mike and Mardi anytime, anywhere," said one anonymity-seeking SCAN member, adding, "Mardi's problem is you don't see her out in the community. She's shielded by aides."

Wormhoudt's other challenger, Mike Schmidt, only earned five votes, after voicing his concerns about affordable housing, UCSC expansion, and his--in SCAN's eyes highly unpopular--support for Highway 1 widening.

SCAN voted no on Measure L, the campaign to repeal the utility tax; yes on Measures C and D, school parcel taxes designed to paper over cracks caused by falling enrollments (a byproduct of the housing crisis); and yes on the state parks bond measure.

Dooners ...

Two nights later, Mardi, Mark and Mike were clubbing again, this time at the Rural Bonny Doon Association, whose members fretted about pesticide use, timber harvesting--and bathroom remodels.

Once again, Primack went on the offensive, suggesting it's the County Planning Department that needs the remodel, after one Dooner complained of waiting 13 months to get a permit to remodel the interior of her bathroom.

"That's growth control in Santa Cruz County," Primack crowed. Wormhoudt ceded the department isn't user-friendly, but blamed state and federal regulations, and didn't see a Harry Potteresque solution."There is no magic wand," she said. Schmidt disagreed. "Projects like yours," he told the bathroom-challenged Dooner, "should be a slam dunk."

No endorsements were made that evening, but one RBDA member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she was glad that there finally was a choice for supervisor. "It's refreshing to hear from someone who's not in bed with the special interests that often prevail in the RBDA, someone with an overview of the housing, traffic and quality of life issues that aren't going away," she said. "For too long, the RBDA has been a special interest group masquerading as a community organization. Ironically, Mardi prides herself on being its advocate."

The next night (Jan. 10) found Nüz at a packed Cabrillo College Watsonville Center where union members, representing

grocery clerks, stagehands and city and county employees, questioned Canlis and Lee about their views on the death penalty--and watched Fourth District incumbent Tony Campos blow his chances of getting endorsed against contender Ramon Gomez.

A former Watsonville mayor and City Councilmember and owner of a successful real estate business, Campos made the audience groan and boo, when he said that at least one county clerk earns a higher salary than his own of $54,000. (Campos later told Nüz he really meant a department head, but it appears he earns $69,000 before tax.)

Meanwhile, the less-experienced Gomez, a current Watsonville City Councilmember, proclaimed his renter status, thereby winning laborers' hearts and endorsements (81 votes to Campos' eight).

County workers say they've been wary of Campos since he and two other supes cast deciding votes against the union's final offer in the most recent round of contract negotiations, only to vote to give themselves an annual raise of $3,449 for the next four years--a raise for which Wormhoudt, to her credit, did not vote.

"We are fearful we may not get [Campos'] support again when our contract expires in September," said deputy assessor Jon Chin. And Jim Heaney, building inspector and leader of the Committee of Political Education (COPE) for SEIU Local 415, said current wages for county workers constitute a disservice to the public.

"We have an incredible retention and recruitment issue," Heaney said. "When somebody gets well-trained and understands their job, they go somewhere else for more money."

Meanwhile, Lee and Canlis vied for the DA endorsement, with incumbent Canlis saying she'd be willing to enforce California's death penalty in extreme cases, but that she's personally opposed to it.

Currently a county prosecutor, Lee emphasized mismanagement in Canlis' office, playing up his image as a homegrown boy who has struggled to afford to live here like everyone else. He won the endorsement 81 to three, and though Canlis didn't win people's votes, at least she didn't get booed.

... and Uppers

Reached by telephone over the weekend, Lee said that "whether you're personally for or against the death penalty means nothing, since it's your job to enforce the law." He said he'd also only ask for the death penalty under extreme circumstances and if there was no question of guilt.

Asked if "office malcontent" was a fair description of his current role in the DA's office, Lee said, "If I've spoken up, it was because I saw injustice."

Citing an impressive list of some "complex, serious and terrible cases in our county" that he has taken over and won, Lee says the department "is losing too many trials we can win. When you don't do the basic things, then public safety is compromised," said Lee, adding that politics has led to "people being put into positions they're not qualified for."

If successful, Lee says he'd surround himself with excellence, not favorites. "Whether a person supports me or not, I'd do things based on merit. I don't have an A team and a B team, but one team. If I win, my main goal will be to get everyone in the DA's to work together."

While Canlis contends her biggest achievement has been to set up a domestic violence unit, Lee says the unit still doesn't have a great record. "They lost another case last week. We need a more professional program."

"I'm not about change for change's sake, but this one's necessary. Attorneys in the DA's office at present have an overwhelming fear of going to trial, but the recent crime wave proves that Santa Cruz County is not the safest place to be. Which is why you've got to have the most professional attorneys on the job."

Meanwhile, Canlis has been endorsed by retired state Senator Henry Mello, who praised her for reorganizing the DA's office to focus more on gang and domestic violence, and supporters emphasize her superior administrative, organizational and decision-making skills.

As with all DA races it seems, the mudslinging is beginning. Canlis detractors are eager to point the press toward the case of Alan Johnson (chief inspector for former DA Ron Ruiz), who was terminated shortly after Canlis came to power. Johnson subsequently filed wrongful termination, and rumors are flying that he already has the Civil Service Commission on his side and will be awarded a settlement of between $200,000 and $300,000--money, disgruntled insiders sniff, that could have gone to hiring more attorneys and getting a computer management system. (Johnson's case is scheduled to be discussed in closed session by the County Board of Supervisors Jan. 15. )

Meanwhile, Canlis supporters say Lee doesn't have a clue about administration, and has neither the temperament nor the character for the job. So why all the endorsements?

That, says assistant DA Don Gartner, is the legacy of the Ron Ruiz campaign.

"Even if Kate emerged as Joan of Arc, the progressives would still hate her," says Gartner. "Ruiz fulfilled their image of a career defense lawyer, a Latino, who had written books, an intellectual, whereas Kate did not. The fact she's a woman isn't even on their radar, which goes a long way to explaining why Ruiz was embraced by the political establishment. And with Ruiz's endorsement of Lee comes their vote."

The Green Party endorsed Mardi Wormhoudt at its regular monthly meeting, but Bob Lee and Ramon Gomez, while garnering over 50 percent, each fell short of the two-thirds endorsement threshold.

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From the January 16-23, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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