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In a town where people live and breathe politics, City Council candidates grapple with how best to run a campaign

By Sarah Phelan

In Santa Cruz, locals take politics as seriously as they take their surfing, meaning that only candidates who know their stuff need apply come election time.

Take this year's City Council race. Four of the seven candidates vying for four seats already sit on the council. But though political wisdom has it that incumbents always have the upper edge, two of this season's crop of challengers are themselves experienced campaigners, despite both being only 30 years old.

Yes, fresh-faced looks notwithstanding, challengers Ryan Coonerty and Tony Madrigal have raked in bunches of endorsements and large chunks of change. So far, Coonerty reports $29,884.43, while Madrigal reports $17,376.00, making them the top two fundraisers in the Santa Cruz council race. And that has allowed them to put some serious money toward plastering the town with that most important of political accessories--the campaign yard sign.

So if winning was simply a matter of funding and signage, then Coonerty and Madrigal would both be shoo-ins. But let us not forget the design of the sign, a factor that should never be underestimated in the town that has never gotten over the lame River Street Sign, and still loves to talk about how it hasn't. You've got to wonder if the River Street Sign fiasco explains why a yellow and blue color combo hasn't popped up in any of this season's signs. Or are candidates avoiding the city's other blue and yellow giant, UCSC?

Whatever the reason, all seven candidates managed to come up with distinctly different signage, although so far we've only spotted fellow challenger Mark Fogel's signs stuck up on telephone poles (Fogel says his signs have been torn down on the West Side).

Incumbent Emily Reilly scores political savvy points for combining her bakery logo with the word "re-elect" (which, unlike Dubya, she can use with equanimity). Ed Porter scores geek points for incorporating his mug shot and website, while Mayor Scott Kennedy scores style points for simply keeping it simple. Last (to post any signs) but not least, Mark Primack traded his ill-fated black and yellow county supe signage (which reminded some of crime scene tape) for a red and green landscape, which even includes a house.

To help you deconstruct the platforms behind all this signage, we present brief candidate cameos, including the return of our patented sign visibility rating system, which works on a scale of 1 to 4, thusly:

4: Resistance is futile.

3. We've seen them around.

2. We saw one stuck on a telephone pole.

1. Dude, where's your sign?

Bookseller, lawyer, UCSC lecturer

PLATFORM: Born and raised here, where his family owns Bookshop Santa Cruz, Coonerty is a seasoned pro on the issues, especially as they affect young people and locally owned business. Involved in the Yes on Prop 1 campaign, which he says will help protect locally generated revenues, Coonerty cites maintaining livable neighborhoods and affordable housing as his main incentives to run.

Promising to listen and proactively lead to create a stable economic base, so people can live and work here, Coonerty says it's not OK for Santa Cruz to become a commuter or retirement community.

Believing the West Side to be the economic future of Santa Cruz, he hopes to create life/work housing zones that will "grow small local businesses without impacting the quality of life of neighborhoods."

Opposed to Measure J, the highway widening sales tax initiative on this November's ballot, which he calls "too expensive, too inconvenient and a misuse of funds," Coonerty supports building the rail-trail and acquiring the rail corridor. A believer in increasing the minimum wage, protecting and preserving the environment, encouraging affordable housing, and fostering social justice, Coonerty says he has a 40-year, not a four-year, plan, based on economic and cultural sustainability.

HANDY QUOTE: "This is too small a town to shut people out of the process."

FOLLOW THE MONEY: $29,884.43 in contributions, as of Oct. 5

KEY ENDORSEMENTS: Beach Flats Neighborhood Association, Democratic Women's Club, GLBT Alliance, Locally Owned Business Alliance, People's Democratic Club, People Power, Katherine Beiers, Fred Keeley, Mike Rotkin, Fred Keeley, Mardi Wormhoudt

ONLINE: Bilingual statement at www.votescount.com

CONTACT INFORMATION: www.ryancoonerty.com; call 831.423.8939


Specialty painting contractor

PLATFORM: A relative novice on the political scene, Fogel cites "a cynical and arrogant attitude among some city leaders, a complete lack of fiscal responsibility, anti-business policies and far too much tolerance for transients" as his main reasons for running. A proponent of what he calls "family values," Fogel is against "socially engineering housing stock" and increasing the minimum wage.

Asked what he'd do to create jobs, Fogel says he doesn't see that it's the role of government to do that. "Let's unburden businesses and let the entrepreneurs create jobs," says Fogel, who advocates using volunteers wherever possible, offering tax incentives to business and property owners and eliminating the utility tax." He also believes that UCSC acquiring more property is the "wrong direction, since that takes tax away and enlarges state control."

Fogel refuses to give an opinion on Measure J, arguing that the highway widening decision is not for the City Council to make.

HANDY QUOTE: "I'm the guy who doesn't think like everyone else who's running."

FOLLOW THE MONEY: $1,217 received (as of Oct. 5)

KEY ENDORSEMENTS: No endorsements from political groups, which Fogel dismisses as "mostly left of center." Instead, he says he's endorsed by "individuals who are sick of progressives."

ONLINE: Statement at city's website: www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us

CONTACT INFORMATION: [email protected]; call 831.251.8405


Incumbent mayor of Santa Cruz

PLATFORM: First elected in 1990, and again in 1994, Kennedy was on the council during both its post-earthquake recovery and its dotcom days. Acknowledging that the political climate is very different today, Kennedy credits the current council for having built "a really strong coalition in which no one suffers the illusion that we can spend money on things we like." A supporter of the living wage, boosting the economy, saving jobs and preserving services for the public, Kennedy champions a union-built Coast Hotel/Conference Center and supports the idea of a parking structure at the base of Bay Street that UCSC could also use. Opposed to an eastern access road through the Pogonip, Kennedy says gondolas may sound fanciful, but could move huge numbers of people. A supporter of rail trail acquisition as "a second transportation corridor for our grandchildren," but aware that "half the county favors highway widening," Kennedy opposes Measure J, calling for a compromise that advances everybody's goals.

"The take-no-prisoners approach of highway advocates lost the backing of the rail supporters and was a huge missed opportunity," he says. Worried about unaffordable housing, increasing gentrification and recent school closures, Kennedy recommends high density housing near schools, and supports mixed residential/retail plans for the city's industrial lands on the West Side and a desalinization plant at Terrace Point.

HANDY QUOTE: "Politics should not be about sticking your finger in the other person's eye."

FOLLOW THE MONEY: $15,428.60 received

KEY ENDORSEMENTS: Locally Owned Business Alliance, SEIU, Central Labor Council, Santa Cruz City Firefighters IAFF 1716 and the GLBT alliance

ONLINE: Bilingual candidate statement at www.votescount.com, website at www.kennedy4council.info

CONTACT INFORMATION: [email protected]; call 831.457.8003


Union representative/organizer

PLATFORM: Born in the Central Valley and raised as a farmworker, Madrigal has the bilingual, bicultural edge over his fellow candidates. Focused on improving the economy, building affordable housing, creating local jobs and extending outreach to youth and seniors, Madrigal wants to increase the living wage and create goods and services for university and tourist populations, but not ones that harm the environment. A supporter of mixed use, research and development jobs in the city's industrial lands, he says the city needs a serious dialogue about what we're going to say yes to. "Will 100 new jobs displace 50 old ones, and will the net gain be significant enough?" asks Madrigal, who promises to keep the conversation going with UCSC, "because without a dialogue, there's no room for progress."

Opposed to spending local tax dollars on highway widening, which he sees as an environmental justice issue, Madrigal supports the rail trail.

HANDY QUOTE: "I'm for the grassroots, not the deep pockets."

FOLLOW THE MONEY: $17,376.00

KEY ENDORSEMENTS: Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers Union, Mike Rotkin, Tim Fitzmaurice, Mardi Wormhoudt, Celia Scott, Judy Warner, SEIU, Central Labor Council, the GLBT Alliance

ONLINE: Bilingual statement at www.votescountcom

CONTACT INFORMATION: [email protected]; call 831.295.2518


Incumbent, high school teacher

PLATFORM: Proud of his record--which he says shows he stayed true to the city's core values even in difficult financial times, and helped create more affordable housing than was available before he was elected--Porter says the budget crisis is his main concern today, which to his mind means doing everything possible to increase revenue and cut costs. Worried about UCSC's growth and how it affects the city, he champions alternative methods to get students up to campus, including gondolas, cogwheel railroads and Personal Rapid Transit. A firm believer in a regional approach to transportation, Porter is, however, opposed to Measure J, the highway widening initiative. He blames the county's Regional Transportation Commission for "flipping into a high level of dysfunctionality and betrayal via its refusal to spend Prop. 116 funds on the rail trail---a move that may cost it $11 million. Supportive of efforts to increase the minimum wage, and create incubator and high-tech businesses connected with UCSC, he opposes big box stores on the city's industrial lands, and looks forward to revisiting the general plan to make decisions that "don't sell out businesses already here." A key player in the move to revamp downtown ordinances, which Porter admits annoyed some of his supporters, Porter now wants to address the music issue in a proactive way, and reconsider current permitting requirements.

HANDY QUOTE: "We had the potential to have a serious coastal transport system that would remove people from the highway. Instead we have political bickering."


KEY ENDORSEMENTS: People's Democratic Club, Green Party, Santa Cruz Action Network, SEIU Local 415, Santa Cruz-Monterey Central Labor Council, Building and Construction Trades Council of Monterey/Santa Cruz Counties, Sierra Club, People Power, GLBT Alliance, BAYMEC, Nueva Vista Tenant's Association, Tim Fitzmaurice, Chris Krohn, Mike Rotkin, Mardi Wormhoudt

ONLINE: Bilingual statement at www.votescount.com, or visit his website at www.EdPorter2004.com

CONTACT INFORMATION: [email protected]; call 831.427.0836


Incumbent, architect

PLATFORM: Primack served on the city's zoning board for 11 years, and is the council's indisputable housing expert. Focused on housing and planning issues, having led the city's push to promote SRO, ADUs and high occupancy housing downtown, he's currently interested in creating a successful mix of live/work units on the West Side, and notes that the General Plan and the city's zoning ordinances are often at cross purposes. An advocate of keeping schools open in neighborhoods that support high density, Primack says the current budget crisis means "a need for increased cooperation with local businesses." But while he notes that clarity is important to people in business, Primack remains fuzzy on his support for a raise in minimum wage. "You must look at the whole picture. Wages alone mean nothing," he explains. A supporter of the Coast Hotel and parking structure at the end of Bay Street, with UCSC participating in the cost, Primack believes that Measure J is "sabotaged, set up to lose and not well thought out, since efforts to give it flexibility were shut down." That said, Primack see the upcoming vote on J as a "countywide referendum on whether we need to get serious about surface transportation," but dismisses the idea of a tourist coastal trolley as "a joke."

HANDY QUOTE: "Why aren't garages optional? Why are we forcing people to build accommodation for cars when can't afford to house ourselves? We want to discourage use of cars, live close to work, yet we throw up these prohibitive conditions."


ENDORSEMENTS: Locally Owned Business Alliance, Santa Cruz/Monterey Counties Building Trades Council, Joe Simitian, Mike Rotkin, Cynthia Mathews, Ellen Pirie, Tony Campos, Cece Pinheiro, Santa Cruz City School Board member John Collins

ONLINE: Bilingual statement at www.votescount.com, or visit www.markprimack.com

CONTACT INFORMATION: [email protected]; call 831.423.9308


Incumbent, bakery owner/operator

PLATFORM: The top vote-getter in 2000, Reilly is proud that on her first watch on the council, 1,000 housing units have been built, 25 percent of which are affordable. As the owner of Emily's Bakery, Reilly says it's her goal to bridge the gap between small business and government, as well as protect the environment. "I grew up in a steel mill town and have seen what happens in the absence of environmental protection. It's important to continue to plan carefully for intelligent growth. We could densify, but destroy integrity, and still not be affordable," says Reilly, who promises to work hard to protect the Pogonip and Neary Lagoon and create a sustainable vision for the industrial lands on the West Side, and find creative ways for the city to get more revenue. Cautiously optimistic about the Coast Hotel project, excited about the Art Center at the Salz tannery, which she sees as "a fabulous way to promote cultural tourism," Reilly hopes to create more jobs through "keeping the long view, intelligent planning, sustainable business practices and paying the best wage possible." Reilly believes we need to change how we get around, "by driving the speed limit, improving the bus system, providing more opportunities to live close to our work, creating a shuttle around town and pursuing new technologies like personal rapid transit." Opposed to the highway widening sales tax initiative as proposed in Measure J--"It's expensive to ask people to tie up sales tax for the next 30 years, to pay for a project whose cost, environmental impacts and duration remains unknown"--Reilly says purchasing the railroad right of way is a top priority.

HANDY QUOTE: "We should focus on moving people, not cars."


KEY ENDORSEMENTS: Central Labor Council, SEIU Local 415, United Transitworkers Union, Nueva Vista Tenant's Association, SCAN, GLBT Alliance, Baymec, LOBA, People's Democratic Club, Democratic Women's Club, Green Party

ONLINE: Bilingual statement at www.votescount.com

CONTACT INFORMATION: [email protected]; call 831.429.2228 or 831.423.4795


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From the October 20-27, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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