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Photograph by Sarah Phelan

My Parade's in Turnaround: First Night executive direcxtor Blake Smith says this looks to be a solid year for the community event..


First Night, First Bite

Last year, it was the SANTA CRUZ PEACE COALITION that got bumped from the annual FIRST NIGHT PARADE, that whimsically wonderful procession that winds through downtown at sunset, New Year's Eve. This year, it seems to be the turn of a group representing the families of soldiers in Iraq to get nixed from the parade, which last year included twinkling unicyclers, giant sun and moon puppets, a goofy pair of eyeballs, Morris dancers, pipers and a kid's soccer team.

First Night executive director BLAKE SMITH (who last year had the unenviable task of telling outraged peace activists that "Peace itself, these days, is a political message") says that this year he's had lots of calls in support of the soldiers-in-Iraq group, but tells all groups that want to march that First Night's mission is to "unite the community."

"It's not a venue for political proselytizing," says Smith, adding that organizers of other First Nights were "dumbfounded" when he asked them what they do to resolve such dilemmas.

"They'd never confronted these kind of issues. I guess everyone in Santa Cruz is a leader not a follower, which is why we love this town."

So what will we see in the parade?

"Lots of river critters," says Smith, explaining that this year's theme is "Rivers of Life," a theme that's been generating a lot of buzz.

" I really think this is our turnaround year," says Smith, who just sent out a letter asking the community and First Night fans to raise $15,000.

"The event itself is not in jeopardy," says Smith, whose nonprofit has already raised $40,000 to help cover the costs of providing an arts programs for kids, showcasing local artists and creating a safe, secure downtown. Noting that sponsorships start as low as $250, and that First Night is throwing a Dec. 1 preview party at THE ATTIC to showcase this year's talent and reach out to the business community, Smith notes that people can give auction items to the preview party, or donate funds and/or time to First Night by visiting www.firstnightsc.com. What better way to entertain family/visitors on New Year's Eve than buying First Night buttons and coming downtown?

Changing of the Guard

In his long and colorful career on the Santa Cruz City Council, MIKE ROTKIN has been called "Marxist Mike," "The Conservative Councilmember" and even "Recycled Rotten Rotkin." And by the time you read this column, chances are he'll have made local history by becoming the first person to be mayor of the Cruz for the fourth time, thus living up to another nickname of his--"El Presidente."

"I don't want to jinx my chances, but my being elected should be the case, if people follow the tradition of voting for the top vote-getter in the previous election," said Rotkin, reached by phone last week.

Asked to describe what Santa Cruz mayors do beyond giving out keys to the city, Rotkin listed a whole bunch of functions that he says add up to "an exalted traffic manager," thanks to a city charter model that keeps the mayor's real power "weak."

That said, the job adds up to a lot of time, and Rotkin credits the fact that he only sleeps five hours each night for enabling him to do it plus hold a full-time job at UCSC as a community studies lecturer.

"No one runs for City Council to make a lot of money. They do it because they care about the local community. And because they want to spend money on programs or projects they think worthwhile, though there hasn't been much opportunity to do that in recent years," he says, referring to the city's ongoing budget crisis.

Though that crisis forced the outgoing council to make tough cuts and fund revenue-generating projects, Rotkin doesn't think support of the Coast Hotel project cost former Mayor SCOTT KENNEDY and Councilmember MARK PRIMACK their seats.

"That notion is a misperception," says Rotkin, who by studying changes in precinct returns between the 2000 and 2004 elections has concluded that factors like walking precincts, not being in town for part of the pre-election season, supporting a development at Cardiff Place and not supporting rent control at the local mobile-home parks "were far more significant."

"Real politics happens between elections," says Rotkin, who recommends Democrats across the nation start developing grassroots organizations, if they hope to win next time around.

"Daunting as the task may be in the Midwest, and depressed as Democrats may be in the short term, people should take heart that there are plenty of ways to appeal to voters' values, Christian or otherwise, such as tolerance, without them having to change their core beliefs," says the man most likely to have become mayor.

Electioneering Update

Following our Nüzlet about a pro-life-stickered van parked outside the ST. JOSEPH'S polling station (Nüz, Nov. 17), we got a call from the van's driver, who said, "Yes, I have those stickers on my van and I'm proud of it, but I didn't go in there to change people's vote. I went in to vote. As soon as I was notified of the problem, I moved my van."

We hear you, man, and we're sure there's a whole bunch of Cruzans who likewise didn't know the rules, and may have parked vans, cars and bicycles plastered with "Buck Fush," "Support Our Oops!" in front of polling stations. We just didn't get to hear about them, which may have something to do with the fact that 72. 8 percent of this county voted for the Kerry/Edwards ticket.

While We Were Sleeping

Meanwhile, anti-choicers everywhere will be happy to learn that over the weekend Congress approved a $338 billion spending measure, which included a potentially far-reaching antiabortion provision that would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health-care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics or insurers, that refuse to provide or pay for abortions, or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Though the provision would affect millions of women, it didn't get nearly as much media play as the provision that would allow House and Senate committee members access to people's tax returns. Apparently, the bill won't be sent to Bush until the House adopts a Senate resolution that eliminates, you guessed it, the tax return provision.

Call for Entries

THE SANTA CRUZ FILM FESTIVAL announces its call for entries for its fourth fest (May 5-13, 2005), whose theme is "International Cine." Submission deadline is Feb. 1, 2005. Entry forms/guidelines are at www.santacruzfilmfestival.com. Call 831.459.7676. Email [email protected], or [email protected], or [email protected], or send snailmail to Santa Cruz Film Festival, 312 Seabright Ave.; 95062.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the November 24-December 1, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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