Why does no one want to run for office in Santa Cruz? Future leaders likely lack experience

Election 2022: Santa Cruz County

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In the June elections, voters in Santa Cruz City created a new electoral system that divides the city into six neighborhood districts. In November, voters will elect – for the first time – an extraordinary mayor for a four-year term.

mike rotkin

This mayor will always be “weak” because our new mayor will not have a dedicated personal budget or staff, as mayors do in “strong mayor cities” like Oakland and Fresno.

This autumn, council voters will also fill two of the new district seats and elect a mayor. The first interesting thing to note is the scarcity of candidates in all races. One of the open council seats has two candidates, while the other has four candidates. This is a sharp drop from the large number of candidates – often more than eight to 12 – who previously ran in general elections.

The city instituted district elections for this fall due to a lawsuit arguing that such elections would increase voter turnout, citizen involvement, and the number of diverse council members.

None of this seems to be the case. So far, anyway.

Only one Latino candidate, Hector Marin, and only one woman, Renée Golder, are in the running. All other candidates in the November elections are white men.

Part of the problem with attracting a more diverse candidate pool is that Santa Cruz does not have a district with a sufficient number of registered Latino voters to create a critical mass from which many Latino candidates could emerge. Of course, more racially diverse candidates may emerge without a critical mass of like-minded voters, as they have in the past, but they no longer seem likely to do so due to the new electoral system. district.

In 2024, the remaining four districts will elect new council members.

This change will certainly bring a radically new dynamic to city policy.

It also creates questions about who will show up.

The annual salary for the position of mayor is $27,000. It is essentially a thankless, “weak” position, without staff support and poorly paid.

Compare that to the city manager, who gets $266,000 a year or $22,167 a month.

How will the city attract high caliber mayoral candidates with such poor job descriptions and pay?

In addition to low pay, we increasingly face a world in which public servants often face less than civil responses and actions – including protests outside their homes — voters.

It’s no coincidence that a growing number of Santa Cruz council members are deciding not to run for a second term and that none of them – or any former council member or former mayor – has chosen to to run for mayor.

It is increasingly thankless work.

On the other hand, the cost of running for a district election targeted at a small number of voters will be lower than it has been for a citywide election. Candidates will have to raise less money. This will make it easier for new applicants with less track records and low-income applicants to apply.

Paying council members and the mayor is not a new problem.

Fifty years ago, the function of council and mayor was considered a part-time activity. During my first 10 years on council (from 1979) and during my first two terms as mayor, council members received $50 per month and the mayor received $100 per month. Council members who took their jobs seriously, like most of them, averaged about 20 hours a week, and the position of mayor, which rotated each year, typically required more than 40 hours a week.

Consequently, most were either retired self-employed businessmen or relatively well-paid professionals who could afford to adjust their schedules to perform this public service on a part-time basis – or simply endure a tenure of one-year mayor. Given the economics of race in the United States, it’s not surprising – if I remember correctly – that almost all applicants are white.

That dynamic didn’t change significantly when Santa Cruz voters twice raised city service pay to the current $1 level.,250 per month for council members and $2,250 for the mayor. With few exceptions, it still wasn’t an attractive or even affordable opportunity for most blue-collar or service workers. And given the demographics of people who hold various positions in the workforce, the council tended to have older members relative to the average age of citizens and voters.

What is perhaps even more concerning, at least in the past, is that it was very difficult for most junior employees to squeeze four or eight years out of their public service career when it was not There was certainly no guarantee that they could return to their old jobs or retain their seniority if they did.

Both of these dynamics could change.

Fewer members of the workforce expect to have an uninterrupted career with one employer. Given the downward mobility and reduced real wages of much of the working class in the United States since 1970, a surprising number of young people might now consider a board member’s salary of $1,250 a month to be an acceptable wage for part-time work, even if it is well below what most of us would consider a living wage.

This might begin to explain why two of the four candidates for District 4 council seat – Hector Marin and Bodie Shargel – are either in college or fresh out of college (Shargel is a 19-year-old music student at UC Santa Cruz) and have political and service resumes compared to former board members.

Of the six people in the running, only Golder has ever held elected office. Sean Maxwell, who is running against Golder, is a carpenter who runs Cornerstone Construction. He has served on the planning commission since 2020, but was never elected by voters.

When I was first elected to city council in 1979, there were 18 other candidates. I was considered a kind of surprising and unknown upstart because I had never served in any public office or even on any city council or commission. However, I taught at UCSC for 10 years, was elected to the executive committee of the Central Labor Council for 10 years, was president of two large non-profit organizations, and was the main organizer of a neighborhood group with thousands of members.

No candidate in the November municipal elections has anything close to that kind of record, which was not at all atypical among candidates of previous decades. And it seems that facing the likely prospects of becoming the target of often more hostile than appreciative responses from the public for their willingness to engage in public service is not a significant deterrent to these younger, less experienced candidates. .

Of course, there are two exceptions to my generalizations here.

Both Fred Keley, who is a very experienced political leader, and Golder, who is an outgoing council member and has a day job as an elementary school principal, are ready to step in. Keeley is running for mayor against Joy Schendledecker, who, whatever her other virtues as a candidate, has no electoral experience, just like Maxwell. When it comes to having prior political experience, Keeley and Golder might be, metaphorically, a dying breed.

We’ll learn more about how these trends evolve after seeing who is set to run for board seats in November 2024, when there are likely to be no candidates with previous board experience and four board seats. open.

At this point, we can expect our future city councilors to be younger and have less professional or public experience.

Only time will tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Mike Rotkin is a five-time mayor of Santa Cruz and a lecturer and director of Merrill College’s field studies program at UCSC. He has lived in Santa Cruz for 53 years. His previous piece for Lookout, “If Santa Cruz wants more accountability from the police, we need to repeal the State Peace Officers Bill of Rights,came out in July.

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