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New Vice Mayor Justin Cummings Shakes Up Santa Cruz Politics

As Martine Watkins becomes mayor, city council newcomer Cummings moves straight to leadership

Santa Cruz City Hall. PHOTO: JACOB PIERCE

Santa Cruz has a new mayor, and her name is Martine Watkins.

Watkins, who just wrapped up her one-year term as vice mayor this week, began her new role at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting. Also at the Dec. 11 meeting, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to make newly elected City Councilmember Justin Cummings the town’s new vice mayor.

Councilmember Chris Krohn, who supported Cummings’ campaign, made the nomination, behind a newly minted City Council majority. The change marks first time in two decades that a newly elected City Council candidate has transitioned right from his swearing in into the vice mayor seat. By conventional wisdom, the post puts Cummings next in line to be mayor.

He could not be reached for comment by deadline, but in his remarks Tuesday night, Cummings said he was looking forward to working collaboratively with colleagues and staff.

At the same meeting, City Clerk Bonnie Bush swore in the two other new councilmembers—Donna Meyers, who finished second, and Drew Glover, who ran on a slate with Cummings. Cummings and Glover are the first African American men to serve on the council. Meyers is the city’s first openly lesbian councilmember.

The council unanimously confirmed Krohn’s vice mayor nomination of Cummings.

Customarily, the top two vote-getters from each election each serve a one-year term as vice mayor and another as mayor, although the actual decision is left up to the council. Meyers nominated Councilmember Cynthia Mathews, the second-leading vote getter in the 2016 election, to be vice mayor. Meyers cited Mathews’ years of service and her work protecting women’s health.

Mathews withdrew the nomination, signaling a desire to move forward, adding that she enjoyed getting to know Cummings in recent months and that she did not want to further a perception that politics in Santa Cruz is divisive. (Under a majority led by Krohn, Mathews’ nomination would likely not have had the votes to pass.)

The shift in order marks the first disruption to the mayoral norm since 1998, at the beginning of the last term Krohn served on the council. That’s when Krohn and his newly elected fellow councilmembers Keith Sugar and Tim Fitzmaurice shook up the rotation for mayor. The specifics were different, but the council voted to appoint Katherine Beiers to the mayorship, in lieu of then-Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin, who had been the top vote-getter two years prior, and customarily would have been next in line. Sugar became the vice mayor.

Over the course of their shared four-year council term, Sugar, Fitzmaurice and Krohn would each serve a year as mayor.

Beiers says many activists told her at the time that they felt she should be mayor, and that Rotkin shouldn’t. Rotkin, she says, had just gotten caught ripping down a campaign sign for Fitzmaurice. She also says that one of her colleagues had also disrupted the chain, stepping in line in front of her a few years earlier. Rotkin says that the campaign sign was just a misunderstanding. The property owner, he says, had asked him to take down the sign and put up a different political one. He claims Beiers had asked him if he would be willing to simply let her serve her term as mayor first for personal reasons, and that that’s the reason he went along with it, not realizing he would miss out on his chance.

With three new councilmembers on the dais in 2018, local politicos are now looking forward. Krohn says his decision to nominate Cummings wasn’t just about politics, but also about his leadership style. “Right person, right time,” he says.

After the election results confirmed earlier this month that Meyers came in second at the polls, many voters thought that she would end up serving a year as vice mayor and another as mayor during her time on the council. Krohn isn’t ready to say who he might support for vice mayor at the end of 2019.

“I won’t go there yet,” he says. “Let’s just get this year done first and see how it goes.”

News Editor at |

Jacob, the news editor for Good Times, is an award-winning journalist, whose news interests include housing, water, transportation, and county politics. A onetime connoisseur of dive bars and taquerias, he has evolved into an aspiring health food nut. Favorite yoga pose: shavasana.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Rick Walker

    December 14, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    that first sentence I just wrote should be corrected to say:
    (I wrote an incomplete sentence………DOH)
    “I’ve lived in this county since 1971 and I have to say that I’m elated that a new city council; dedicated to celebrating diversity, eco-active and concerned about the welfare of the working class and poor people in this city has been elected.”

  2. Rick Walker

    December 14, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve lived in this county since 1971 and I have to say that I’m elated that a new city council, dedicated to celebrating diversity, eco-active and concerned about the working class and poor people in this city and what happens to them.
    The time to make change is now and, in terms of the environment alone, we must not delay. We face huge challenges with drug/alcohol and opiod addiction and with growing homelessness and yet, we are one of the richest cities, per capita, there is………….We can be humanistic leaders for the future of Northern California and I fully support Mayor Martine Watkins, Justin, Drew, Cynthia, Donna and Christopher in their role as the new leaders of Santa Cruz.

    Let’s make some powerful changes; keep Santa Cruz liveable and retain our wonderful idiosyncratic take on living in America!

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