With the Santa Cruz City Council race on the horizon, we look at who is likely to vie for a seat
If the Santa Cruz City Council race were the World Series of Poker, two former champions would be holding strong hands as they weigh the pros and cons of running for re-election.
In the political landscape, all candidate eyes are on City Councilwoman Hilary Bryant—the most popular mayor in recent memory—and, to a lesser extent, Councilman David Terrazas. Theirs are two of the council’s three seats that are up for election this November, along with Lynn Robinson’s, as she temporarily terms out after eight years. If both Bryant and Terrazas decide to jump back in the ring, two of those seats would look considerably less open. There is a lot for the pair to consider, including their families and careers—political and otherwise. Each had said they would make an announcement in early January but haven’t gotten around to it yet. But it’s not too late. Then-City Councilwoman Katherine Beiers, who strongly considered running for reelection in 2012, didn’t back out of that year’s race until May, citing family reasons. (It also gave the then-79-year-old more time to run marathons.) Legally, neither incumbent must decide until August. “I know I need to make a decision sooner than later,” says Bryant.
With all of that in mind, what are the odds that various potential candidates will enter the fray? One thing’s for sure: two candidates are already saying they are in it to win it. Below, we explore the likelihood of a bid for a variety of other locals. In determining the following odds, GT spoke with several locals in the political scene, including supporters and friends of the candidates. Many asked to remain anonymous, but their input—often about people they work with directly—was used to evaluate a person’s odds of running. Additionally, we combed all recent interviews and public comment from the suspected candidates and mixed in our own impressions of the situations.
Richelle Noroyan: She’s heard it over and over for the past year. Richelle Noryan, who recently started working in community relations at UC Santa Cruz, got a late start the last go-around for city council. She didn’t start campaigning in high-gear until well into the fall of 2012. Plus, she decided to forgo the expenditures cap but didn’t approach the voluntary limit, anyway. She wound up getting a bunch of flack and only a fraction of the funds. “People say they felt I was doing things at the last minute,” says Noroyan, who is getting an earlier start this year. Noroyan plans to run a campaign focused on public safety and economic development. She wants to better align Regional Occupation Program classes with the community’s needs so that people who grew up in Santa Cruz can stay here. There’s little doubt the city transportation and public works commissioner, who has five years’ experience working for a former Los Altos state assemblyman, is qualified.
Steve Pleich: Grant writer and activist Steve Pleich, the lowest vote-getter for two elections straight, is the only other candidate, along with Noroyan, who has filed a statement of intent to run, making him one of the only real contenders so far. Pleich’s campaign will focus on affordable housing and creating safety nets. “Let’s be local. Let’s buy local. Let’s live local. You can’t do that unless you have affordable housing,” he says. Even those who like Pleich’s politics—and the man personally—are curious to see if the grant writer can shake his fringe-candidate status. His stock might be improving. In 2012, Pleich more than doubled the votes he got in his 2010 bid.
3-2: David Terrazas: Although Terrazas would not confirm or deny whether he was looking for a local job, other sources say his decision partly boils down to work: essentially, if he can get a good job in Santa Cruz, he’ll run for re-election. Working over the hill, as Terrazas does, makes it hard to work a public service job in Santa Cruz—especially when you factor in the dozen or more hours lost every week traveling to and from work. (Just ask former City Councilman Tony Madrigal, who worked as a union organizer out of the county while serving two terms).
“Any opportunity that would present itself to work closer to home would be welcome,” Terrazas says. “City council is a commitment in itself. I’ve been committed over the past four years, and I would look forward to next four year of involved engagement.” However, he stresses that a decision to run or not would be mostly based on his family
Politicos would closely watch the transportation manager, if elected, in his second city council term to see if he takes on more initiatives this time and tries to shape a larger vision. Terrazas was elected in 2010 with a diverse constituent backing that included alternative transportation advocates and an endorsement from People Power. With a few exceptions, he’s been rather quiet on transportation issues over the past three and a half years.
2-1: Leonie Sherman: Some progressives are privately hoping Leonie Sherman is their answer to Tim Goncharoff’s Facebook scandal and campaign implosion. Known in local politics for her anti-desalination activism, Sherman is a journalist who has reported all over the world, including in Cambodia and Kashmir, India. Voters might take more interest in her work as a self-defense teacher for public schools as well as for the cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola. Sherman, who wants to preserve the county’s green spaces, won a Community Hero award from the United Way for helping make the county safer. “I bring a unique perspective to public safety,” she says.
5-3: David Giannini: David Giannini has deeply involved himself with Project Bike Trip, the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, and the Santa Cruz Conflict Resolution Center since retiring from the software industry in 2005. The single parent, whose kids are both grown, has also directed a high school mountain bike race for the past four years. He’s quietly watching to see what Bryant, Terrazas and others do and says he’s strongly considering a bid. As for what his politics are, we will have to wait and see.
Even: Hilary Bryant: It would be hard to overstate how successful Bryant was in her one-year term as mayor, in a difficult time marked by community frustration and the tragedy of two officers falling in the line of duty—a first for Santa Cruz. Bryant persevered with a cool head, and even a sense of humor. She has stressed how hard mayorship was on her family. “That’s what it comes down to, is family,” Bryant tells GT. “It’s just a matter of what the kids want and their needs with school, and I’m weighing my options.” Clearly, her two children will feature prominently into her decision—one that Bryant, the daughter of a former New Hampshire state legislator, will not take lightly. One high-profile supporter suggested to GT that Bryant think about taking a couple years off—especially considering a rough 2013, and the fact that the community will surely remember who she is in 2016. Five-time Mayor Mike Rotkin cautions, though, that candidates who take two years off often get used to it and don’t come back. But Bryant says she hadn’t considered taking a two-year break specifically. What about the notion that she needs time off after a traumatic year? “A hard year— that usually makes you want to run again, [thinking] ‘I faced a big challenge, and I was good at it,’” Rotkin says. “‘They need more of me.’”
8-1: Robert Singleton: Robert Singleton, co-founder of Civinomics, has plenty of hands-on experience polling city residents on how they feel about city issues and getting creative when it comes to looking for solutions. The bi-partisan background of his work has built bridges for him with a variety of constituents. But worried a city council seat might be a conflict of interest with his fledgling company (or vice versa), the 23-year-old is strongly considering sitting this one out.
9-1: Tim Goncharoff: We haven’t heard from resources planner Tim Goncharoff of the county’s public works department in a while—nor has just about anyone else GT asked. The normally visible meeter and greeter has been noticeably absent from downtown ever since he postponed his campaign kickoff in the wake of allegations that he previously interacted with suspiciously hot, fake women on Facebook who relentlessly promoted his campaign and causes. Former supporters felt the environmentalist candidate dragged them through the mud by never explaining what his involvement was, or wasn’t, in the debacle. The question about Goncharoff, who didn’t reply for comment, remains: is he waiting to see if things settle down, so he can try to move past the scandal? The odds are against it.