Local Democratic big shots looked stunned, staring into their half-empty complimentary beers as election results came pouring in.
Around 10 p.m. last Tuesday night, most of the early results looked favorable to establishment Democrats. All four of the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party’s picks for Santa Cruz City Council were leading in a race that featured 11 people on the ballot. Measure D, the half-cent transportation sales tax initiative, was off to a strong start. As a matter of fact, 82 percent of the candidates and measures that earned the club’s endorsement have either won or are currently in the lead, as of the last count.
But all around the Food Lounge on Center Street on Nov. 8, local Dems were in shock. Cable news coverage along the room’s back wall broadcast that Donald Trump was dominating the electoral college en route to a surprise victory in the race for President of the United States. Beside the screen sat a Trump piñata that would go unused.
The following night, protesters led a march against Trump down the middle of Pacific Avenue. And on Friday, a much bigger one came together at Mission Plaza Park, with hundreds of people marching down Pacific chanting things like, “No walls, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
On Monday, Santa Cruz High School students stormed the sidewalks downtown, yelling “Not my president!”
Perhaps no one is reeling harder right now than the Santa Cruzans who fought Measure D (which clings to a narrow lead), opposed Donald Trump and wanted to see the “Brand New Council” slate elected in Santa Cruz. Three of those four council candidates, including nonprofit director Drew Glover, are currently behind, but Glover hopes the election has engaged young people and inspired them to get involved politically.
“I plan to push forward,” says Glover, who’s currently in sixth place, with Cynthia Mathews, Martine Watkins, Chris Krohn and Robert Singleton in the lead. “There are people who have approached me who are young—24, 26—and they tell me they would be interested in running in the next round.”
Some city council races experienced more of a shock to the system. Dene Bustichi, a longtime conservative Scott Valley city councilmember, sits in last place in a re-election bid against four other candidates, all vying for three seats.
In Capitola, Mayor Ed Bottorff is neck-and-neck with former Mayor Sam Storey, who ran as a write-in candidate after announcing his campaign a month-and-a-half before the election. As of presstime, Storey leads Bottorff by 18 votes.
“The odds were against me, but I knew that with the support I had, I was a strong candidate,” Storey says. “I was going to make this a strong campaign.”
Supporters lobbied Storey hard to enter the race in the fall, and after he agreed, detractors told them that no write-in candidate could ever win—something that motivated them all to work harder.
“I feel really comfortable with the way Sam operates, and I don’t always agree with him, but I still feel like it’s OK,” says former Mayor Gayle Ortiz, who helped with his campaign.
Though she says she does like Bottorff, she’s felt dismayed in recent years by what she sees as signs the council is out of step with the community, including the handling of a controversial plan last year to possibly sell the City Hall property and build a hotel near the village. The city then would have built a bigger city hall and police station nearby.
Bottorff, who is optimistic about the close race, says it’s often difficult get a read on the way people feel in the small beachside city.
“Is it the squeaky wheel that’s making the noise, or is it the way the town really wants to go?” he says. “I don’t know that one victory one way or the other will answer that.”
Huge sections of the election results had little unexpected to offer—all 16 of the county’s ballot measures either won or are in the lead. It was some of the smaller elections, like fire protection boards, which normally go unwatched, that saw a surprising amount of political interest—thanks, partly, to some labor endorsements.
Outsiders have the top two spots in the race for three seats on Scotts Valley Fire Protection District. Frontrunner Daron L. Pisciotta, Santa Clara County’s deputy fire chief, landed some big endorsements from the Scotts Valley Firefighters Association and others. He says important questions in upcoming years could include whether or not to move the fire station and whether or not to consolidate with other departments—discussions he has experience with over the hill.
There’s been an even bigger switch in the Central Fire District, where four union candidates are in the lead to beat out four incumbents. The district found itself under a magnifying glass over leadership and firefighter compensation issues.
And in the Port District, science teacher Darren Gertler sits comfortably in first place in a race against three incumbents for three seats.
Gertler, who was endorsed by the Monterey Labor Council and the Democratic Women’s Club, knew he wanted to run after the district eliminated a popular program that let people fish for salmon right out of the harbor, and says current leadership has done a poor job of dredging the harbor mouth to keep it open. He sent out a postcard mailer and started a Facebook campaign, which, for a social media skeptic like himself, was a big deal.
“I campaigned really hard. It was a hard battle,” he says. “I figured I would try really hard and just see what happens, instead of learning the hard way.”