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Santa Cruz County Remembers Allison Endert

Longtime political leader killed by drunk driver

From left, Rachel Dann, Supervisor Ryan Coonerty and Allison Endert, who was struck by a drunk driver and killed. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RACHEL DANN

Friends of Allison Endert remember the former Santa Cruz County analyst as loyal, hard-working, politically savvy, bright and kind.

“She was my best friend in Santa Cruz, my confidant, my work colleague. But she was such a good friend to everyone,” says Endert’s colleague Rachel Dann. The two worked together for county Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, until Endert was struck by an allegedly intoxicated driver and killed on an afternoon walk in Seabright June 15. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that the driver, Mark Mendoza Zambrano, pleaded not guilty Friday.

Endert’s many close friends recall the way she radiated compassion and always put her family first. More than anything, they remember a woman perpetually motivated by the fight against injustice.

“I just want everyone to know what drove her,” Dann says. “What drove her in her work every day was fighting structural inequalities. That was the case back when I met her 22 years ago. She was laser-focused—whether that was inequalities in the school system or gender inequalities. That was her reason for going into public service, and she saw public service as a way she could make a difference. She just touched countless policies and people’s lives and helped people navigate the bureaucratic system.”

From left, Allison Endert with close friends, Melissa Whatley, Deanna Sessums, and Rachel Dann. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RACHEL DANN

As colleagues go, Coonerty says Endert was “perfect.” Coonerty often found himself in awe at how Endert used her job as a vehicle to make a difference, he says.

“She had a real moral clarity. Public policy discussions can get very heated, and there’s a lot of nuance, but when she spoke up, she really always could bring it back to the moral imperative,” Coonerty remembers. “It made me always want to do better. She held herself to a high standard and held others to a high standard.”

One of Endert’s and Coonerty’s biggest policy successes was the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program that connects first-time mothers with nurses to provide support through the first two years of a child’s life. Coonerty credits Endert with making it all happen.

Former county analyst Andy Schiffrin used to work alongside Endert, Dann in Coonerty’s office. And like Dann, he remembers Endert’s relentlessness when it came to making Santa Cruz County a better place.

“So much of getting things done depends on having someone who can dot their i’s and cross their t’s, who can see things through, who can move the project forward, and staying on top of it, seeing through to completion. And she was very capable in that way. She did what she said she was going to do, and she did it well,” Schiffrin says.

Endert—who is survived by her partner Andy Tatum and their two daughters, ages 15 and 12—first got involved in politics during her time at UCSC in the late ’90s. She worked for then-Assemblymember John Laird in the early 2000s.

Allison Endert (right) with partner Andy Tatum. PHOTO: MELISSA WHATLEY

Laird recalls that, when Endert’s daughters were born, she decided to go from being full-time to working 20 hours a week. Laird says that, every week, Endert did 40 hours in 20 hours. Laird ultimately received an award for being a family-friendly employer, he recalls. Although Endert had no problem with her boss getting the honor, Laird says he was baffled by the process.

“I told her, ‘You’re the one doing 40 hours of week in 20 in hours, and you were the one with the two daughters. You should be getting the award!’” he says.

Laird also remembers Endert telling him many years ago that she wanted him to meet her mother. Laird said the three of them met up for lunch, and toward the end of their chat, Endert’s mom realized she and Laird were the same age. To Laird, it did not seem possible. “I was so upset. I considered Allison a peer. I did not consider her a generation younger than me,” he says.

A memorial popped up on Murray Street in honor of Allison Endert, who was killed by an intoxicated driver June 15. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Although she was best known for her work, Endert’s generosity extended to her personal friendships.

For some 15 years running, Endert and Dann had been getting together for regular drinks with fellow friends Melissa Whatley, the government relations director for UCSC, and Deanna Sessums, the regional public affairs manager for the League of California Cities’ Monterey Bay division.

Good Times wrote a news story about those meet-ups in 2007. At the time, Endert was working for Laird, and Dann was working for then-county Supervisor Neal Coonerty, the father of Ryan Coonerty, who was then-vice mayor. Although it would be another seven years before he ran for the supervisor seat himself, the vice mayor was already well-acquainted with the lore that surrounded those meetings and also aware of the influence wielded by the four networking women who organized them. “To get anything done in this town you’re going to have to go through one of them,” Ryan Coonerty told GT at the time.

Their happy hour tradition continued over the years, although after the pandemic started, the gatherings morphed into Zoom calls. The group also had a call last week, as everyone mourned the loss of their friend. “It felt like one leg of our table was missing,” Dann says.

Whenever one of the women had a birthday approaching, Whatley says Endert always stressed that they all had to get together. But when Endert’s own birthday drew near, Endert would downplay the event and say they didn’t have to do anything. The others would all agree that they had to go out and make Endert come along.

In the midst of a discussion, Whatley and other friends say that Endert was a fantastic listener. Sometimes she wouldn’t say much, but then when she spoke up, she would share something profound, Whatley remembers.

“She was always quietly in the background,” she says, “and then she would floor you with something incredible.”

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