Stefan Kessler | Santa Cruz, take me to your leader – Santa Cruz Sentinel

While Action D, the greenwash, I mean the Greenway Initiative, has captured the imaginations of county residents obsessed with the unused railroad corridor and captured all the excited attention, Action E for Santa Cruz city dwellers is at the June 7 vote much more immediately consequential: a The yes vote calls for direct election of a mayor to a four-year term, rather than council members rotating on a yearly basis.

In our form of government as city managers, career staff would continue to wield disproportionate power over unelected officials, and the mayor would still be just another vote on the council; But serving four years would give a mayor time to learn how to navigate the bureaucracy and — broadly elected by the city as a whole, while council members represent different districts with different priorities — him or her or give them a little more authority to set agendas and influence policy.
Who would want such a job, and who would be fit to serve? Who would have the vision and political savvy to inspire their fellow public servants to create consensus for a city fit for human habitation and not just stacks of apartment blocks, data points, spreadsheets and technocratic efficiencies? Whose leadership could integrate different factions and constituencies to work together for the common good?

Perhaps these are lofty ideals too utopian for a polarized community bent on self-abolition. Perhaps the local political machines would go to their respective corners and field candidates to further their ideological or developmental agenda. But wouldn’t it be refreshing if candidates came forward who have leadership experience but haven’t explicitly affiliated with any particular interest group and come to the campaign with an independent spirit and creative ideas that transcend or synthesize the usual categories: liberal, conservative , progressive, capitalist, socialist, republican, democratic?

There is perhaps no such person who has the courage to endure the rigors of political life and the built-in absurdities and dysfunctions of a big-budget bureaucracy. Whoever has the fire in the stomach, the heartburn, the indigestion to run for mayor is probably in love with power for its own sake and not with a humble servant of his constituents. Who in this city has the character, the patience, the staying power, the equanimity to put up with the crazies of the fringes and holy fools of democracy while assuring the Chamber of Commerce that business is only going to get better?

My dream candidate probably doesn’t exist, and if he did, he’d be attacked from all sides because he doesn’t have the political record and connections to guarantee obedience to one party line or another. Chances are that a four-year directly elected mayor would be someone thoroughly embedded in current political power structures, whose leadership is more in line with what we’ve seen in the Council in recent years: subordination of elected officials to the expert advice of staff professionals with professional experience in administration and the bottom line is tax orientation. Healthy ideas for overall quality of life would require a lot of heavy lifting to break established habits.

Still, I’m willing to take my chances on a mayor who could be a real leader – and I’ll be her open critic – with the wisdom and skills to move the city in a direction that integrates necessary and inevitable growth with you longer view that retains some of the small town character and charm that still attracts people wanting to live here. So I will vote yes to measure E.

After careful consideration, I say to measure D: No trails, no rails, rip out rails and let nature take its course. People who are able to coexist with plants, animals, birds, and insects, rather than paving their habitat, could use the wild stretches for hiking, picnicking, bird watching, and other low-impact activities. No to D simply maintains the status quo; it does not guarantee a move that will probably never happen. Left undeveloped, the corridor could be a living laboratory for environmental studies.

Stephen Kessler’s column appears on Saturdays.

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