November 8-15, 2006

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Tim Fitzmaurice

Photograph by Leyna Krow
Likeable and earnest: Tim Fitzmaurice at the launch of the petition drive for Measure G

On Leaving Office

A former mayor, alleged Bolshevik and newly termed-out City Council member contemplates his exit strategy

By Tim Fitzmaurice

In November I leave the council after eight years, including one as mayor (2000-2001). I was hoping to get a job as a staff assistant to Neal Coonerty, the new supe. But I guess that's out.

I am trying to think about my legacy. I am afraid to use the word; it may seem more like a stain to many people. I remember that the first letter I got on the council accused me of being a Bolshevik, misspelled, but I got the message.

And it was only a few years later that the Sentinel wrote its only editorial devoted to me that basically accused me of the same thing. It was a response to my saying that businesses had a moral responsibility. They said that I thought Capitalism was Immoral. (Since the article in their own paper got it right, this was a notable misreading of their own columnist). Anyway, my father called me up, exuberant, and said that the Sentinel mentioned my name eight times in the editorial. He had it hanging on his wall. I asked him what the column was about and he said he couldn't remember. Once again proving there is no bad publicity. Just spell my name right.

Be that as it may, I do not think that capitalism has to be immoral, I just think people who profit by it need to make better decisions sometimes. Even Adam Smith, the first major theorist of capitalism, wrote an essay called "The Moral Sentiments" and he warned capitalists not to do immoral things that would mess up the capitalist system. He had principles. I did not write back to the Sentinel however.

I have tried to do as little as possible to answer complaints about me in the press. I think that it would be a better political strategy to answer, but I think it would be wrong. I have plenty of opportunities to make statements and to make laws and to vote on every conceivable thing. I could never persuade myself that I deserved to use my influence, such as it was, to have the last word in every argument. It seemed a little brutish. If people wrote letters to the editor, then let them have the last word. It is one of the pleasures of democracy to heap abuse on the elected.

I do draw the line at lawsuits, however. One of the first things that happened when I came into office was to be named in a lawsuit against the city. I got the stack of paper about some arcane issue that someone had found and I discovered that I was one of the seven names on the city's pink slip, at least for the next four to eight years. So I was now a "defendant" as well as an "honorable." It worried me a bit at first. I was not used to being sued. But you can get used to anything, I guess.

I have been subjected to many nice gestures on the streets of Santa Cruz. People do sometimes recognize me--though they do not always seem to know where they have seen me before. Sometimes they smile, then suddenly you see this cloud pass over their face when they realize that they don't like you. Sometimes they shout and argue and sometimes very rarely you get some kind of shout from a block away that is more threatening. Ever since a shout on Washington Street in about 2000, I have learned that it might be better not to turn around and wave when I hear my name said.

I once said you could not spit downtown without hitting a former mayor of the city of Santa Cruz. We seem to have a whole slew of them. (I have never been sure what a slew was.) But that was a bad thing to say. Being mayor of your adopted hometown is about the most exciting thing I could ever imagine happening to me. When I was a youth, I was pretty sure I had done several things that disqualified me from elected office forever. I remember being 18 and saying to myself, well, there goes politics. But things do change.

And now I have my name on three or four buildings. I am a city father. They had a sign in the Catalyst for long time saying with maximum sarcasm: "The City Fathers in their wisdom have decided that you should not be permitted to smoke in this building!" or words to that effect. The sign seems to be gone now. Maybe it just needs to be rescribbled without all the nicotine stains. I can tell you I was always very proud that that sign was about me and equally pleased that people never recognized me--the source of all their misery--when I was standing in line.

I can tell you it is nice to be unnoticed sometimes. I have worn out my welcome with a few people in town. It seems to be a reality that being in politics will put you on another side for some people and they will be unhappy with you. I suppose that most of my political opponents have been earned by something I have done or not done.

It does take getting used to. I recall walking in for my first interview with the editorial staff of the Sentinel. Dave R, Tom H and Don M. I was so naive: I thought I had a chance with these people. I thought, "How could they not like me? I am so likeable and so earnest"--or some unverbalized version of that. But the politics of this were pretty much already decided.

I came upstairs in the S building for the first time and saw that wonderful view of the road to Aptos. I am pretty sure that's how Dave saw it. He said to me when I walked in, "Well, the others aren't here yet but I guess we'll get started. I was wondering if you intend to widen Highway 1?" But before I could say anything, Tom H walked in and he said "Hi" in that affable way of his and asked, "Can we start? What about Highway 1?" But then as I started to think my way into this question, Don M walked in and said, "Have you asked him about Highway 1 yet?" Of course I said some thing that tried to sound reasonable but unenthusiastic about the benefits of widening for the people who were living next to the road. But I heard a lot about how long it takes to drive to work in Santa Cruz from Aptos that morning.

Needless to say I did not get the Sentinel endorsement that year or any other. I think I have done some good things even by their standards. No rental housing was built in the 10 years before I was elected. We turned that around. We approved projects and brought a bunch of housing downtown. We built the Nueva Vista apartments, moved families out of appalling conditions and started to improve the Beach Flats. That area had been unimproved blight for decades. Now it has a strong low-income housing anchor for the area, with health care and preschool help. I helped to think up the Gault Street senior apartments. And I did the Living Wage law, Campaign Finance Reform, Medical Marijuana and many other not so well-known ordinances. I have worked for years on transportation, done bike routes and fixed roads, and rode the bus everyday just to be certain that I was never far from the task at hand.

There have been better council-members than me; I'm sure of it. But none were more earnest or more proud to have served this community. I am sure of that. I owe every good thing to the staff of the city. They do the work. I owe a debt to the public safety officers of the city, who protect the children and seniors in our town. And they have always treated me with genuine friendship even when they probably had doubts about my sanity. I can never repay the debt to the people who worked to get me elected and believed in me and to the people of this community who voted for me. I think my family deserves the last word. Ginny has actually watched the meetings and has been the only one there on too many occasions. She has encouraged me when she could have been expected to say stop before you hurt yourself. And my son once saw a particularly bad evening at the council on TV with people shouting and apparently threatening, I guess. My son came to City Hall that night at the end of the meeting--at midnight or 1 or 2am--to walk me home. It worried him. It seemed normal to me. The things we do to the people we love.

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