After Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty announced he would not seek reelection in 2022, local politicians and activists are assessing the void that his departure will leave, as they try to figure out what’s next.
Among the significant possible candidates for his seat, no one has so far stepped up and declared they will definitely run. But few have ruled out the possibility altogether.
Coonerty says he hopes the opening creates an opportunity for more diversity on the Board of Supervisors, which has been made up of all white men for the past eight years. But at this stage, it’s hard to tell whether everyone wants the job—or no one does.
Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers says she was surprised by Coonerty’s decision not to seek a third term, but she realizes that the supervisor has had a rough year marked by both major crises—including the Covid-19 pandemic—and personal loss, when his aide Allison Endert was killed by an allegedly intoxicated driver.
“He’s put in a lot of hours for this community, and he deserves to take a walk on West Cliff and drink some coffee and not have someone come up to him and tell him what they need from him,” Meyers says.
Meyers says she’s enjoyed working closely with Coonerty this year, including on issues around homelessness. As for her own ambitions, Meyers says she is currently too zeroed in on her term as mayor to think about running for anything right now. Among her priorities, she says she’s focused on seeing housing projects—including affordable housing developments on Pacific Avenue and on Jessie Street—through the pipeline.
Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Sonja Brunner, who was the top vote getter in the 2020 City Council race, says she’s excited about the possibility for the county board to see some diversity. Since hearing Coonerty’s news she has started thinking about the various differences between city and county operations, she says. Brunner adds that she’ll consider running for the 3rd District seat, as she ponders what would be the most effective way for her to serve the community.
Santa Cruz City Councilmember Justin Cummings, who last year served as the city’s first-ever Black male mayor, says he plans on discussing his options with supporters and friends before making a decision about whether to run. “I’m considering it, and I appreciated working with Ryan, and I’m really happy we were able to work toward the common good,” he says.
Fellow City Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson says she’ll also consider running for the seat. Kalantari-Johnson, an Iranian-American immigrant, won her first election to the City Council this past year. She believes her public health background would make her a strong candidate and potentially a strong supervisor—helping offer guidance to the county’s local criminal justice systems and its various health initiatives.
“They all sort of overlap around public health, and I have extensive knowledge around public health,” she says
Another City Councilmember, Renée Golder, was elected in a special recall election last spring, and she says she’s been getting supportive texts from friends in and outside the city of Santa Cruz telling her to run. She says she is too busy at the moment—in between the City Council, her day job as a teacher and family—to pay the opportunity too much mind.
“I’m super curious about what will happen,” Golder says. “I definitely want to see continued collaboration between the city and the county to try and help residents thrive—with recovery from fires and Covid. There are so many overlapping issues, from water to homelessness.”
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz Councilmember Martine Watkins, who just won reelection this past year, says she might consider running, but she doesn’t currently live in the 3rd District, which includes Bonny Doon, Davenport and most—but not all—of the city of Santa Cruz. Watkins and her family live in the sliver of the city occupied by the 5th District, which is represented by Supervisor Bruce McPherson. Watkins does think that better decision making happens when women have a seat at the table.
As she keeps an open mind about a possible campaign, Watkins notes that the boundaries of the district will be redrawn this year, and it’s too early to say where they ultimately will fall. She also says she isn’t sure whether she would want to pack up and move into the 3rd District in order to run for supervisor. Watkins and her family love their house, she explains. Also, her husband has a lot of very large and very heavy fish tanks. “It wouldn’t be an easy move,” says Watkins, who became Santa Cruz’s first-ever mayor of African American descent in late 2018.
Councilmember Sandy Brown, who also won reelection this past year, lives in the 5th District as well. She says she has no plans of moving and is actually relieved that she probably won’t be able to run for the position.
“I imagine there will be plenty of jockeying for the seat,” says Brown, an ally of Cummings on the City Council. “And I’m looking forward to seeing a strong progressive candidate step up.”
Another potential candidate who has been getting some buzz is Food, What?! Development Director Kayla Kumar, who fell narrowly short her bid for a Santa Cruz City Council seat when she ran on a slate with Brown last year.
Kumar tells GT via email that she believes the open seat for the 3rd District represents an “opportunity to better represent the 3rd District, by acknowledging the growing number of powerful, young progressives within it.”
“I’d personally love to see a woman of color in the role who doesn’t only look like us, but loves the people like us. I will say, a number of folks reached out to me to discuss this news,” she adds. “Right now, I’m focused on returning those calls and having these conversations with my community. All I can say for certain is that I’m really looking forward to helping ensure that the progressive people of Santa Cruz have a representative in the 3rd District, no matter what shape my role takes in that endeavor.”