.Do Changes to Santa Cruz’s Order of Mayors Really Matter?

At its Tuesday, Dec. 8 meeting, the Santa Cruz City Council is expected to appoint Vice Mayor Donna Meyers as its next mayor. The occasion will mark an important moment in LGBTQ rights, as Meyers will be the city’s first lesbian mayor, and the significance is not lost on her.

“Communities are made up of diversity,” Meyers told my colleague Johanna Miller last month. “It is so important to have all perspectives … to identify the needs of everyone.”

Meyers’ shift from vice mayor to mayor will bring Mayor Justin Cummings’ one-year term at the helm of the city to an end. And based on discussions with current and incoming councilmembers, the council will likely appoint Sonja Brunner, the top vote getter in the 2020 election, to be the next vice mayor.

Brunner’s likely appointment will leave the sequence of mayors still off by one year, at least by historical (i.e. pre-2018) standards. Normally, Cummings, the top vote getter in the 2018 election, would now be transitioning from vice mayor to mayor. And Meyers would be just getting ready to assume the vice mayor role.

The old sequence of mayors ruptured two years ago, when Councilmember Cynthia Mathews, the second-highest vote-getter in 2016, was thought to be next in line for the vice mayor spot and for the mayor’s seat after that. 

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However, then-City Councilmember Chris Krohn, a critic of fellow Councilmember Mathews, instead nominated Cummings to serve as vice mayor. That kicked off Cummings’ appointment to vice mayor in 2019, one year earlier than expected, followed by his one-year term as mayor, which is just wrapping up.

Mathews says she has no hard feelings about how things transpired, as she has immense respect for Cummings. She actually withdrew her name from consideration in 2018—right after Meyers nominated her. Mathews says she read the writing on the wall at the time and surmised she wouldn’t have had the votes to be confirmed, given the makeup of the council.

In any case, Mathews says that Cummings, serving as the city’s first Black male mayor, did a great job in 2020—a year in which racial and economic disparities have been a central concern in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.

“As the fates would have it, we were very lucky to have him serving in that role this year. And he acted proactively and very responsibly and listened to community voices and to the police—and was reaching out to community groups as well,” says Mathews, who adds that she won’t run for reelection to a seventh possible term when she’s eligible in 2022.

Anyway, the upshot of the new sequence is that, if nothing changes, new Santa Cruz mayors will likely be a little less experienced in the future than they otherwise would have been. But it isn’t clear that Santa Cruz will go back to the previous sequence anytime soon, and no one seems particularly concerned about the new order.

If it chose to, the City Council could always get things back on their typical track to the previous setup at some point. The council could, for instance, nominate someone who wasn’t in the normal queue to be mayor. Or it could have one mayor serve two one-year terms back to back.

But there’s no indication of when either of those things might happen.

After being nominated last year, Councilmember Sandy Brown withdrew her name from consideration for the vice mayor seat. (Brown was the fourth-highest vote getter in 2016.) And Cummings told me last month that, as much as he’s enjoyed his term as mayor, he doesn’t think he would be able to financially afford to do it two years in a row. In spite of its heavy workload, the mayorship pays more or less like a part-time job.

It may very well be that Santa Cruzans will one day view the change in the order as more of an arcane piece of local political trivia than, not any kind of procedural glitch.

As it stands now, Brunner sure isn’t sweating the current setup. She says her one year as vice mayor should be plenty of time and get ready for her presumed year as mayor in 2022, and she can hardly wait.

“I am really excited and looking forward,” she tells Good Times. “I’m honored and ready.”


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