‘Santa Cruz for Bernie’ on the Ballot

Grassroots group forms Brand New Council to continue Sanders’ revolution

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Members of Santa Cruz for Bernie talk about Brand New Council endorsements from other community groups and ballot measures on Sept. 20. Photo by Nick Nodine.

Just a few months ago, the small county of Santa Cruz generated a surprisingly large number. Fifty-nine percent of those who turned out in the California Democratic primary voted for Sen. Sanders, one of the largest margins in the state.

Despite Sanders’ failure to win the nomination, the pro-Bernie group Santa Cruz for Bernie has not withdrawn from politics. The group created Brand New Council, an advocacy organization committed to electing four old-school, grassroots, progressive candidates on the seven-seat Santa Cruz City Council, reminiscent of the city council of the 1990s and 2000s. Electing the four would place Brand New Council candidates in the majority.

“I haven’t seen anyone after the [Sanders] campaign ended quit,” said UC Santa Cruz student and Brand New Council organizer Devon Johnson. Johnson became involved with the group when she volunteered for the Santa Cruz for Bernie campaign, like many volunteers she works with now.

Currently the group supports candidates Chris Krohn, Sandy Brown, Drew Glover and Steve Schnaar to fill the vacant seats this November. Santa Cruz for Bernie hopes that by focusing on local politics like city council, they can make direct and immediate change.

Brand New Council is inspired by Brand New Congress, a group created by former Sanders campaign staff and volunteers advocating for the election of like-minded congressmembers. Both groups aim to continue the “political revolution” by endorsing and advocating for candidates whose platforms parallel Sanders’.

“We need to start engaging at the local and state level in an unprecedented way,” Sanders said in a speech to supporters in June. “Now we need many of [the volunteers] to start running for school boards, city councils, county commissions, state legislatures and governorships.”

Brand New Council is not directly endorsed or supported by Sen. Sanders but is a political advocacy group created by the Santa Cruz for Bernie organization inspired by Sanders’ presidential run.

“We’re running these four candidates with the most progressive platforms this city has ever seen,” said council organizer Devon Johnson. “[…] We realize that this isn’t going to work from the national level. We have to start small and start local, so this is where we’re starting.”

The candidates were elected by about 60 Santa Cruz for Bernie members by a three-fourths majority vote, said Johnson. All four candidates  agreed to adopt a platform addressing issues like affordable housing, transportation and the minimum wage. The platform opposes widening Highway 1, advocates purchasing the Beach Flats community garden space and restricting vacation rentals to 90 days a year.

“It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for us to be able to take a progressive majority on the council and really put forward the kind of ideology that Sen. Sanders holds to be true,” said Brand New Council candidate Drew Glover.

However, not all Sanders supporters are in favor of the Brand New Council campaign. Robert Singleton, a 2012 UCSC graduate and Sanders supporter, is also running for a seat on city council, but was not endorsed by Brand New Council, which he says strays from Sanders’ political ideals.

“I’m a big Bernie supporter,” Singleton said. “I voted for Bernie; I gave Bernie money. I feel very strongly that he would have been the best candidate [for President].”

Singleton said Santa Cruz needs more housing units and job opportunities for young people, but Brand New Council’s policies will not deliver them.

“They designed their policies specifically to try and lock in what the status quo is right now, which means no new investments in infrastructure, no new investments in housing, which I’m really upset about,” Singleton said.

By not supporting the Highway 1 expansion, requiring new low-cost housing units for ownership properties but not for rental properties and limiting UCSC’s water allowance, Singleton said Brand New Council’s proposed policies aren’t the kind of direct investments in transportation and infrastructure the city needs.

Although both Singleton and Glover are members of the pro-Sanders community in Santa Cruz, their bids for City Council highlight different visions in how to continue Sanders’ political revolution into local government.

“He was by far the most progressive candidate that has ever come close to being nominated for his party, and we’re all so passionate about that, that we didn’t want it to end with the end of the primaries,” said Brand New Council organizer Devon Johnson.

The Santa Cruz City Council election is on Nov. 8, the deadline to register to vote is 15 days before the election.

*Additional reporting by Nick Nodine