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February 7-14, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Mayor on the Move?

Last month, Nūz reported on the buzz circulating through the state capital over a possible deal between governor and Legislature--one that would ease legislators' term limits in return for their agreeing to redistrict the state into more party-balanced districts.

Since that time, the governor has introduced another pot-sweetener--namely moving California's June presidential primary four months earlier, to February. Not only would that give our state more prez-primary clout, but given the media's active 24/7 search for viewpoints during presidential elections, it would also significantly raise the public profiles of state figures involved in the campaigns.

But while the deal cooks and potential participants repeatedly taste-test an ever-changing recipe, the status quo remains. Including current term limits, which leave current 27th Assembly District legislator John Laird termed out as of 2008, which in turn opens the field to candidates who would succeed him.

So this week, Nūz catches up with another declared candidates for that seat: city of Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly.

"My motivation to run for office has always been to serve," says Reilly, citing her six years on the Santa Cruz City Council and various regional bodies as the impetus for considering a statewide run. "I'm ready to work for our local communities in Sacramento."

Reilly got a first glimpse of what could be accomplished through community service when, prior to joining the council, she served on the Mission Street Widening Task Force. There, she found herself talking to CalTrans, which was treating Mission Street like any other part of Highway 1, and thus doing such things as "simply letting crosswalks fade away." As Reilly pressed for a different, more community-aware approach, she found that "they were willing to listen, and we were able to affect some change."

That experience pulled Reilly toward more community service, which eventually led to a heart-to-heart talk with her mother. Mom's answer was clear: "If you have something to offer, it's your job to contribute."

And so came Reilly's first council race, in 2000, in which she proved the top vote-getter in the city's history, and her re-election race in 2004, in which she topped even that record.

"I'm proud of being part of what makes this city work," Reilly told Nūz. "Every time I see a city parks person or watch the folks at City Hall, go on a ride-along with the police and witness their patience and concern, watch a bus driver slow down and wait to pick up someone who's struggling.

"When I walk past trees we've saved, housing we've built, roads we've repaired. When I drive past the Salz Tannery and envision what it will become."

It hasn't, however, always been easy. "We've been through some tough times during the past few years in Santa Cruz, especially because of changes in how cities receive revenue."

And that, in turn, has led to a realization: "Over the past six years I've realized that I can be of value, helping to solve local problems if I can serve at the state level --where most funding decisions about our challenges are made."

Asked what specific issue is most on her mind, Reilly cties "a constant unrelenting pressure to erode our environmental protections and to compromise our values because we need the money. Doing something just because I need the money has never worked for me in my business or my personal life."

For example? "Well, the issue of university growth is an example of that conflict. The university is an institution I love; one that has very positive benefits, and adds tremendously to our local culture and economy, but whose growth can be very challenging to the community. I want to help create a new way for the UC system to grow, one that includes legislative oversight and enforceable mitigations locally."

In fact, Emily Reilly had just returned from testifying in Sacramento as Nūz finished interviewing her. "John Laird called the first hearing of this legislative session to discuss just that," she tells us. "Representing the city at that hearing, in Sacramento, I urged them on our behalf to provide greater oversight for UC's growth."

In Reilly's view, "Every issue we care about--education, health care, environmental protection, ocean stewardship, social justice, transportation alternatives--all require participation by happy healthy positive people, who have self-esteem and feel safe. And that starts in early childhood.

"We say children are our future, but often those are empty words. I will work for the changes that allow children to grow and develop into the adults we will need to solve our future challenges. I will work for universal health care, a strong economy, livable environment, quality education and access to housing."

And what legacy would she like to leave? "I am running for Assembly to use my experience for the benefit of the people of the 27th Assembly District. I want to stay focused on the needs of my district. If I do that and work hard, the outcome will take care of itself."

Which leads Nūz to ask how Mayor Reilly would handle the often great differences between the perspective of many officeholders in this district and the worldview of legislators across the state?

"I think that what one has to do is to look for those places where we can find the willingness to compromise in a way that supports our values and is effective," she answers. "It's a constant challenge, but it is possible.

"I was tickled when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy by saying, 'Let's have a conversation.' Funny how it turns out that perspectives and worldviews from people outside our area aren't necessarily that different from our own after all. Conversations solve problems, confrontations don't. So long as I can keep conversations going with my fellow legislators, I am positive that we can achieve results that fulfill our needs without compromising our values."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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