Unique Issues Shape Fifth District Supervisor Race
Eric Hammer and Bruce McPherson Campaign for the Position
- Read More:
by Georgia Perry on Sep 25, 2012
"Do you know who I am?”
Eric Hammer is being quizzed. A Democrat running for Fifth District County Supervisor, he’s walking a precinct in Felton, handing out pamphlets outlining his campaign platforms.
“Well, I know I recognize you from the alumni association,” replies Hammer.
“Yeah, where else?”
He furrows his brow. He’s blanking. “I don’t know.”
“I probably drove your little ass to school!”
Recognition washes over his face. He laughs and hands his former school bus driver a pamphlet.
This November, Hammer, a fourth generation San Lorenzo Valley resident and Boulder Creek Parks District board member, squares off against the ridiculously experienced former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson for the supervisor position. In the June primary, McPherson was just 100 votes short of the majority needed to circumvent a runoff election this November.
Three days after the election was pushed into runoff, McPherson dropped his longstanding Republican Party affiliation and is now running as an Independent.
McPherson, who is in his late 60’s, ascended to the offices of California State Assemblyman, State Senator and Secretary of State after several years as editor of the Sentinel, which was owned by his family. This summer he gained the endorsement of Democrat and County Treasurer Fred Keeley, who calls the Fifth District the “most in need” of all the districts, and believes McPherson’s experience and ample list of contacts in Sacramento will be vital in getting the area the attention it needs.
McPherson insists his move to Independent is what residents want: “I can’t tell you the many people who have said, ‘You know, Bruce, you said it’s a nonpartisan office. Why don’t you do something about it?’ And so I said, ‘I will.’”
His critics, however, were not necessarily impressed. Former Santa Cruz County Supervisor Gary Patton calls McPherson’s affiliation change “a desperate move…to curry favor with Fifth District voters.”
Walking precincts in Felton, Hammer passes a former crack house, now empty and bearing a red tag on its front door. “It took the community screaming at the county to get that taken care of,” he says.
This, he believes, is his appeal. His work turning around a dysfunctional parks board, including soliciting community volunteers to build a park when the district fell short of the $20,000 they needed to pay contractors, has given him confidence that he knows how to help community members to help themselves. He also touts the fact that over 75 percent of his approximately $50,000 campaign budget was raised in the Fifth District.
“This is not about who you know at the state. This is about who you know locally. We know that the state is broke,” says Hammer.
Some of the Felton residents Hammer encounters clearly view McPherson as an outsider, with one even saying McPherson “can take a hike and go back to Santa Cruz.” A sticking point with some Fifth District voters has been that McPherson’s home in Pasatiempo is in an upscale neighborhood surrounding a golf course that wasn’t a part of the Fifth District until a matter of months ago.
“I’ve been ridiculed as a wealthy white man who lives in a gated community,” McPherson admits. “But the gates are open 90 percent of the time.”
McPherson’s extensive experience makes the question of whether he can do the job irrelevant. A bigger question surrounding the race has been: Why does he want it?
“The board of supervisors is a position that is typically held by someone who is growing in their political future, not someone who has already gone through it,” argues Hammer.
McPherson rejects this notion. “We’re witnessing the biggest shift in government responsibility since Prop. 13 was passed in 1978,” he says, referencing the movement of nonviolent felons from state prisons to county jails as one example. “We’re seeing that responsibility reversed from state to local government, and we’re gonna be seeing more of it.”
Despite the fact that the Fifth District now includes parts of Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and Pasatiempo, both candidates acknowledge that Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley have city councils to address their needs. But the unincorporated San Lorenzo Valley, which includes the towns of Felton, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, has only one representative in county government: the Fifth District Supervisor.
Once described by Sunset Magazine as “absurdly rural,” the San Lorenzo Valley has different needs than its more urban neighbors.
“In Santa Cruz, they’re worried about tourists parking on their curbs and gutters,” said Hammer during a debate. “Up here, we don’t even know what curbs and gutters look like.”