Quick Take:

Long-time local politico Fred Keeley cruised to an easy victory over opponent Joy Schendledecker to become Santa Cruz’s first elected four-year mayor.

Election 2022: Santa Cruz County

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Fred Keeley, one of the most prominent names in Central Coast politics, will become the first directly-elected mayor of Santa Cruz after a landslide victory over opponent Joy Schendledecker.

By midnight, Keeley was leading Schendledecker 74.8% (5,859 votes) to 24.8% (1,962 votes). Another 83 votes were cast for an unnamed write-in. Polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday and election results trickled in throughout the evening and will get finalized in coming days.

“I look forward to carrying the burden of being the first elected mayor of Santa Cruz,” Keeley told supporters at his home Tuesday night. “It’s a weight you carry because it’s obligatory.”

Voters approved a shift to district-based city council representation with an at-large mayor during the June primary. Keeley, a career politician with stints in the California State Assembly and on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, said he was approached to seek the mayor’s seat by “key community and civic leaders” who felt his experience would help guide Santa Cruz through this transition in governance.

The race between Keeley and Schendledecker reflected a larger trend in this election cycle of establishment candidates facing off against more progressive challengers. Schendledecker, an artist, mother and community organizer with ties to the Democratic Socialists of America, planned initially to run for the District 3 city council seat; however, that election was pushed to 2024. When she noticed Keeley failed to draw a challenger for the mayor’s seat, she tossed her hat into the ring.

Keeley supporters packed into his Market Street home. Among them, a huddle of students from UC Santa Cruz College Democrats, the Democratic party’s student organization on campus, ate cupcakes, sipped white wine and toasted Keeley’s success.

The organization endorsed Keeley in the mayor’s race because, according to president Laz Meian, he was the only candidate they felt acknowledged them as a legitimate voter base.

“Fred made a real effort to reach out to students and we appreciate that,” Meian, a sophomore, said, adding that the relationship between students and the city has been a “difficult” one. “There is a lot of distance between local politicians and students. There is a lot of room for improvement.”

Meian and the other four students at the party talked about the importance of getting students registered to vote locally.

Guests enjoyed the evening at Fred Keeley'a party Tuesday night.
Guests enjoyed the evening at Fred Keeley’a party Tuesday night. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

“If you vote in Santa Cruz as a student, your vote really matters,” Meian said. However, only one of the five students from UCSC College Democrats at Keeley’s party said they changed their registration to be able to vote locally.

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Keeley and Schendledecker have butted heads most explicitly on development, with Keeley supporting the larger redevelopment projects that Schendledecker has criticized for not doing enough to produce affordable housing. Their differences can most vividly be seen in how they voted on the ballot measures. Keeley opposed both the empty home tax proposed by Measure N, and Measure O’s promise to stop the downtown library project and preserve downtown city parking lots for affordable housing. Schendledecker supported both measures.

Over the past decade, Christopher Neely has built a diverse journalism résumé, spanning from the East Coast to Texas and, most recently, California’s Central Coast.Chris reported from Capitol Hill...