Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.
Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.

Local resident Robert Steffen has announced his candidacy for the Santa Cruz City Council. And he’s concerned about real issues.

At the top of his agenda, he wants to repeal many of the “downtown ordinances,” which discourage the homeless population from congregating downtown. Unfortunately, many people may fail to take Steffen seriously as candidate for public office. Steffen, formerly known by students as the “Pink Man,” is known less for his political views and more for walking slowly up and down Pacific Avenue, dressed head-to-toe in pink and carrying a large umbrella.

Some people are not going to take Steffen’s bid for Santa Cruz City Council seriously. They may call him a “local character” or a “joke candidate.” But Steffen is looking to be more than that.

If elected, Steffen hopes to decriminalize underage drinking and loosen the “party ordinance.” Both of these positions would be of interest to many students. If voters take the time to truly study each candidate for the Santa Cruz City Council race, they will be rewarded with councilmembers who give themselves back to the community.

The inability to take unfamiliar candidates seriously is no new phenomenon. A year and a half ago, former homeless man J. Craig Canada ran on a stance not dissimilar to Steffen’s current one. Canada supported the legalization of marijuana and opposed the sleeping ban, as well as various downtown ordinances. Unfortunately, Canada was almost immediately pushed to the fringe and could not sustain when pitted against the fundraising campaign of other candidates who came from different financial backgrounds.

Citizens often push more creative candidates with less money to the margins in state and even national elections. Think back to the primary race for the 2008 election. Candidates like Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Dennis Kucinich saw their campaigns basically come to an end very early in the race. In spite of well-organized grassroots campaigns and unique solutions, both candidates found their poll numbers nine feet underground, even before the first primary in January 2008.

Locally speaking, if a candidate has less money behind his or her campaign, that could even be perceived as an added bonus. Candidates who raise more money from special interests may feel compelled to represent those interests when they cast their votes. Candidates cozy with businesses and local organizations, such as Santa Cruz Neighbors or the Downtown Association, might reflect that support in their voting record.

City on a Hill Press is not endorsing Robert Steffen in his bid for City Council. We think that all voters and all forms of media should seriously examine the candidates and make their decisions carefully, and we will do the same. We do not model ourselves after mainstream media organizations, which follow familiar names around like caboose cars on a 10-month train ride. And we do not throw lesser-known figures under the bus.

Not long ago, Robert Steffen was sporting very different attire and moving at a very different pace. Today, he is trying to find out how he can make Santa Cruz a better place to live. Democracy, at its core, is fundamentally about liberty and the freedom for people to do and say as they like. Steffen is standing up for that freedom better than anyone. But just as importantly, in running he represents it. Voters should weigh candidates evenly on the issues, no matter where they come from — whether that be a law school or the streets of Pacific Avenue.