On Nov. 23, an eloquent and moving memorial celebration for former Green Party of California gubernatorial candidate Peter Miguel Camejo was held at UC Berkeley’s International House.
Featured speakers during the event included Ralph Nader (who tapped Peter to be his 2004 vice-presidential candidate), former San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzales, foreign diplomats, family, and several of Peter’s colleagues and friends from his 68-year life and career.
In the aftermath of Peter’s memorial celebration it is important to recognize Peter’s critical contributions to the Green Party of California’s continuing development: Peter was perhaps single-handedly responsible for re-energizing and enabling the Green Party to become a viable third party political force in California’s electoral landscape.
Peter’s watershed 2002 California gubernatorial campaign laid the foundation for the Green Party’s subsequent electoral successes at the local, municipal and county levels statewide over the last six years.
In 2002, Peter received California’s highest third party vote total in 68 years—since 1934—capturing significant voter percentages in a dozen counties across Northern California, including 17 percent in Mendocino, 14 percent in Sonoma and 12 percent in both Santa Cruz and Marin among other counties.
In San Francisco, Peter captured 15 percent of the city’s vote—placing second ahead of the Republican Party’s gubernatorial candidate—an unprecedented electoral accomplishment for a third party in San Francisco and California.
Peter’s highly visible, energetic 2002 campaign subsequently led to his appearance on a televised gubernatorial candidate debate broadcast during the 2003 recall campaign against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Peter used his televised debate opportunity to articulate the Green Party’s core values and principles to a statewide audience of millions.
Peter’s example and tireless party work served as an inspiration to potential Green Party candidates across California. Peter’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign was the precursor to the election—or near election—of several high profile Green Party candidates.
Former Green Party San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzales successfully harnessed the voter energy precipitated by Peter’s gubernatorial run and nearly toppled Democrat Gavin Newsom during San Francisco’s 2003 razor-thin mayoral run-off election.
Newsom found it necessary to recruit former president Bill Clinton to make a last-minute campaign appearance on Newsom’s behalf—and spend hundreds of thousands of extra dollars—to ward off Gonzales’ unexpectedly strong, electoral challenge.
Perhaps the most significant Green Party election success following Peter’s run was Gayle McLaughlin’s 2006 upset victory for mayor of the City of Richmond, the first large California city over 100,000 citizens to elect a Green mayor.
Ms. McLaughlin’s victory was all the more impressive given that she defeated a sitting Democratic Party incumbent mayor at the time.
In 2004, inspired by Peter, Rebecca Kaplan, a Green Party candidate for Oakland City Council, received 44 percent of Oakland’s city-wide vote against incumbent Democrat Henry Chang. Kaplan’s 2004 campaign subsequently laid the foundation for her election victory this past Nov. 4 as Oakland’s at-large city councilmember-elect.
Although Ms. Kaplan choose to relinquish her Green Party membership prior to her 2008 election, the fact remains that Ms. Kaplan—because of her Green Party connection—is potentially the most progressive and environmentally conscious official to have ever been elected to the Oakland City Council. Oakland’s long history of an entrenched, self-perpetuating political status quo has been punctured with Ms. Kaplan’s election.
Meanwhile, another Oakland Green Party member, current KPFA Morning Show presenter Aimee Allison, nearly upset incumbent Oakland City Council Democrat Pat Kernighan in a closely contested 2006 race. Ms. Allison’s campaign brought together a diverse, broad-based coalition of citizens and activists that shook to the core Oakland’s entrenched political establishment.
Since Peter’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Green Party candidates have been elected or re-elected to Supervisor or City Council seats in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Sabastopol, Sonoma, Fairfax, Arcata, and many other California municipalities.
As of November, 2008 Green Party members held at least 53 elected offices across California at the local, municipal and county levels, including the mayors of Richmond, Sebastopol, Moraga and Marina.
Along with recently deceased Green Party Berkeley City Councilmember Dona Spring, Peter was a giant in the party: a forceful presence who will be nearly irreplaceable for his political skills, passion and knowledge.
One of the most important legacies shared by both Peter and Dona was their deep commitment to building and developing the Green Party of California. This is a project that all active Green Party members must renew and redouble in their personal and political efforts at all levels. Knowing Peter, he would appreciate this.
Chris Kavanagh is a member and a former Central Councilmember of the Green Party of Alameda County,