What happened to the Sacramento liberal supervisor candidate?
Duke Cooney ran for a seat on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to “breathe new life” into a board he says has remained stagnant for years.
But after a campaign that appeared to generate momentum and saw endorsements pour in from progressive organizations across the county, Cooney was beaten badly last month by outgoing District 2 Supervisor Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy won 74% of the vote in the June 7 primary.
Weeks later, Cooney said, he is undeterred. And he is far from done running for office.
“It’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint,” Cooney said. “We need so much help at all levels. The county was one, but there are plenty of other local politicians who overstayed their welcome by a few decades. And I know that if I insert myself into these spaces, I can bring them to life in a new way.
Cooney, who is black, gay and millennial, campaigned on the premise that the council needed new representation.
Cooney and Kennedy are both Democrats. Cooney ran to Kennedy’s left, saying he hoped to bring the voices of young people of color to the council. His campaign was similar to that of Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang, who both ran successfully for Sacramento City Council seats in 2020 in campaigns focused on representation and more progressive ideas on the council.
His loss, Cooney said, doesn’t mean Sacramento County isn’t ready to see a change in its board of directors. Rather, he sees it as a reflection of who votes and who doesn’t.
City council election results, for example, show far more people voted in wealthier neighborhoods like Land Park and Pocket/Greenhaven than in South Sacramento. Cooney was running for a seat that included Land Park and Pocket/Greenhaven.
“These aren’t the people I’ve spent time talking to,” Cooney said. “It wasn’t the people who were necessarily resonating with social justice and change and fairness and having some of those dollars flow differently in our communities.”
“If we can only get less than 15% to send stamped mail that only costs anyone five minutes of their time…there’s a lot of work to be done,” he added.
Jeremy Wilson, who served as Cooney’s campaign manager for the latter part of the race, said team members were disappointed, but not shocked, with the results of the race.
The volunteers “knew what they were getting into” when they joined a grassroots campaign against an incumbent, he said.
Still, Wilson is proud of how a small group of volunteers garnered more than 11,000 votes. The responsiveness and momentum that resulted from the campaign meant it was “not a total loss”, he said.
Where is the Democratic Party
Tracie Stafford, chairwoman of the Sacramento County Democratic Party – which backed Kennedy – said the party was grappling with how to accommodate new Democratic challengers without “splitting the spotlight” and votes, in some races.
On a personal level, Stafford said, she appreciates seeing new candidates come forward because they have the power to influence and shape the platforms of long-term incumbents.
“I think it’s wonderful because having a new goal or a different goal that works for the office actually helps infuse new ideas into the system,” Stafford said.
As for Cooney, Stafford said, he’s “an absolute rockstar.”
“I think he’s someone we definitely want to continue working with and finding out what he plans to do next and involving him,” she said.
Cooney is unambiguous about his intention to continue running for office. His name will be on the ballot in 2024, he said, although he doesn’t yet know in which race.
Organization in Sacramento neighborhoods
In the immediate term, he hopes to mobilize his volunteers and the coalition he built in the election to focus on hyper-local issues, such as informing neighbors about wildfire protection plans. and air pollution, or organizing garbage cleanups.
He acknowledges the criticism he has received from all political walks of life, that he is too young or inexperienced to hold office. But, he said, he’s not prepared to wait decades until his time comes to sit on a board. This election, despite the defeat, has proven to him that he has the power to change things now.
“No one was going to knock on my door and give me permission to run for office,” he said. “I wasn’t on anyone’s shortlist. I wasn’t a shoo-in at all mentions. So I really wasn’t expecting anything. I was going to do what I could do, which was to go out, use my feet, tie my shoes, knock on doors, and meet people. And everything else was really just an unexpected but much appreciated surprise.