Gus Ayer, RIP

Gus Ayer photo gus_zpsd39dba29.jpgNote by Brian: I really want to emphasize what a special person and activist Gus Ayer was. He will be missed not only in Orange County, but by everybody who happened to meet him. He was completely dedicated to the many good causes he committed himself to, and gave tremendously of himself. More can be said, and Robert did an excellent job, but let there be no doubt that California was made better by Gus. We all lost something with his passing. Rest in peace, Gus.

Gus Ayer, former mayor of Fountain Valley and a leader of progressive political organizing in Orange County, has died.

Gus was a well-known figure to many of us who were active in California politics and an important part of the Calitics family. For me, he was a mentor as I made the transition from a full-time academic to a full-time political activist in the late ’00s. I thought I knew what I was doing, but Gus often took time to show me the ways things really worked and gave me suggestions on how to actually be effective, how elections are really fought and won, and how power can and should be wielded for the right purposes and values.

We bonded over our shared connections to Orange County, collaborated on various projects, and kept in touch at Democratic Party meetings. We talked about innovative ways to engage voters and win elections in the purple frontiers of the state, including Orange County. We traipsed around Tustin, my hometown, and schemed how we could reclaim it from the cronies whose misrule was well known. It’s only now that I look back and realize how much I learned from him.

Gus didn’t just want to turn Orange County blue, he wanted to turn it a deep, progressive shade of blue. He believed, as did many of us, that Orange County could elect progressive leaders, that we didn’t have to settle for corporate hacks or moderates. One of the candidates he helped support and elect is Huntington Beach City Councilmember Joe Shaw, who shared his reminiscences on Daily Kos:

He sacrificed his own re-election campaign in Fountain Valley to try and elect Debbie Cook to Congress. He was the mayor and a city council member in Fountain Valley.

I could always count on Gus to make me laugh and to cut through the bullshit and tell it to me straight. He was my mentor and in my innermost circle of friends.

I walked many many miles with Gus at Mile Square Park near his home in Fountain Valley. We strategized laughed and made many plans during those walks.

There is a great void in my heart right now.

Joe also tallied Gus’s recent victories:

Just to let you know what Gus worked on in the 2012 campaign cycle:

Sandy Genis elected to the Costa Mesa City Council

Jill Hardy elected to the Huntington Beach City Council

Diana Carey elected to the Westminster City Council

Helped to defeat Measure Z in Huntington Beach

Worked on the anti-Charter initiative in Costa Mesa

Worked on saving Coyote Hills in Fullerton and won at the ballot even though outspent 10-1.

Worked on defeating an anti-open space initiative in Orange and won!

Another activist who Gus helped, Heather Pritchard, also shared her thoughts at Daily Kos:

And he loved big.  He had an amazing family, he was so proud of his sons, his adopted and biological.  And he just had a way of making you feel welcome.  I always knew if I need someone to talk to I could call Gus….

You were one in a million Gus and I know so many others who will miss you just as much as I will.  You were like a Father I didn’t have, I’m sure you were to so many.  I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact I won’t see you again.

Gus was also a strong environmentalist. Just before his death, he began working on a project to fight a deeply flawed desalination proposal in Orange County. He was proud of a new website he had launched, No Deal With Poseidon.

There are many ways to honor his memory, and we’ll have something concrete in the near future. But for now, perhaps the best way to honor this key figure in California progressive politics is to visit No Deal With Poseidon, share the link with those you know in Orange County, and help spread the word about this fight which, like so many others, we will carry on in his name and in his memory.

Photo credit: Gus in his element.Marta Evry