In a private email, SB mayoral candidate Deborah Schwartz told key supporters over the weekend that Supervisor and local Democratic honcho Das Williams urged her to drop out the race and back incumbent Cathy Murillo -- then asked if the party could "offer" her something in return.
Schwartz, writing to board members of the independent Democratic Women's club, which has endorsed her, portrayed Williams' bid to get her to throw her support behind the party-endorsed Murillo as part of a broader, "ugly" and "shameful" effort to vilify challengers in the campaigns for mayor and two council seats.
"I decided that the unbecoming, un-Democratic tactics and behavior coming out of a core group within the (Democratic County Committee) needs to be called out now," Schwartz wrote, adding that she is "beyond disheartened" that this unnamed "core group" is "aggressively waging negative campaigning against legitimate non-incumbent challengers" and "in mail pieces represents themselves and their endorsees as the 'real Democrats.'”
As a political matter, Schwartz's comments, coming one week before Election Day, suddenly surface long-festering indignation and resentment among some Democratic candidates, insiders and activists at the tight control and demands for total loyalty exercised by a small group of leaders of the local party.
Going public is a gutsy move, albeit one that risks political payback. Depending on the results of next Tuesday's election - and whether or not the party succeeds in pushing Murillo, especially, along with endorsed incumbent city council members Meagan Harmon and Kristen Sneddon to victory - Schwartz's airing of her concerns could represent the first step in shaking up the Democratic organization, which dominates local politics, or ensure retribution against her.
In the email, Schwartz said, in effect, that party leadership has lost its way by putting power ahead of principle, and yearned for a return to "a 'big tent' (party) where true values of diversity and inclusivity were priorities," which she recalled from her youth and early years in politics.
What Das says. Williams, in a text message, acknowledged meeting with Schwartz about the mayor's race, but took issue with her characterization of the conversation.
"I was not heavy-handed," Das said."You may remember that I helped get her on the Planning Commission and worked very hard for her (previous unsuccessful bid for) election to City Council.
"I heard she was being approached by some of her supporters to drop out of the race because she was so low in the polls," Williams said in explaining why he approached Schwartz. "So I told her that if that did come to pass that I would do my best to give her credit and repair relationships."
Willians also responded specifically to comments Schwartz made about the matter in a Newsmakers interview; she told us Williams offered a "quid pro quo" if she would drop out and back Cathy, describing the offer as "shameful," "desperate" and "undemocratic."
Das replied: "That is so far from what happened."
The plot thickens. After Newsmakers texted its request for comment to Williams, he sent a screen shot of our text to Schwartz, protesting that she was going to the media rather than keeping her concerns in-house among party leaders, Deborah told us on Monday evening.
She said she responded by calling Das and castigating him for failing to call out, as a de facto leader of the party, what she sees as reprehensible behavior by some Dem insiders and their allies. Among her concerns:
"Slanderous" attacks on Nina Johnson, the longtime City Hall staffer who is challenging Harmon in District 6, which she said have included formal complaints by party apparatchiks about errors in her campaign finance reports, picketing at an open event she held to meet voters and an effort to get Dem Women to withdraw its earlier endorsement of Johnson for being "anti-Democratic."
"Outrageous" comments by former party chair Daraka Larimore-Hall on the SB Talks podcast, in which he insulted Schwartz, Sneddon and school board member Laura Capps -- all Democrats -- in addition to demeaning mayoral candidate James Joyce III - a loyal Democrat -- for having challenged party-endorsed candidates at various times.
A "threatening Google text message" that she, Schwartz, has received, which she connected to the "desperation" of some party leaders about Murillo losing, and which she said she has forwarded to the Santa Barbara Police Department: "I am watching my safety," she said.
Schwartz also noted that even if, hypothetically, she did drop out and endorse Murillo, her backers would not follow her, given that her entire campaign has been premised on the need for change in culture and operations of City Hall under the mayor's leadership.
"My supporters would never vote for Cathy Murillo," she said.
So there's that.
Power Rankings. Seven days is an eternity in politics (although, to be sure, it's a, um, shorter eternity in an all-mail election in which many ballots already have been cast. But we digress), and things can change quickly - but one week out, here is our totally unscientific, fact-free view of where things stand, according to the book maintained by Las Vegas bureau correspondent Tony (Little Tuna) Tagliatelle.
1-Randy Rowse. The sudden outbreak of Democratic in-fighting and sturm und drang underscores his campaign message about the corrosive effect partisanship has had on City Hall, and the latest e-blast by Dem chair Darcel Elliott, linking him by not-very-sly innuendo to Donald Trump, highlights the desperation with which Team Cathy views his campaign.
2-Cathy Murillo. In a low-information local election, don't underestimate the importance and effectiveness of the squadrons of volunteer precinct walkers the Dem Party turns out every weekend for its candidates, and don't forget that campaigning door-to-door is what Happy Cathy does best, certainly far better than governing.
3-James Joyce. The collegiate track man has all the momentum in the race as it heads to the final stretch but from where we're watching up in the nosebleed seats, it looks like he waited too long to turn on the burners, and simply has too much ground to make up. Whatever happens, however, he's established himself as a player on the local political scene.
4-Deborah Schwartz. Deborah thought the mayors race would be all about policy, not power-brokering. She declined to identify by name any of the Democratic Party "core group" she says created a toxic political atmosphere, but here's a wild guess at who would lead off such a list: Das, Darcel and Daraka.
5-Mark Whitehurst. Nice full-page ad in his own newspaper.
6-Matt Kilrain. Leads the field in appearances in police reports.
Don't forget to vote.