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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

12 Tuesdays to Go: 6-Way Fray for SB Mayor; Vaccine Mandate Scrum; Gavin Recall Update

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Cathy Murillo's chances of winning a new, five-year, term got a boost Tuesday, with official word that the field for mayor of Santa Barbara now comprises six - 6, count 'em, 6 - candidates.

The late entry of publisher Mark Whitehurst, along with the unexpected candidacy of eclectic Funk Zone investor Matt Kilrain, into a field of challengers that already included former city council member Randy Rowse, Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz and entrepreneur James Joyce, will further dilute the vote for mayor in the winner-take-all contest, bolstering the weight of incumbent Murillo's loyal 27 percent base.

Because Santa Barbara's current, irrational election system does not require a run-off between the top two finishers for the only position elected citywide, a large field of mayoral contenders makes it likely that a sizable majority of voters will favor a candidate other than the winner; Exhibit A for the daftness is Murillo, the flag bearer of the Democratic Party, who began her troubled first term after three of four voters cast ballots against her.

The new guys. Of the two new names on the ballot, Whitehurst is better known, as the owner and publisher of Voice, a weekly newsprint tabloid. Previously known as Casa, it carries a mix of community and local arts and entertainment content, financed with revenue from real estate advertising.

Unlike certain historic California press barons who made the switch to politics -- think William Randolph Hearst, William F. Knowland and the Otis and Chandler clans -- Whitehurst appears to have more modest goals, telling Newsmakers he decided to run, in part, because of his lived experience as father to a homeless son:

"Several weeks ago a series of things caused me to reevaluate my role," he wrote in an email.

"I had been reflecting on the needs of our city's art and culture sector, the massive changes to our world class image with the introduction of the Promenade and COVID adaptations, and the upcoming re-opening of the art museum. In the midst of this, my often homeless son was hospitalized and received stellar care here in SB...

All of this, moved me to engage in a new way and motivated me to run for mayor."

As a political matter, Whitehurst's entry potentially cramps Rowse the most: another, like-minded old white guy urging non-partisan pragmatism and private sector perspective.

The lesser known Kilrain, who brands himself as "Boat Rat Matt," displays his myriad business interests on an eponymous website; one of his companies, "Chrismattic Investments," is described as a "small time investment corporation that has been building a house in Big Bear with cash money that it makes from Chrismattic Car Care and from flipping boats with Boat Rat Matt."

The core promise of his campaign:

"Boat Rat Matt will develop and implement a profit sharing program whereas the citizens own the BUSINESS OF SANTA BARBARA and recieve (sic) a dividend and a pension for living in Santa Barbara."

Such a deal.

City Hall tax mandate. An old precept of political campaigns says that when you're losing, pick a fight.

Joyce, founder of the Coffee with a Black Guy franchise, who has lagged the field early, did just that this week.

Seeking to jump back into the conversation, he called for mandated vaccinations or testing for all city employees.

“It’s time to require vaccines or weekly testing for all City employees, in fact, it’s long overdue," he said in a news release. ".At a bare minimum, the government should focus on keeping people alive. We have seen increased COVID infections, yet are woefully behind on our vaccination rate. The City of Santa Barbara has more than 1000 employees, and getting these employees fully vaccinated will help save lives.”

His rivals were skeptical.

Murillo disclosed in an email that "a vaccination requirement is currently under discussion" with the City Hall unions to whom she caters, and which return the favor with campaign contributions. "The safety of our city staff and public is paramount," she wrote us.. "We are continually evaluating our procedures internally and with our public employee unions to ensure the highest level of safety."

Rowse said that while he agrees "everyone should be vaccinated...I hesitate to have elected officials make medical and work-related policy."

"The political divisiveness over everything has been part of the resistance to vaccination, due to mistrust of public officials," he added. "No. I favor bringing everyone on board with straightforward information...Should a district-elected council be reinterpreting the direction of our designated health-care professionals?"

Schwartz took a mild shot at James in her response, saying she favors "outreach and communication first before making one-directional statements (such as a press release) about policy changes.

" It's vital that this not be made a politicized issue, and I would be disappointed with anyone for doing so," Schwartz added.

Two clashes and a coronation. In the end Eric Friedman skated, as City Clerk Sarah Gorman on Tuesday released a final candidate list, which shows he is unopposed in District 5.

Not so District 4 incumbent Kristen Sneddon, who faces robust opposition from flush-with-cash developer and fellow SBHS Don Barrett Reed, nor District 6 appointed incumbent Meagan Harmon, opposed by longtime City Hall insider Nina Johnson, business owner Jason Carlton and DJ Zachary Pike..

The 2 question question on recall. Joe Holland, our steadfast county election czar, who's running both the Nov. 3 city election and the Sept. 14 balloting in the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, got the voters handbook for the recall into mailboxes in a timely fashion this week, and the sample ballot shows complexity behind the deceptively simple issue of whether to oust Prince Gavin.

The ballot includes two items, in quick succession. The first:

Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?

Followed by this language:

"Candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as Governor if he is recalled":

Which is followed by a list of 46 wannabe governors, including one Libertarian, two Green Party members, 10 No Party Preference independents, 24 Republicans and 10 no-name Democrats, who did not obey the party's fatwa ordering all Dems to stay off the ballot, in a bid to aid Team Gavin's political calculations.

Newsom and his allies were out this week asking their supporters to ignore the second question, and only to answer the first -- No on recall -- a high-risk gamble that essentially cedes the decision on a new governor, should Prince Gavin be recalled, to a tiny number of Republican voters.

What Willie sez. Among Democrats feeling anxious about the recall is California political icon Willie Brown, Newsom's mentor, who appointed him to his first positions in local government in San Francisco several decades ago.

Carla Marinucci, ace California correspondent for Politico, sat down for lunch with Brown, and filed this report:

Among those raising the alarm is Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco and sage of the state Assembly, who laid out his concerns during a two-hour lunch at John’s Grill this weekend in San Francisco. Over shrimp cocktails and fish and chips, Brown — who mentored Newsom and appointed him to his first political position — had some stark advice for the governor’s team: Move it.

“As of Election Day, Gavin is behind by 2.1 million votes: the people who signed those recall petitions,” Brown told us. “And they are all going to vote.” Newsom may have a big money advantage with $45 million in the bank, as Jeremy reported Friday. But “money is not going to win this election,” Brown added. “It is not a traditional campaign.”

Brown said his daily conversations with Democrats on the street still show some shocking ignorance about the coming election among Newsom’s base voters. Case in point: He says Democrats at a recent Chinatown gathering told him “they were going to vote ‘yes’ on the recall ballot to help Gavin.’’ He had to school them: “No! You have to vote no.”

So there's that.

Hot podcast. City Hall is abuzz and agog over Josh Molina's latest podcast interview, with iconoclast developer Ed St. George. The whole thing is worth a listen, but don't miss St' George's oh-so-retrograde patriarchal sexist rap about council member Harmon, which begins around the 12:30 mark and continues for an excruciatingly cringeworthy 10 minutes.

Newsmakers says check it out.

Images:; Mark Whitehurst (; James Joyce (newsmakers screen grab); Joe Holland ( Santa Barbara Talks with Josh Molina.

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