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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

14 Tuesdays 'til SB Election (7 'til Recall): Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

With just 98 shopping days left until Santa Barbara's high-stakes Nov. 3 city election - and only 49 before the suddenly kinetic Sept. 14 recall vote on Gov. Gavin Newsom - here is a look at the political landscape, effective Tuesday, July 27:

Miracle cure? Whatever mysterious ailment caused Mayor Cathy Murillo to ditch last Wednesday's solemn and well-attended memorial service for community icon Hal Conklin (she told the Poodle, um, that she might have a cold coming on) thankfully had vanished by the weekend.

For that enabled Mayor Cathy, only three days later, to complete three shifts of precinct walking, she boasted on social media ("I outlasted all the volunteers," her Facebook page read, above the inevitable selfie) knocking on doors and handing out Democratic Party literature about the mayoral, council and recall elections.

For the neighbors' sake, here's hoping the ephemeral ailment that deterred her from Hal's event isn't contagious.

As a personal matter, the mayor's failure to pay public respects to the late Mr. Conklin -- who practically invented the environmental movement in Santa Barbara and beyond, but had the audacity to run against Cathy four years ago -- no doubt will rankle some among the hundreds of friends and family who turned out at the Old Mission for his observance.

It was an emotional community event which the city's highest-ranking elected official (and only citywide office-holder) on the natural might be expected to attend, or at least drop-by, even if a bit under the weather.

As a political matter, however, Mayor Murillo's no-show demonstrates perhaps her greatest vulnerability, as she bids to win a second term (for five-years): Still strongly esteemed within the political base of left-wing, union-backed Democrats whose interests she reliably and reflexively serves every Tuesday, she has failed in four years to expand her coalition much beyond it.

Murillo won election in 2017 with 27 percent of the total votes cast for mayor: thus three of four voters wanted somebody else.

Since then, she's exhibited scarce talent, and less interest, in what should be Job One for any mayor -- building unity across and throughout the community.

As it happens, the Conklin snub is at least the third, recent high-profile example of her inability to abide normal human discourse with those who disagree with her politically: she previously blew off the big annual "State of the City" affair tossed by the revitalized Chamber of Commerce, and last year famously threw a public tantrum during the huge Black Lives Matter protest, when she tore off her mask and started jawing with organizers uninterested in kissing her ring.

A lesson any politician who seeks to lead a city effectively should know: Those with whom you disagree are not your enemies - they're your neighbors.

This just in... The three major mayoral challengers -- James Joyce, Randy Rowse and Deborah Schwartz -- are confirmed guests on Newsmakers TV on Wednesday, when we've invited them to discuss the critical issue of what qualities are most important in selecting a successor to City Administrator Paul Casey, who recently announced his retirement amid the bedlam at City Hall.

Alone among the candidates, the mayor said she'll be unable to make it, but plans to send a written statement instead. So there's that.

Power Rankings. Since last month, the biggest change from Newsmakers' previous Power Rankings, an absolutely subjective and categorically unscientific assessment of the mayor's race, is that Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz has catapulted over entrepreneurJames Joyce III into third place.

#1-Cathy Murillo. Every political campaign comes down to three things -- Money, Mechanics and Message -- and though the incumbent is deficient on the last ("Five More Years of More of the Same" lacks a certain ring), the Dem Party's volunteers and proven ability to ID, and reap the ballots of, their loyal voters, coupled with tens of thousands in union contributions (not least from trade unions grateful for Cathy's help in scoring a sweetheart Project Labor Agreement deal on city construction) might be enough to win even if she went to Hawaii for the next three months..

#2-Randy Rowse. Amid word that Santa Barbara's Joe Biden managed to raise more than $100K pretty quickly, the issue combination of homelessness, crime and economic recovery affords him a clear running lane, from center-left to center-right, to appeal to property tax-paying, reliably-voting homeowners who foot the bill for City Hall monkey business. "Tone, direction and decorum is the Mayor's primary function in leading City Council," the longtime small business owner and ex-council member said in rebooting his campaign message last week. "We can no longer afford to fall subordinate to a Mayor’s personal ideologies and political ambitions."

#3-Deborah Schwartz. Planning Commissioner Schwartz reportedly also will show six figures raised when campaign finance reports soon become public, which is table stakes for this race, and she's been out there hustling (viz: her ongoing one-woman, citywide bicycle tour, is a social media knockoff of more traditional campaign bus and train excursions). More importantly, City Administrator Casey's sudden retirement announcement throws a spotlight on her call for Santa Barbara to adapt a stronger mayor-council operation, giving her a chance to drive the debate on the crucial questions about the selection of Casey's successor.

#4-James Joyce. A serious runner, the former legislative aide and founder of the "Coffee with a Black Guy" movement, suffered a ghastly leg injury last year and his battle to come back from the physical setback seems oddly reflected in the slow start and pace of his campaign to date, as he struggles to keep up in the dash for campaign cash and, more substantively, has yet to proclaim a clear and compelling message of why exactly he's running.

No free lunch. Beyond the race for mayor, three City Council district contests are on the ballot, putting a majority of seats in play in this election.

The costly challenge Planning Commissioner Barrett Reed is mounting against District 4 council member Kristen Sneddon has been well chronicled, but for a while, it's looked like the other two incumbents were in for free rides

Not so fast.

Although the final deadline for filing is not until August 6, three potential challengers recently pulled papers against Meagan Harmon -which counterintuitively is good news for the appointed District 6 representative.

After the council voted in 2019 to hand Meagan the seat vacated by Gregg Hart, she quickly became a major player at City Hall and, more recently, skunked Das Williams and a batch of more experienced Central Coast pols to win an appointment from Governor Gavin to the Coastal Commission.

The only thing she's never done: win a single vote in an election. It's a rap that both has shadowed and vexed her mightily.

(Update 7-28-21: Josh Molina just reported that Nina Johnson, a 25-year veteran of city government who currently serves as senior assistant to the City Administrator, on Wednesday pulled papers to run against Harmon. This is a big development in the downtown district: Johnson is well-liked and well-regarded by the business community and will make this a competitive race and a big challenge for Meagan).

Harmon also seems likely to face Jason Carlton, owner of an SB electrical contracting company, who told us he's running a grassroots-up campaign which he's begun by contacting 75 business owners in the downtown district to survey them about their concerns, the better to carry them to City Hall (spoiler alert: homelessness is at the top of the list); a second potential opponent, Zachary Pike, also has pulled papers but we were unable to connect with him before post time.

In District 5, Eric Friedman now faces a potential contest with John Foran, a UCSB sociology professor who teaches and researches "social movements/revolutions; development and social change; Third World cultural studies; Latin America, Middle East; historical-comparative," according to his web page, and who could provide the liberal Eric the intriguing experience of being challenged from the left.

Gavin slipping. A few months ago, it looked like Gavin Newsom was poised to demolish the Republican-backed effort to recall him. Now, the Delta variant of Covid, along with new state and federal government mandates about masks and other pandemic protections, have suddenly shaken up the contest.

A new UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies poll shows the critical recall question within the margin of error, among the universe of voters who say they are likely to vote: 47 per cent of this group favors the recall (compared with only 36 of overall registered voters) versus 50 percent of likely voters who oppose it (comparable to the 51 percent of all registered voters who would vote to keep Newsom).

Keep in mind there are two questions on the ballot: 1) should Newsom be recalled? 2) If so, who should replace him (among a list of 46 candidates whose names will be listed)?

Question 2 only matters if a majority in the Sept. 14 special election first say Prince Gavin must go; if that happens it is all but certain that he would be replaced by a Republican, because the governor and his allies decided as a matter of strategy to pressure any other Democrats from signing up for the ballot.

While Caitlyn Jenner easily won the East Coast Mainstream Media primary - the Beltway bloviators just couldn't resist weighing in on those whacky Californians -- potential voters in the IGS poll seem far less enamored of her -- ranking her eighth, far behind current front-runner, conservative talk show host Larry Elder.

A right-wing radio motormouth as governor. - what could possibly go wrong?


From our peerless archive. Here are links to our interviews with Mayor Cathy Murillo and her three major challengers.

Cathy Murillo.

Randy Rowse.

James Joyce.

Deborah Schwartz.

Images: What the dog said (Facebook); Mayor Cathy's campaign Facebook page; Power Rankings (; Meagan Harmon (Newsmakers TV); Prince Gavin (SF Chronicle).

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