Three weeks before the election, the five candidates for mayor face an enervating gauntlet of public forums and debates this week, with the big event a Tuesday night face-off co-sponsored by The Santa Barbara City College Foundation, KCRW, and the Independent.
With mail-in ballots now in the hands of voters, the five-way race is gaining more urgency, as time and opportunities for breaking out of the pack begin to dwindle.
For voters, the best chance for undecideds, leaners and the fully committed to see – or hear - all of the candidates, in what likely will be their most lively session to date, is Tuesday night, live from the Garvin Theatre on the campus of Santa Barbara City College, where the Foundation, a chief sponsor and co-organizer, will host a reception starting at 5:30 p.m.
All five contenders have confirmed they’re coming to the debate; for those who want to skip dealing with parking at SBCC, KCRW radio will broadcast it live on 88.7 FM, 7-8 p.m.
KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian, whose cool smoothness (smooth coolness?) was born for public radio, will moderate, along with Nick Welsh, the Indy’s executive editor, whose encyclopedic knowledge of local politics, keen sense of the absurd and well-developed B.S. detector lend a whiff of danger to the proceedings, at least for the candidates.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. when the Indy's promo on the SBBC Foundation reception, promises “complimentary wine and refreshments,” and the live broadcast begins at 7 p.m.. Ssshh.
Why it matters. The debate is important, for two main reasons:
It will be the campaign's first broadcast airing of a mayoral match, and reach by far the largest audience so far (KEYT is planning a live TV debate on Oct. 29, more details to follow).
And as a political matter, the Independent has yet to issue its endorsement for mayor; word on the street is that it’s still an open proposition over at their E. Figueroa Street offices.
Political professionals, writers and other hacks often argue about the importance – or unimportance - of endorsements in campaigns, which ones matter a lot and which not at all.
In Santa Barbara, the most important endorsements historically have been those of the city’s two big public safety organizations.
This year, however, both the Police Officers Association and the City Firefighters Association surprisingly decided not to endorse in the mayor’s race.
At least at the margins, this should increase the impact and import of the Indy endorsement, and thus the stakes for the debate.
As a practical matter, endorsements by news organizations carry less weight than they did 10 or even five years ago.
Amid Santa Barbara’s fractured media landscape, however, the Independent’s remains the most coveted by candidates, because of the weekly newspaper's core of tens of thousands of loyal readers and its status as a leading voice for good government politics and environmental values in Santa Barbara.
Editor-in- Chief (and, all rise, Indy Co-Founder) Marianne Partridge, with Nick and other key staffers, put a lot of effort into their endorsements, meeting face-to-face with the candidates, researching their records and then arguing with each other about it for days or weeks.
In the end, it’s Marianne’s call, and while Newsmakers is willing to lay long odds against the chances of conservative council member Frank Hotchkiss getting the nod (that said, however, take a look back at our earlier analysis of how he could win, right here), it would not surprise us to see any of the four others capture the endorsement.
Big fun on Tuesday.
Where the candidates will be. A peek at campaign schedules shows a series of other mayoral events this week, from a retirement community meeting to a small neighborhood association reception, but the two best additional chances to see the candidates together are:
-- At 5:30 tonight, Monday, the Youth Coalition and Police Athletic League have scheduled a forum at the Louise Lowry Davis Center, 1232 De La Vina Street.
-- At 11:30 a.m. on Friday, the downtown branch of Rotary will host the candidates at the Fess Parker.
Don’t forget to vote.
(10-17: This post has been updated to reflect the major role in the event of the Santa Barbara City College Foundation. Apologies to the Foundation and Friend of Newsmakers Geoff Green for communications glitch that left them out in original version).
Images: Poster for Independent/KCRW debate; Jonathan Bastian; Marianne Partridge (Paul Wellman); Geoff Green.
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