It's a big week in the mayor's race, as voters will have three -- 3, count 'em, 3 - opportunities to check out the candidates for Santa Barbara's only citywide office as they make their pitches while seated next to each other. At least virtually.
Thirty-five days before the Nov. 3 election - and one week before mail ballots go out, the competitors are preparing for this week's forums (Wednesday, sponsored by the Montecito Journal -- register here; Thursday, the League of Women Voters will live-stream on their Facebook page, details here; Friday at noon, the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara is holding a live event which you can see via Zoom here).
As every loyal Newsmaker knows, there is a trio of fundamental and critical components on which any political campaign rises or falls: message, money and mechanics. Here is a look at where things stand on those key measures:
Message. We've now heard the candidates' stock speeches multiple times, and here is how we'd condense them in plain English:
Seeking a new five-year term, Mayor Cathy Murillo's message might be boiled down to "Hey, Things Could Be Worse!" as she cheerfully celebrates the state of the city ("We're not as bad as L.A.," she said at one point about the homeless situation) and firmly defends her 10-year record on council, while that of chief rival and ex-council member Randy Rowse might be depicted as "Let's Just Fix the Damn Pot Holes!" as he positions himself as a common sense non-partisan, implicitly promising to loosen the grip that the Democratic Party and its union allies hold on City Hall via the incumbent mayor and her fellow ideologues..
When Planning Commission President Deborah Schwartz offers her professional expertise and experience in guiding the city's future development as the key criteria of choice for voters, we imagine a thought bubble that reads, "It's Time to Put a Smart Technocrat in Charge," while we can't help but hear "Nobody Leaves The Room Until We Figure This Out" each time entrepreneur James Joyce speaks of building consensus by employing his well-honed skills at facilitating "conversations."
Forgive us, but Mark Whitehurst invariably makes us recall Admiral James Stockdale's famous opening statement in the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate -- "Who Am I? Why Ami I Here?" while "Princess Diana and JFK Jr. Are Alive" sounds about right whenever Matt "Boat Rat Matt" Kilrain offers his prescriptions for Santa Barbara's problems.
Money. Campaign contributions may not be determinative in every political race but they sure are decisive in how effectively, and how frequently, rival candidates can get their messages out.
The latest campaign finance reports (more details below) show Rowse still dominating the 2021 dash for cash ($231,276 overall, with $99,355 in the latest reporting period, since July 1)), although Murillo ($133,635 this year, $46,904 in last period) remains very close in the crucial line item of cash on hand ($121,860 to $133,274 for Randy) thanks to $50,000 she collected last year, when no one else was yet running and the size of individual contributions was still unlimited.
Schwartz has taken in $143,164 in 2021, but only $37,199 since July (strange but true, the most intriguing item we found in her finance report was in the expense pages, which showed $528.22 for getting her car cleaned -- seven trips through Educated Car Wash in 11 weeks! But we digress), while Joyce continues to lag badly in fundraising with only $41,913 total -- even less than every major candidate in a district-only council race - with a mere $11,985 in the most recent reporting period.
Whitehurst filed his finance report on paper instead of digitally, so we haven't seen his numbers yet and Boat Matt Rat didn't file.
Mechanics. In terms of campaign field operations, the Democratic Party endorsement, which went to Cathy, comes with a singular advantage -- week in-week out, weekend precinct walking teams and literature drops which are orchestrated by the formidable political organizer and Party chair (and, oh yeah, Das Williams aide) Darcel Elliott, and staffed not only by regular party volunteers but also by youthful energy drawn from Dem clubs at UCSB and SBCC.
To be sure, nearly all the candidates are walking door-to-door, but the Dem operation is sui generis.
The latest line. Adding it all up, our Las Vegas Bureau Chief, Massimo (Muscles) Mostaccioli, reports that wagering lines show the shape of the race has changed dramatically since our last Power Rankings two months ago. Based on absolutely no hard evidence, here is our 100 percent subjective and science-free take on the state of the race:
#1-(tie) Cathy Murillo and Randy Rowse. Five Tuesdays before Election Day, it's become a two-way race as old white guy Rowse improbably has seized the mantle of change and assembled a broad coalition -- 182 individual contributions in the last period -- of builders, merchants, retirees, throwback Santa Barbarans and taxpayers and homeowners fed up with the status quo at City Hall . But he still faces a tough fight against Murillo and her committed base of elected and institutional Democrats and labor unions -- 10 such contributions represent 55 percent of her total take for the period, among 76 individual donors -- including the maximum $4,900 from Service Employees International Union Local 620, which represents city workers on whose salary and benefits the mayor votes.
#3-James Joyce. Joyce has set forth perhaps the two most significant policy proposals of the campaign -- a vaccine mandate for city employees and an ethics plan to lessen the influence of special interests at City Hall -- but has not yet followed through aggressively enough to build a sustained argument on either.
#4-Deborah Schwartz. When she announced her candidacy last December, Schwartz was the favorite of the business community, but Randy's entry scrambled the race, leading some of her erstwhile backers to switch candidates, particularly after real estate mogul Jim Knell commissioned and circulated a poll showing her lagging far behind Rowse.
#5-Mark Whitehurst. Campaign finance reports submitted on paper? Seriously dude? Did you use a quill pen too?
Barrett's quest for world domination. If this whole City Council thing doesn't work out for Barrett Reed, he could definitely make a few bucks slapping a hard cover on his campaign finance report and repurposing it as "A Consumer Guide to Real Estate Development in Santa Barbara."
Fueled by contributions from the likes of real estate scion Michael MacElhenny ($4900) and the California Association of Realtors ($2,500), developer Reed added another $46,500 to his brimming campaign coffers in his bid to wrest the District 4 seat from Kristen Sneddon, bringing his total raised to $208,343.50.
For all you arithmetic nerds out there, that represents $33 for each of the 6,298 voters who cast a ballot in the district race four years ago, and $64 for each of the 3,237 voters that Kristen captured for the win.
Sneddon, doing her best Little Engine That Could imitation, collected $28,060 in the period, bringing her total to $74,398 for the campaign to date.
It's on in District 6. Challenger Nina Johnson, who filed her first report a few days past the legal deadline, had a successful first period, raising $63,005, much of it from downtown real estate and business interests, including investors Richard Berti ($4900) and Knell, who delivered a batch of $750 contributions from at least a half-dozen companies and real estate partnerships.
This put appointed incumbent Meagan Harmon in an embarrassing catch-up position, as she raised just $31,153 in the same period, for a 2021 total of $59,891, much of the recent haul from labor organizations doubtless grateful for her switch of positions to favor the Project Labor Agreement public works contracting deal ($1500 from the electricians, $2K from the plumbers for starters), along with $4900 from Supervisor Gregg Hart, the local godfather of the union sweetheart PLA system.
The two of them appear to be just getting started: Since last week's filings alone, Nina has reported another $10,500 in major contributions while Meagan has brought in at least $11,800.
Press Clips. Noozhawk Publisher Bill Macfayden never tires of singing the praises of digital news while slamming print competitors who still deliver ink on dead trees as "Fossil Media."
When it comes to selling campaign ads in local political races, however, the new campaign finance reports suggest that print enjoys a natural advantage, based on a comparison of ad spending by major candidates at Noozhawk and the Independent:
Carthago delenda est.
Actual facts. Here is a summary of the latest fundraising from the major candidates.
Candidate Period (7/1-9-18-21) 2021 Cash on Hand
Randy Rowse $99,355 ` $231,276 $133,274
Cathy Murillo 48,539 133,635* . 121,860
Deborah Schwartz . 37,199 143,164 66,046
James Joyce III 11,985 41,913 16,475
*Murillo total raised does not include $50,117 carried over from 2020.
District 4. This Period 2021 Cash on Hand
Barrett Reed $46,500 $208,344 $94,037
Kristen Sneddon . 28,060 74,398 61,358
Nina Johnson 63,005 63,005 48,365
Meagan Harmon . 31,153 59,891 25,153