Deborah Schwartz: I'm Running for Mayor of Santa Barbara -- "It's Time for a Course Correction"
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Jumpstarting the 2021 campaign, Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said Wednesday that she is a candidate for mayor of Santa Barbara.
"It's time for a course correction," Schwartz said in an interview with Newsmakers, in her first public comments confirming recent buzz among City Hall insiders that she will mount a challenge to Mayor Cathy Murillo's re-election bid.
Calling it "a really difficult decision," Schwartz said she made her decision only recently, after being urged to run by "community members from all walks of life, expressing not only concern and frustration, but also even anger, which really jolted me."
"You’re the first one to officially hear it in the media," Schwartz told us, adding that she is assembling a campaign team and will make a formal announcement in the near future.
As a political matter, Schwartz's public comments represent a calculation that making her intentions clear early, nearly a year before the Nov. 2, 2021 election, will establish and position her as chief challenger to Murillo as she seeks community endorsements and campaign contributions before potential rivals enter the fray. Among others, former Mayor Hal Conklin and James Joyce III, longtime aide to former state Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, are rumored to be mulling entry into the race.
An 11-year veteran of the Planning Commission, a traditional portal of entry for mayoral and council candidacies, Schwartz is a land use consultant, UCSB graduate and scion of a prominent Santa Barbara family steeped in community politics and governance, most notably through the service of her mother, the late Naomi Schwartz, on the Board of Supervisors.
Without attacking Murillo by name in the interview, Schwartz nonetheless offered a stinging, two-track critique of her leadership: as a substantive matter, she spotlighted the absence of clear and cogent long-term plans by City Hall for economic development, affordable housing and homelessness; as a matter of political style, she called out a perceived lack of "civility...collegiality and mutual respect" among and between City Council members, which she cast as a failure of the mayor.
She also criticized a lack of urgency by both city staff and the council in changing the entrenched "organizational culture" of the Community Development Department, to which she pointed as a major obstacle in moving forward on housing and economic development.
On collaborative leadership. "It has to start with the mayor...It's critical for the mayor to forge relationships with...the other council members, to build consensus and mutual respect in order to come together on policies to move the city forward...We don’t see that type of collegiality and cohesion and working together as a team. We have to come together to do the public's work. We don't see that out of the current mayor's seat."
On strategic management. "We don’t have a short term or a long term economic development plan. We don’t have a strategic homeless plan...We're simply on a reactive basis...Without these strategic plans, we’re kind of afloat -- it's management by reaction and that’s not good for any of us. Both the residents and the business community are really calling for more and for a course correction."
On reforming the Community Development Department. "It's not happening fast enough…There isn’t a sense of obligation to listen to the public and then to be responsive...We should be outward facing, not inward facing, and that means the public is the customer. Sometimes we forget that, we turn in on ourselves and are too focused on what’s going on inside City Hall as opposed to looking out."
On being urged to run. "I heard from community members from all walks of life expressing not only concern and frustration but also even anger which really jolted me...We’re really at a point where people are saying, ‘can we do better, must we do better?” I firmly believe that we need a course correction in leadership."
If you're reading on the blog you can watch our entire interview with Deborah Schwartz via YouTube below. If you're a subscriber to our newsletter (thank you!) watch by clicking through this link. And the podcast version is here.