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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Eric Friedman: Door is "Open a Crack" for SB Mayoral Bid -- But "I Won't Run Against Cathy"

SB City Council member Eric Friedman Zoomed in Thursday for a conversation that ranged from an in-the-weeds policy discussion about the Police Department budget controversy to some bobbing and weaving over his rumored interest in running for mayor.

With the terms of both the embattled Mayor Cathy and Friedman up next year, cognoscenti, insiders and other hacks in recent weeks have been mongering gossip about the District Five council member's interest in her job.

In a one-on-one with Newsmakers, Friedman acknowledged that he's had some discussions about the possibility of running citywide for mayor in 2021. He termed it "highly unlikely," but refused to rule it out (as his council colleague Meagan Harmon did earlier in talking with us) -- while insisting he would not challenge Murillo if she seeks a second term.

"I think it's really up to her to go forward and say if she's running or not," he said. "I would not run against Cathy, but like I said, who knows what's gonig to happen down the line."

"I'm leaving (the door) open a crack," Friedman added.

Alcaldesa in recent months has been politically battered from both the right and the left, as business leaders have disparaged her shortage of leadership in the pandemic and the economic downturn while Black Lives Matter activists have ripped her as a "passing white woman" obtuse to their concerns.

Friedman expressed sympathy with Her Honor for the amount of invective she has absorbed at recent council meetings, saying that "all the emotion -- we're all tired as a community."

"I feel really badly that she’s had to go through those hours and hours of attacks on the council and that’s something that really weighs on all of us," he said. "I've seen what's happened to Cathy over the last few weeks, and even though she's had her challenges and successes, that’s stuff that weighs on all of us, what she's had to go through."

During the pandemic, Eric has maintained a full schedule at City Hall, while continuing his day job at Trader Joe's and splitting childcare duties with spouse Julie wife for their two kids, 11 and 13, who've been locked up at home amid the shutdown of public schools.

"I'm not going to lie -- it’s been mentally and physically exhausting," he told us. "But we’re managing, just like everybody is in the same boat. We are just trying to get through and do the best we can."

As chair of the Finance Committee, Friedman took the lead in the council's recent approval of the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1; with general fund spending pegged at $145 million, according to the city's website, he offered his perspective on the city's financial condition and related issues amid the pandemic and economic downturn.

Among other comments, he:

  • Defended the 46 percent increase in general fund spending over the last decade -- during a period when inflation has increased 18 percent -- by pointing to increased pension costs, state and federal regulations and "new positions" that have added to the payroll over the years to provide a range of services that the community requested.

  • Objected to the term "defund the police" to describe a BLM-backed push to examine the $47 million police department budget, calling it instead an effort at "reallocating resources in a more humane manner" by transferring some of the duties now performed by sworn officers to social service and mental health workers: "I don’t think (defunding) is a term that gets to a good community discussion...I think the real question is how do we reimagine, or relook at, some of the services we ask them to provide."

  • Affirmed the commitment he made, during his 2017 election campaign, to use Measure C funds to construct a new police station; amid objections to the project made by BLM activists, the city pulled back $2 million for the project generated by the sales tax increase, but Friedman said that was a one-year adjustment because the building is still undergoing environmental review: "I still do support having a police station because it was part of the Measure C promise."

  • Expressed hope that a new director will change "the culture" of the $13.4 million Community Development Department, now that former chief George Buell has departed, and make permit and building processes more clear, coherent and efficient.

  • Explained his decision to vote against raises for SEIU city workers, while employees in other bargaining units received salary boosts, as a matter of "bad timing"; he said that by the time the pay hikes -- approved by five of his colleagues -- came to council, the economic shock of the pandemic had hit and he was deeply concerned about declines in sales and hotel tax revenues: "I value the work of all our city employees...I just couldn’t make that determination to support raises at that time."

"We don’t know what the impacts of Covid are really going to be," he said, "We don’t know what the comeback is going to be in terms of our top tax producing industries."

Watch our full interview with Eric Friedman by clicking below, and the podcast version is here.

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