Eric Friedman, SB City Council member for District 5, confirmed in a new interview that he'll seek a second term this year -- but confounded local conventional wisdom by foregoing an opportunity to endorse the re-election bid of Mayor Cathy Murillo, a longtime ally.
"At this time, I'm not making an endorsement" in the mayor's race, Friedman told us, underlining the fact that the job is the only one under the district election system that still requires candidates to run and win citywide.
"I took time over the holidays...I really thought about the fact that the mayor now, every four years, is the one time our city comes together now and really looks at our candidates," he said. "So I'm interested to hear what the mayor is going to present, I'm interested in other candidates out there - Deborah Schwartz, James Joyce and others who (may) get in the race."
"So I am not making an endorsement at this moment and I may or may not at some point," he added.
As a political matter, Friedman declining to offer a firm public declaration of support for the incumbent ranks as a surprise, given that he has been one of her closest and consistent Democratic Party allies on the council, since both were elected four years ago.
Two high-profile challengers -- Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz and social entrepreneur James Joyce III -- recently announced their mayoral candidacies for the Nov. 3 election, moves that came unusually early in the campaign year.
Although her performance in the pandemic has been sharply criticized on both sides of the political spectrum, Murillo has indicated she believes her record alone should secure her election ("I'm proud of what we've accomplished during my time as mayor," she told Josh Molina this week. "We...have made important progress that has made our city stronger").
At a time when several other council members are weighing endorsements of one of Murillo's rivals, however, her five-more-years campaign message is unlikely to be buoyed by word that such a previously staunch defender has taken a wait-and-see position on the contest.
After a series of stumbles over the past year, Murillo generated recent headlines, when she brusquely and disrespectfully tried to curb council member Kristen Sneddon from speaking during a debate over a new labor agreement, dismissing Sneddon by declaring there already were four votes -- including her own -- against her colleague's position.
The mayor's behavior was just the latest display on the dais to annoy and anger some of her colleagues, even several who agreed with her on the issue, and the matter still rankles, City Hall sources say.
"She's had her successes and challenges just like we all have," Friedman said of the mayor. "I know she has tried but right now, I'm not making an endorsement. I'm interested to see what she presents and what the other candidates do as well. Ultimately the voters will make the decision."
Friedman's confirmation of his re-election bid was less surprising than his comments on the mayor's race. He has been widely expected to run again, and so far, no one in his district has surfaced to challenge him.
In a wide-ranging interview, Friedman also:
Defended strongly his sponsorship of a so-called Project Labor Agreement, approved by council, to require union labor on large City Hall public works contracts. Friedman insisted that the agreement will protect jobs of Santa Barbara-based construction workers, while improving their pay and benefits, and emphasized that the measure contains effective metrics for tracking its impact on the local contractors and their employees.
Apologized without reservation for invoking "Nazi Germany" in a debate several months ago about how strictly the city should enforce mask-wearing outdoors during the pandemic. Friedman said he was tired at the time, adding that the mask issue is a complex one and that he believes that education is more important and effective than enforcement in ensuring the public use of proper protocols against Covid.
Acknowledged that the sharp decline in Transient Occupancy Revenues during the pandemic remains a major fiscal concern, adding that property and sales tax revenues have not dropped as sharply as once feared. The chair of the Finance Committee, Friedman said that 5 percent across-the-board budget reductions, job freezes and, , fiscal reserves together have enabled the city to navigate the pandemic financially, and that there currently are no plans for layoffs.
Tip-toed around the issue of whether there is "systemic racism" in the Santa Barbara Police Department, as anti-racism activists have argued, defending the performance of both sworn officers and the brass while saying "we all can do better." Amid a new report showing that there only was one officer-caused civilian injury amid tens of thousands of police calls last year, Friedman nonetheless said an ongoing process to increase civilian oversight will "provide more trust" between residents and the cops.
Said the council is still awaiting a report from owners and business operators about their perspective on what to do the vacant Sears building, when asked for his view on the future of the La Cumbre shopping mall, which is in his district. Friedman said the space probably should be a mix of retail and residential, to help offset the 8,000 units of new housing which the state says the city needs to provide over the next few years.