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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Notebook: Ex-DA, Fire Chief and Top Cop Endorse Roy against Das; Indy Mulls as MoJo Picks Lee; Funny Math in the 3rd

Three icons of Santa Barbara's public safety clan endorsed Roy Lee over Das Williams in the First District Board of Supervisors race this week, saying the challenger is running to serve the community, not just his own ambition.

The unexpected endorsements by former District Attorney Joyce Dudley, retired city Fire Chief Pat McElroy and ex-Police Chief and county Undersheriff Barney Melekian not only lend credibility to the long shot campaign of Lee, a Carpinteria City Council member, but also represent a rebuke to Williams, who is seeking a third term.

At a time when Williams effectively controls the dominant local Democratic Party, and is backed by its most-closely allied organizations, the trio of Lee endorsements is significant because they send a loud message, which many political, business and non-profit leaders will only whisper.

All three have worked with both officeholders over the years, and their praise for the lesser-known Lee - in words which stress his honesty, integrity and communitarianism -- offer an implicit contrast of their up close and personal experience with Das.

"I kept thinking about all the people in our community who won’t say publicly what they say in private because they are afraid of consequences," McElroy told Newsmakers, referencing the incumbent supervisor's reputation for political payback. "Elected officials who know better in private, but fall in line in public."

"Enough is enough," McElroy added.

Why endorsements can matter. As a practical matter, political scientists, professional hacks and the cognoscenti engage in an eternal, and unresolved, debate about the impact of endorsements on voters, ranging from advocacy groups and media outlets to celebrities and politicians.

As a political matter, these endorsements supply a small spark of excitement in what has been a low-energy, low-information campaign, while triggering a quick boost to Lee's fundraising effort, which has lagged badly. His campaign this week quickly churned out its first mailer, featuring Dudley, McElroy and Melekian.

An entrenched incumbent, Williams predictably collected endorsements from groups that underpin Santa Barbara's liberal Democratic establishment: the party's county committee along with constant local allies, including the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood.

Endorsements from these organizations carry solid benefits for Williams, including volunteers and money. Perhaps most importantly, the seals of approval function as signifiers, or information shortcuts, for voters who may not follow politics closely but feel aligned with the groups' missions and values.

For the insurgent Lee, the imprimaturs of three people who have been influential in local emergency services and law enforcement circles validate the seriousness of his candidacy, and, he hopes, encourage voters who've never heard of him to check him out.

How insiders view Roy and Das. Melekian, the city's former interim Police Chief, previously worked in county government, both as Undersheriff, and as Assistant County Executive Officer for Public Safety. Among other duties in the latter posts, he oversaw enforcement for, Williams' idée fixe cannabis project.

It's telling that in his formal endorsement of Lee, who has been harshly critical of his rival's unwavering pro-pot industry stance, Melekian stressed the challenger's law enforcement bona fides:

"Roy Lee's understanding of the complexities of law enforcement and his unwavering support for public safety initiatives make him the ideal candidate for Supervisor," he said in a prepared statement. "His vision for a safer community aligns with the needs of our law enforcement officers and the people they serve."

In a brief phone interview on her way to catch a flight, Dudley contrasted Lee's approach in elected office to that of Williams, with whom she clashed over a variety of issues, not least his push for lefty public safety policies she felt made the community less safe,

"Roy's attitude and actions are those of a true public servant," she told us. "My experience with Das was that it often was always about him."

McElroy echoed Dudley's sentiment.

"To his great credit Roy accepted the difficult challenge of going up against an entrenched incumbent," McElroy said. "He already has a business to run, a council member’s seat and a family. It couldn’t have been easy, but he answered the call.

"Roy is not a man who is going to make a career out of his ambition," he added.

What will Indy do? One of the few political endorsements that definitely, and consistently, makes a difference in local races is that of the Santa Barbara Independent, which interviews candidates and then offers their election choices as a voting guide for thousands of readers.

There's little doubt that the paper will enthusiastically back incumbent Supervisor Joan Hartmann in the three-way Third District race, but what they do with the Das-Roy First District contest is the matter of considerable speculation among insiders and other hacks.

Four years ago, the Indy endorsed Das, albeit in a rather backhanded fashion, enraging backers of then-challenger Laura Capps, who still believe it made the difference in that narrowly-decided election.

Despite the plaintive hope expressed in that 2020 endorsement that Williams would wake up and change his ways --"But we also believe Williams will learn to admit his mistakes quickly and with compassion, and that he will strive to repair relationships with those who have been his past allies," they wrote then (sheesh -ed.) - longtime Das-watchers have waited in vain for him to mature, let alone transmogrify.

Inquiring minds want to know: Will they fall for the Das schmegegge again?

The Montecito Journal, the second weekly based in Williams' district, meanwhile has been a clear-eyed, consistent critic of his political preening and two-faced MO on important local issues, most especially cannabis, housing and flood control.

"Williams is the consummate career politician, and we are a stone on which he is stepping," editor Gwyn Lurie wrote in a fierce takedown of the incumbent last week, which served effectively as an endorsement of Lee.

"There's nothing wrong with ambition," she added. "Politicians need ambition to succeed and, at its best, it's on behalf of constituents. But in this case, it's clear to those paying attention that Williams' ambition represents more of a commitment to self-service than to public service. He doesn't love Montecito. I'm not even sure he likes it."

P.S. Williams refuses to answer questions from Newsmakers, saying that doing so is "not in service of the public good."

Fun with numbers. One of the few mysteries on the local side of the March 5 statewide primary election is whether Supervisor Hartmann will win the 50 percent plus 1 vote she needs to avoid being forced into a November runoff with the second place finisher.

Hartmann's re-election race is complicated by the facts that: a) she has two opponents - Republican businessman Frank Troise, and Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne, who is running as a No Party Preference independent; b) the district has been redrawn, cutting out Isla Vista's trove of lefty-liberal younger voters and adding the more conservative city of Lompoc; c) turnout is uncertain, given that the presidential nominating races are expected to be all but over, with Joe Biden and Donald Trump certain to dominate across the state.

Voter data from the Secretary of State shows that registration in the new district is:

Democrats 43 percent

Republicans 28 percent

No Party Preference 20 percent

Third parties, unknowns 9 percent

It is unclear if actual turnout will match registration, or if Trump Republicans, who vote in larger numbers whenever he is on the ballot, will give a GOP tilt to the election, particularly because Democrats overall are meh about Biden's re-election.

According to sources close to our imagination, a back of the envelope, March 5 worst case for Hartmann would go something like:

50 percent overall turnout = 25,500 votes (approx)

Total needed to avoid run-off = 12,750 votes

40 percent Democrats (est) 10,200

31 percent Republicans (est) 7,905

29 NPP, third party, unknowns (set) 7,395

WAG assumptions: Say Joan holds serve on Democrats, and Frank does so among Republicans. Joan then would need to win an additional 2,550 votes, or about one-third of the remaining portion, to win outright on March 5. Swami sez: Given that she's the only one who appears to be, you know, running an actual campaign, it's eminently doable.

BTW, If you missed our recent conversation with Joan Hartmann, co-moderated by Josh Molina and the Newsmakers' genial host, you can watch it via YouTube below, or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here


Images (L-R) Pat McElroy, Roy Lee, Barney Melekian (Lee campaign brochure); Cowardly lion Das won't answer our questions (Newsmakers photo illustration); Joyce Dudley (courtesy).

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