Two Tuesdays to Go: James Says He's Got Enough Kick to Catch Randy and Cathy in the Stretch
In his college days, James Joyce III competed as a Division 1 track and field athlete. Today, he compares his campaign for mayor of Santa Barbara to running in an 800-meter race.
As every close reader of Wikipedia knows, the 800 is a middle-distance event known for tactical racing: as all the runners converge into a single lane soon after the start, pacing and positioning become crucial and "often the winner...is not the fastest runner, but the athlete best positioned near the end of the race."
"This whole race has been about pacing myself - you can't sprint the whole time and you've got to time your kick," said Joyce, when we asked him to describe what he sees as his pathway to victory in the mayor's race.
He compared this political moment to coming out of the final curve in the twice-around-the- track 800, entering the stretch: "The stretch is where the movement begins," he told us. "Randy's out of gas, Deborah's out of gas, Cathy has no kick. This is where I kick -- this is where I emerge."
Not long ago, when the contest for mayor appeared to be a two-way duel between Mayor Cathy Murillo and ex-city council member Randy Rowse, Joyce's extended track analogy may have seemed far-fetched.
But he got a boost from several late, big endorsements, most notably from the Santa Barbara Independent, as well as from the Montecito Journal, which instantly raised his profile in the campaign, serving as validating signifiers that make it easier, both to urge support from voters on their doorsteps, and to seek contributions as a candidate with a legitimate chance to pull off an upset win.
"It's certainly easier to have conversations about fundraising now," James told us in a cell phone interview between campaign events on Tuesday. "And that helps amplify my message about bringing people together to have conversations to solve our toughest issues."
The ABCs. As a political matter, voters in every election involving an officeholder who seeks re-election always face a deceptively simple choice: The Incumbent vs Anyone But the Incumbent.
In the current campaign, Cathy has a loyal political base among left-wing Democrats, but has struggled over the past four years to expand her coalition, for reasons both political and temperamental, beyond that cohort.
Still, she enjoys an organizational advantage, based on the backing of the local Democratic Party, public employee unions and allied groups like Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club. So the task for the three major challengers is to become the champion of ABC voters -- Anybody But Cathy -- among the sizable majority of more moderate Democrats, liberals disillusioned with the mayor's first-term performance, along with independents and the 12 conservative Republicans left in town.
To date, Randy has appeared to be the most successful in consolidating the ABCs, as his embrace of a back-to-basics non-partisan approach to local government triggered a surprising and impressive outpouring of financial support from hundreds of donors who want to see change in city government.
Two weeks before Election Day, however, Joyce suddenly has moved from also-ran to high-profile alternative, with the potential to attract voters from what several private polls show is a large pool of undecideds, as well as to drain soft support from both Rowse and Murillo.
As a liberal Democrat who's paid his dues for over a decade working for Hannah Beth-Jackson, Das Williams and multiple campaigns, James on the natural seems more problematic for Cathy, with the potential to attract progressives unhappy with her personal style, or dearth of leadership in summoning support for citywide interests, while the city's first district-elected council devolved into sniping and squabbling, driven by personalities or micro-local issues..
At the same time, Joyce also is positioned to siphon votes in the middle of the political spectrum, from those constitutionally opposed to Murillo but dubious of the notion that an old white guy and council retread holds the cure for what ails City Hall or is the key to Santa Barbara's future.
To date, Joyce personally has met and spoken with voters at more than 2,000 stops while walking neighborhoods, according to his campaign, and he notes that in recent days, the tone of conversations has shifted, from complaints and commentary about various city problems, to more specific and pragmatic questions about who they'll vote for to do something about it.
"They say, 'oh, you're running for mayor?'" he said. "Thanks for stopping by - I need to start tuning in."
The first rule of politics: nobody knows nothin.
The latest line. Our Las Vegas Bureau Chief, Lazzaro (Lamb Chop) Lorighittas, reports a surge of recent Central Coast wagers, lowering the odds on James Joyce, and betting the under on Cathy Murillo. Based on absolutely no hard evidence, here is our 100 percent subjective and science-free take on the state of the race:
1-Randy Rowse. The erstwhile barkeep and restaurateur has had the clearest lane in the race, appealing to small business, moderate homeowners and the center-right, and he's been quite disciplined about staying in it. When the deal goes down, it could be that Randy peaked too soon, but he looks more fit from walking the neighborhoods, so at least fewer people are confusing him with Boris Johnson these days.
2-Cathy Murillo. A clear sign that Her Honor is in trouble is that her campaign surrogates now seem to spend at least as much time demonizing Rowse than in puffing up Cathy. This week, for example, Dem Party chair Darcel Elliott went on Josh Molina's podcast with an appeal aimed at scaring people into voting for the party's choice: "There's a fear of Randy getting in," she said. "I think that's a real fear for people...that's been compelling people to support Cathy."
3-James Joyce. Turns out that James, besides being a human track and field enthusiast, is also a spirited sportsman fond of the equine form of racing. In that vein, he this week put himself down as a 4-to-1 shot in the mayor's race, with Cathy at 5-to-2, Randy at 3-to-1, Deborah Schwartz at 10-to-1 and Mark Whitehurst and Matt Kilrain 50-to-1 entries.
4-Deborah Schwartz. Watching Deborah speak at forums reminds us of covering fellow Planning Commissioner Jay Higgins in his unsuccessful District 4 city council race four years ago: both are super smart, well-qualified and possess institutional and technical knowledge about city issues -and would probably be terrific in the jobs if only someone could appoint them.
5-Mark Whitehurst. The front-runner in the Room Rater sweepstakes, he rolled out at least his fourth different Zoom background this week, but is still running for the exercise.
6-Matt Kilrain. The guy keeps bragging that he's responsible for "Trump's trillion tree program," so apparently thinks it's okay for him to hammer nails into trees all over town to display is campaign signs.
We're just asking questions. Secret memo to Luz Reyes-Martin: When is the Women's Political Committee going to issue a sternly worded letter, as they did after Ed. St. George made sexist comments on the SB Talks podcast, criticizing Daraka Larimore Hall for trivializing and trashing Laura Capps, Deborah Schwartz, Kristen Sneddon and Helene Schneider in his own turn on the show? We'll take our answer off the air.
Now that District 4 candidate Barrett Reed has said he'll return $12,000 in don't-pass-the-smell test campaign contributions delivered on a single day from eight abstruse business entities controlled by real estate mogul Jim Knell, will Randy Rowse - who received the same amount from the same operations, on the same day - do the same?
And why isn't Tyler Hayden's must-read investigative rant, in which he goes scorched earth on Jeremy Lindaman, the secretive scam artist, political consultant and Helene Schneider consort who's at the center of the stonewalling scandal involving the Bellosguardo Estate, published in the main print edition of the Independent instead of appearing only online and in Tyler's subscription newsletter?
Castigat ridendo mores.