Willie Brown, California’s iconic guru of gut-punch politics, always drills candidates on the first rule of campaigning: Never forget to ask for their vote.
It seems simple enough, but it’s remarkable how many entrants neglect this protocol, which manifests the fundamental psychological dynamic that shapes elections:
The candidate is a job applicant who owes their would-be boss the respect and courtesy of asking to be hired.
At the New Vic on Thursday night, where 10 contenders for mayor and city council spent two hours talking housing for a crowd of about 150, exactly one – 1, count ‘em, 1 – candidate solicited the gig.
“I’m running for mayor, and I ask for your vote,” said council member Cathy Murillo.
How the deal went down. On a night when politicking took a back-of-the-bus seat to policy buzzwords – from the AUD and ADUs to SBCAG and the RHNA – ringmaster Dave Davis handled moderator duty with skill, insight and ursine joviality.
Josh Molina has an excellent blow-by-blow over at Noozhawk that captures the policy discussion.
Despite appearances, the event was not a breakout session of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials convention, however, but rather the first opportunity for Actual Voters to see the candidates up-close-and-personal.
For those 48,377 registered voters who couldn’t make it, here’s a look at how the field did:
Angel Martinez. In his first appearance sharing a stage with his rivals, the Shoe King delivered as advertised: smart, smooth and articulate – but his delivery was so low-key that the clear and crucial contrast between him and his rivals -- City Hall creatures all -- often got lost in the collective murmur about “maximum allowable density capacities” and “unbundled parking.”
His best moments came when he tagged himself “the only employer” running and displayed common sense perspective to the tangled political struggle over housing (“every project cannot stand alone and meet every need’), but his riff on how the process of designing a successful shoe applies to economic development in Santa Barbara needs work. Grade: A-
Bendy White. There’s no question that Harwood, who’s been working on this stuff in city government for 30 years, knows more than anyone running about the processes, procedures and maddeningly intricate details of policy-making. But he’s sometimes so deep in the weeds, not to mention the woods, that a voter wishes he'd step back and frame the overall issue in a plain and simple way for those who don’t follow this stuff.
Bendy’s strengths come from a) the authentic voice with which he says things like “Santa Barbara is a jewel,” and speaks of “stewardship” from the sincere perspective of someone whose historic family has been around since the 19th century and; b) his appreciation that the key to being successful as mayor is assembling a council majority that actually passes legislation, a point he should pound a little, highlighting his proven skill at counting to four as a talent that differentiates him from the pack. Grade: B+
Cathy Murillo. The Machine Candidate's best moment was her closing statement ask for votes. Before then, however, there was too much prattling about process, as she ticked off all the boards, committees, commissions, task forces, community workshops and regional cooperatives that she serves on or has visited. When she lacked talking points, as she apparently did when asked about the economy in an Amazon-Uber future, she sometimes verged on incoherence:
“No matter how good our technology gets, we’re going to eat our ice cream.” Grade B-.
Hal Conklin. Smilin’ Hal took the biggest swings at many questions, combining historic analysis drawn from his role in ancient political wars with buoyant language about the future and “an exciting vision about tomorrow.” Conklin’s promise to craft policy from the grassroots up – every project must “pass the community smell test,” he says – is well and good, but his old school vest and tie look made it feel like he’d just arrived on a time transport from 1995. Grade: B
(The Indy published the best overview to date of the council districts and candidates, which is here. Josh’s piece is also comprehensive).
Kristen Sneddon. Sneddon was the “Newsmakers” breakout contestant of the night. An environmental scientist, teacher and working mother, she displayed an appealing ability to address complicated policy matters in a way that speaks to the real lives of real families, relating on a human level by recounting her life experience as a waitress, student and parent. Amid the clamor for more millennial housing all around her, Sneddon broke it down from the viewpoint of one who sits in a line of cars every day to drop off and pick up kids – “Put family housing near schools,” she said. She got out a little bit over her skis, however, when she needlessly suggested she might support rent control down the line (“I’m not going to come out for rent control right now”). Grade A-
Jim Scafide. His buttoned-down lawyer look, tone and manner befit his ability to marshal an argument and lay out the facts of an issue. But spotlighting his experience as the mayor of “a small town in Ohio” clunked with an audience of people who spend their time congratulating themselves and each other for being smart enough to live here. He’s the early favorite, due in part to the Democratic Party and other big endorsements, but high-profile women Democrats, from Hannah-Beth and Helene to Susan Rose and Laura Capps are creating buzz for Sneddon. Grade: B.
Jay Higgins. Higgins usually provided the most direct and concise answers to Davis’s questions, but as a Planning Commissioner, who spends his days up to his eyeballs in the minutiae of permit expediting procedures, he relied too much on planner-speak. He had a strong opening, when he visibly framed the opinions of the audience by asking for a show of hands on a series of basic questions, but later retreated into institutional perspective. And that Chuck Schumer, peering over the reading glasses look doesn’t help him. Grade: B.
Warner McGrew. The retired fire chief is solid, stolid and clearly cares about the community – why else would someone like him want this job? – and his political appeal lies in his avuncular and open-minded manner. He sometimes displayed less mastery of material than others on policy complexities, but his public safety knowledge, prudence and judgment are a big plus.
Eric Friedman. The former aide to Salud Carbajal – young, tall, quick, if slightly over-caffeinated – is a sharp contrast to McGrew. He broke through with a smart and funny disquisition on housing legislation being passed in Sacramento this week that will dump a load of new mandates on we here in paradise, by comparing Jerry Brown and the state to “The Terminator -- it keeps coming.” Grade: B+.
Jack Ucciferri . Ucciferri is a realtor who’s running against Gregg Hart, the only incumbent on the ballot for a district seat, and who was a no-show. The challenger’s basic rap notes that the 6th is “the youngest district,” nicely connecting its voters to the debate over millennial housing and the sharing economy. But he’s got an uphill slog against Hart, who has little to gain from appearing on the same platform with the new guy, but might want to show up once in awhile, just to hear what’s being said about him. Grade: C.
Bottom line. The tone, process and scale of retail politics in Santa Barbara are special.
Davis began the event by thanking the candidates for running – “It takes tremendous personal courage (and) you are what makes this community” -- a nice and well-deserved shout-out.
Which means the only losers of the night were the ones who didn’t show – Hart and fellow council member Frank Hotchkiss, who’s running for mayor, and 5th district wannabe Aaron Solis.
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