In her first public comments on the matter, Susan Epstein said on Friday that neither Gregg Hart nor anyone in his campaign pushed her out of the race for 2nd District supervisor.
“No one asked me to leave, and certainly not Gregg or anyone involved in his campaign,” Epstein said via email, in response to questions from Newsmakers.
We asked her to address speculation, widespread in political circles, that SB council member Hart or one of his operatives made a behind-the-scenes play that muscled her out, perhaps with a warning about some opposition research they’d developed.
"I wish Gregg all the best in his upcoming role as Supervisor,” she said.
As Josh and Kelsey reported this morning, Hart now has a free ride to the seat being vacated by Supervisor Janet Wolf, as no one signed up to challenge him by Thursday’s deadline. Epstein stunned supporters on Feb. 27 by suddenly quitting the race, saying only it was for "personal reasons."
We’ve previously reported that Epstein privately told erstwhile supporters Hart played no role in the withdrawal, but her comments on Friday were the first time she made it public.
"Ending my campaign was a heartbreaking decision I made while visiting with family out of town in late February when it became increasingly clear that I needed to for unanticipated personal reasons,” she wrote us.
"As soon as I knew I needed to withdraw, I halted all campaign expenditures so we could return supporters' contributions, and my treasurer just finished writing every check and all contributions will be returned," she added.
So there's that.
What next? Now that Hart is headed to the county building, the next key political question is: how will his 6th district city council seat be filled?
After last month’s knockdown brawl over ways and means of picking a successor to complete the last two years of Mayor Cathy’s 3rd district seat, which resulted in a special election on June 5, the question of who will have the power to fill a vacant seat – the council or district voters – again looms large.
Bottom line: Nobody knows for sure yet, because the matter will be decided in a proposed charter amendment on the November ballot that, among other things, would align the charter with the broad legal mandate for district elections. Council member Kristen Sneddon, chair of the Ordinance Committee, said she has "not seen a draft yet and (the matter) is not yet scheduled."
Hart told us last week that he does not plan to resign his council seat until January, when he will take over from SupervisorJanet Wolf, unless the sky falls in the meantime (he also said he’ll hold onto his big job with SBCAG until then, btw).
"We’re going to have a charter amendment (on the November ballot) that integrates the district election situation with the charter, that includes even year elections, we’re going to do this in one big electoral reform ballot measure,” Gregg told us
"I think it’s going to call for appointments.”
The Jackie I. Factor: Not so fast, say district election crusaders.
Judge Frank Ochoa, who represents Jacqueline Inda and Frank Banales, two of the plaintiffs that brought the original legal action that resulted in district elections to Santa Barbara, said they will press for language in the proposed charter amendment requiring vacancies be filled by election, rather than appointment.
“In order to comport with the lawsuit judgment and clear legal trends regarding these developments in state law, future vacancies, in most instances, should be filled by the voters of the impacted district through a special election,” the (All Rise!) judge wrote us.
“There may be limited circumstances where an interim appointment process is appropriate. These issues will be topics of discussion during the formulation of long overdue city charter amendments.”
So for now: clear as mud.