A Deep Dive into SB Election: Power Rankings, Analysis, Forecasts, Political Gossip
By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
In a special Press Clips edition of Newsmakers TV, Noozhawk political writer Josh Molina joins the host for an all-politics-all-the-time conversation about the upcoming Santa Barbara city election for mayor and three council seats.
With 137 days to go before Election Day, it marks the first time since the pandemic began that Covid-19 was not Topic A on the show, as the mansplaining duo descend deep into the rabbit hole of local political punditry.
Amid a political landscape shaped by sharp debates about housing, homelessness, economic development, race and equity -- and a recent series of high-profile City Hall controversies over cannabis, department heads and sexual harassment -- the four-way mayoral contest pits incumbent Cathy Murillo, seeking a new, five-year term, against a trio of challengers who present sharp contrasts in both substance and on style.
Although three City Council seats are on the ballot, only one so far is a contested race, and District 4 incumbent Kristen Sneddon, a Sheila Lodge-style goo goo, faces the aggressive upset bid of well-funded downtown developer and Planning Commissioner Barrett Reed, in what shapes up to be a consequential debate over the future of Santa Barbara's economy, environment and aesthetic.
Among other things, the episode produced the first Power Rankings of the season in the mayor's race -- and here's how the Newsmakers Political Desk ranked the rivals at this juncture:
#1-Cathy Murillo. The incumbent, running on a promise of Five More Years of the status quo, has always demonstrated far more ability to campaign than to govern, and this time has come out early and energetically to raise a bushel of cash and capture the key Democratic Party endorsement. Although the mayor is the only City Hall officeholder forced to run citywide, there's no majority vote needed under the current (and badly outdated) winner-take-all rules, and Mayor Cathy never made a serious effort to expand her coalition beyond the 27 percent she won four years ago, which could prove costly if fed-up homeowner/taxpayers rebel.
#2-Randy Rowse. On the natural, the former longtime council member and restaurant owner's non-partisan, pragmatic approach to city government carries natural appeal to gimlet-eyed business owners and taxpayers who foot the bill for the union-friendly, woke progressive, social welfare policies of the mayor and council majority. The key question is whether he can raise enough coin to put together a robust enough campaign operation to compete with the proven Dem-labor-lefty voter turnout organization.
#3-James Joyce. The veteran state legislative aide and entrepreneur, who founded the "Coffee with a Black Guy" anti-racism movement, has been using social media channels to campaign quietly and could benefit from the focus on equity and social justice issues amid the current political atmosphere -- especially given Mayor Cathy's widely-publicized falling out with Black Lives Matter/Healing Justice activists. We're still waiting to hear a crisp and clear rationale for his candidacy, however.
#4-Deborah Schwartz. The longtime Planning Commissioner and scion of a prominent Santa Barbara political family argues that local elected officials should gain some of the power now invested in the City Administrator and his far-flung bureaucracy, as a means of slashing at the maddening system of delays, obstruction and appeals that now controls effort to get things done in the city. Support from developers may be a double-edged sword.