14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

With just 98 shopping days left until Santa Barbara's high-stakes Nov. 3 city election - and only 49 before the suddenly kinetic Sept. 14 recall vote on Gov. Gavin Newsom - here is a look at the political landscape, effective Tuesday, July 27:

Miracle cure?

Whatever mysterious ailment caused Mayor Cathy Murillo to ditch last Wednesday's solemn and well-attended memorial service for community icon Hal Conklin (she told the Poodle, um, that she might have a cold coming on) thankfully had vanished by the weekend.

For that enabled Mayor Cathy, only three days later, to complete three shifts of precinct walking, she boasted on social media ("I outlasted all the volunteers," her Facebook page read, above the inevitable selfie) knocking on doors and handing out Democratic Party literature about the mayoral, council and recall elections.

For the neighbors' sake, here's hoping the ephemeral ailment that deterred her from Hal's event isn't contagious.

As a personal matter, the mayor's failure to pay public respects to the late Mr. Conklin -- who practically invented the environmental movement in Santa Barbara and beyond, but had the audacity to run against Cathy four years ago -- no doubt will rankle some among the hundreds of friends and family who turned out at the Old Mission for his observance.

It was an emotional community event which the city's highest-ranking elected official (and only citywide office-holder) on the natural might be expected to attend, or at least drop-by, even if a bit under the weather.

As a political matter, however, Mayor Murillo's no-show demonstrates perhaps her greatest vulnerability, as she bids to win a second term (for five-years): Still strongly esteemed within the political base of left-wing, union-backed Democrats whose interests she reliably and reflexively serves every Tuesday, she has failed in four years to expand her coalition much beyond it.

Murillo won election in 2017 with 27 percent of the total votes cast for mayor: thus three of four voters wanted somebody else.

Since then, she's exhibited scarce talent, and less interest, in what should be Job One for any mayor -- building unity across and throughout the community.

As it happens, the Conklin snub is at least the third, recent high-profile example of her inability to abide normal human discourse with those who disagree with her politically: she previously blew off the big annual "State of the City" affair tossed by the revitalized Chamber of Commerce, and last year famously threw a public tantrum during the huge Black Lives Matter protest, when she tore off her mask and started jawing with organizers uninterested in kissing her ring.

A lesson any politician who seeks to lead a city effectively should know: Those with whom you disagree are not your enemies - they're your neighbors.

This just in... The three major mayoral challengers -- James Joyce, Randy Rowse and Deborah Schwartz -- are confirmed guests on Newsmakers TV on Wednesday, when we've invited them to discuss the critical issue of what qualities are most important in selecting a successor to City Administrator Paul Casey, who recently announced his retirement amid the bedlam at City Hall.
Alone among the candidates, the mayor said she'll be unable to make it, but plans to send a written statement instead. So there's that.

Power Rankings

Since last month, the biggest change from Newsmakers' previous Power Rankings, an absolutely subjective and categorically unscientific assessment of the mayor's race, is that Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz has catapulted over entrepreneur James Joyce III into third place.

#1-Cathy Murillo. Every political campaign comes down to three things -- Money, Mechanics and Message -- and though the incumbent is deficient on the last ("Five More Years of More of the Same" lacks a certain ring), the Dem Party's volunteers and proven ability to ID, and reap the ballots of, their loyal voters, coupled with tens of thousands in union contributions (not least from trade unions grateful for Cathy's help in scoring a sweetheart Project Labor Agreement deal on city construction) might be enough to win even if she went to Hawaii for the next three months.

#2-Randy Rowse. Amid word that Santa Barbara's Joe Biden managed to raise more than $100K pretty quickly, the issue combination of homelessness, crime and economic recovery affords him a clear running lane, from center-left to center-right, to appeal to property tax-paying, reliably-voting homeowners who foot the bill for City Hall monkey business. "Tone, direction and decorum is the Mayor's primary function in leading City Council," the longtime small business owner and ex-council member said in rebooting his campaign message last week. "We can no longer afford to fall subordinate to a Mayor’s personal ideologies and political ambitions."

#3-Deborah Schwartz. Planning Commissioner Schwartz reportedly also will show six figures raised when campaign finance reports soon become public, which is table stakes for this race, and she's been out there hustling (viz: her ongoing one-woman, citywide bicycle tour, is a social media knockoff of more traditional campaign bus and train excursions). More importantly, City Administrator Casey's sudden retirement announcement throws a spotlight on her call for Santa Barbara to adapt a stronger mayor-council operation, giving her a chance to drive the debate on the crucial questions about the selection of Casey's successor.

#4-James Joyce. A serious runner, the former legislative aide and founder of the "Coffee with a Black Guy" movement, suffered a ghastly leg injury last year and his battle to come back from the physical setback seems oddly reflected in the slow start and pace of his campaign to date, as he struggles to keep up in the dash for campaign cash and, more substantively, has yet to proclaim a clear and compelling message of why exactly he's running.


Santa Barbara Citycouncilmember Meagan Harmon

No free lunch

Beyond the race for mayor, three City Council district contests are on the ballot, putting a majority of seats in play in this election.

The costly challenge Planning Commissioner Barrett Reed is mounting against District 4 council member Kristen Sneddon has been well chronicled, but for a while, it's looked like the other two incumbents were in for free rides

Not so fast.

Although the final deadline for filing is not until August 6, two potential challengers recently pulled papers against Meagan Harmon -which counterintuitively is good news for the appointed District 6 representative.

After the council voted in 2019 to hand Meagan the seat vacated by Gregg Hart, she quickly became a major player at City Hall and, more recently, skunked Das Williams and a batch of more experienced Central Coast pols to win an appointment from Governor Gavin to the Coastal Commission.

The only thing she's never done is kinda basic: win a single vote in an election. It's a rap that both has shadowed and vexed her mightily.

Now she seems likely to face Jason Carlton, owner of an SB electrical contracting company, who told us he's running a grassroots-up campaign which he's begun by contacting 75 business owners in the downtown district to survey them about their concerns, the better to carry them to City Hall (spoiler alert: homelessness is at the top of the list); a second potential opponent, Zachary Pike, also has pulled papers but we were unable to connect with him before post time.

In District 5, Eric Friedman now faces a potential contest with John Foran, a UCSB sociology professor who teaches and researches "social movements/revolutions; development and social change; Third World cultural studies; Latin America, Middle East; historical-comparative," according to his web page, and who could provide the liberal Eric the intriguing experience of being challenged from the left.

Gavin slipping

A few months ago, it looked like Gavin Newsom was poised to demolish the Republican-backed effort to recall him. Now, the Delta variant of Covid, along with new state and federal government mandates about masks and other pandemic protections, have suddenly shaken up the contest.

A new UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies poll shows the critical recall question within the margin of error, among the universe of voters who say they are likely to vote: 47 per cent of this group favors the recall (compared with only 36 of overall registered voters) versus 50 percent of likely voters who oppose it (comparable to the 51 percent of all registered voters who would vote to keep Newsom).

Keep in mind there are two questions on the ballot: 1) should Newsom be recalled? 2) If so, who should replace him (among a list of 46 candidates whose names will be listed)?

Question 2 only matters if a majority in the Sept. 14 special election first say Prince Gavin must go; if that happens it is all but certain that he would be replaced by a Republican, because the governor and his allies decided as a matter of strategy to pressure any other Democrats from signing up for the ballot.

While Caitlyn Jenner easily won the East Coast Mainstream Media primary - the Beltway bloviators just couldn't resist weighing in on those whacky Californians -- potential voters in the IGS poll seem far less enamored of her -- ranking her eighth, far behind current front-runner, conservative talk show host Larry Elder.

A right-wing radio motormouth as governor. - what could possibly go wrong?

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a-1627504331 Jul 28, 2021 01:32 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

The snide shots at Murillo are pretty awful. Really, her decision to not attend the ceremonial pomp weeks after the passing of a local politician are hardly the stuff of ballot choice determiners. I understand that this contributor does not claim reporter status but even an Op Ed person could be a little less obvious in their bias.

a-1627514628 Jul 28, 2021 04:23 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

Re not attending the CofC annual bash. K. Miller gets the big oil guys to sponsor the chamber affair. That in itself was a slap in the face to many voters in SB. Duh...........that was a real dumb move on her part. Murillo did not attend and neither should have a lot of the other big wigs. Since when does SB snuggle up with the dirty lucre crowd from the oil companies. Good for Murillo for following her principles.

MarcelK Jul 28, 2021 05:00 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

"why she didn't go to the Chamber of Commerce's annual State of the City"

Did you follow the link? Right in the headline it says "Mayor Murillo Declines to Attend Over Energy Sponsors"

In the article it says

"The three other mayoral candidates participated, but Murillo declined to attend because the sponsors included oil and gas companies. Instead, the City of Santa Barbara plans to hold its own State of the City event in July, which will have more of an "open-house feel." The city will provide child care, Spanish-language translation and refreshments."

Just think how *little* effort it takes to make intelligent comments.

a-1627522263 Jul 28, 2021 06:31 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

3:51 PM. The Chamber of Commerce is not imbued with public service sacrifice. It is for the express purpose of profiting the business community. I, for one, think it is nice that a politician ignore money and the promise of campaign contributions in favor of the interests of the ordinary person.

a-1627504493 Jul 28, 2021 01:34 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

WHY can't we get rid of this mayor? Jerry called him. Are the DCC and unions going to successfully stick us with her for 5 more years? When all city management is heading for the exit door? I appreciate the other candidates running, and any of them would be better than her, but I'm so afraid we're going to be stuck with this lemon again. Ugh.

ChillinGrillin Jul 28, 2021 02:36 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

I'm a strong Dem after my party left me to take a detour to the loony bin. But the local Dems should replace her for a more competent leader. It's hard to criticize her because there are almost no substantive actions to criticize! When challenged on her inaction she basically said the mayor's role is to be a figurehead. Well...she's a terrible figurehead also, so that's a poor excuse. I've spoken with her a few times and she seems like a decent person, people closer to her than I am insist that she genuinely cares about the city. She's just woefully out of her depth, and was even before COVID, the related shocks to the local economy, and personnel upheavals at City Hall.

a-1627524370 Jul 28, 2021 07:06 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

Marcel, not one demonstrable accomplishment by that sad excuse for a mayor. Never should have been elected. Couldn't even handle Black Lives Matter successfully. AWOL in all disasters, and there have been 3 'on her watch'. Police Chief, City Manager, Finance Manager, Transportation Manager, Planning Manager = all hit the door. Does anything in here look like a city that's been well run and tended to by this mayor?

a-1627539638 Jul 28, 2021 11:20 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

Hate is a strong word. Jerry plays it more like "so the Emperor clearly has no clothes..." or in this case, the would-be Empress clearly has no chops for this job...doesn't anyone else see this? Oh yeah, a lot of us have BEEN seeing it. Josh Molina said recently, on Jerry's show re Cathy, that just because she can campaign and win....doesn't make her a great mayor. Nick Welsh finally called her out in an Angry Poodle a month back on that State of the City flub. So the question to the voters is this: can she, as Jerry suggests, sit it out for 2 months in a place like Hawaii, having accomplished nothing in her first term, and STILL squeak past the finish line to 5 more years, on the back of the Dem Central Committee and Unions, like she did before?

a-1627523513 Jul 28, 2021 06:51 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

Come now, Marcel. There's a good point here: Cathy is too thin-skinned to talk to those she doesn't agree with. As Nick Welsh said, the mayor's job is to dance with the devil, not run scared (I added that last bit). She jaws with organizers because they're people that agree with her that she should be mayor! Surely you can see that this is not a person fit to represent the entire city, yes?

Byzantium Jul 28, 2021 07:52 PM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

Marcel, preaching only to the choir is not the mayor's job. Nor is it "inclusive". It is intentionally alienating. Refusing to participate in the traditional state of the city mayor's message underscored her ability to play with the adults in the room. She did this during the mayor candidate debates as well. City needs stronger leadership in managing the these city agenda, as well as communicating effectively with the city at large. Rowse does have both skills and has a proven track record on council and in business. He is linked at all critical levels inside City Hall and the community at large. We know him and he trust him. Where was the mayor --before-- we lost half ofTV hill to the vagrant fire. How many prior vagrant fires did she ignore, as our community leader until finally she could not run away from that one. Cathy cut he poltiicalr teeth participating in a sit-in riot on Milpas and harassing a local small business owner. So voters were warned. But such is the power of the dominant political machine in this town - follow the money to those who most benefit having a "friend" sitting on city council writing their checks, and who was able to bring in more friends due to small voter turnout "district elections". Good party loyalist Deborah Schwartz even knows the city is floundering in her own message that she wants a "stronger city council" vis a vis the city manager. If she thought fellow Democrat Murillo was up to the task, she would not have picked this time to run against a fellow Democrat incumbent. So even her party stalwarts think she has been weak and ineffective. It was an honor to have served. It is also well beyond time for her to go.

sbdude Jul 29, 2021 07:43 AM
14 Tuesdays Until SB Election: Power Rankings, UC Poll, Cathy Gaffe, Council Rivals

1. Cathy has got to go. Massively incompetent, anyone else would be better.
2. The council has got to go, too. They spend too much time doing God-knows-what and not enough time dealing with homelessness, crime, and infrastructure (IMO the three biggest issues in SB)
3. City elections are a disaster. People only represent their districts, not the city as a whole. Maybe if we had a strong mayor it would be different. Maybe if we had elections in even years more people would vote, and a runoff for mayor would certainly help that situation.

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