WHINERS AND LOSERS: Defeat, as we’ve been told a million times, is always an orphan, whereas victory has at least a thousand fathers, Disneyland dads every one of them. With the City of Santa Barbara elections just one week ago, I’d say let the paternity suits begin. I know a lot of people who are paid a lot of money to think they’re really smart will insist that the big loser in this year’s election was Randall van Wolfswinkel, the one-time ‘Cito rat and full-time Texas gazillionaire who wasted close to $700,000 on behalf of his slate of conservative candidates and Measure B, the building heights initiative. If your only metric is dollars and cents, the smarty-pants crowd would have a point. After all, B-which Randall bankrolled to the max-managed to snatch the unlikeliest of defeats from the jaws of absolutely certain victory, losing in all but five of the city’s 27 precincts. (And even that understates how pitifully B did; in one of the precincts where B prevailed, only one ballot was cast.)
The really big story-which absolutely no one (not even myself) has had the guts to mention-has to do with the unrivaled political domination exerted by those crafty and canny Unitarians for the past 28 years. Most people think of Unitarians with patronizing fondness. And why not? They seem so mild-mannered and well-intentioned. Males of the species think nothing of sporting fanny packs in public. But that’s all a ruse. It wasn’t too long ago that Unitarians boasted some of the most lurid sex scandals in town. When it’s comes to politics, the Unitarians have run a ruthlessly mean machine. And no one even knew they’re there. By contrast, the much vaunted Women’s Political Committee is all show and no go. The big-muscled labor unions we hear so much about are all dough and no throw. And the Democratic Party-whose recent exploits have been the stuff of considerable hyperventilation-has been taken over by a pack of Che Guevara wannabes who make a point of pronouncing “Santa Barbara” with a store-bought muy autentico Spanish accent. Yeah, yeah, yeah; all these groups ran really impressive get-out-the-vote efforts and saved our collective bacon. I suppose they-and the candidates themselves-can take serious credit for the highest voter turnout in a city election since 1989. Forty-nine percent is nothing to sneeze at, especially in the days of swine flu. But were it not for the gratuitously sleazy campaign bankrolled by van Wolfswinkel, a lot of people wouldn’t have had anything to vote against. Strategically, van Wolfswinkel’s campaign was designed to depress voter turnout. But this being Santa Barbara, it had just the opposite effect.
When you look at political effectiveness- decade-in and decade-out-no one can rival the boa constrictor-like hegemony the Unitarians have enjoyed over City Hall. Every mayor since 1981 has been a Unitarian. Think about it: Sheila Lodge, Harriet Miller, and Marty Blum, card-carrying Unitarians all. And who did they really answer to-
the Santa Barbara voters who elected them? Or to some shadowy Unitarian pope sequestered in a bucolic bastion of secular enlightenment somewhere in Vermont? Do Unitarians even have a pope? The fact we don’t know demonstrates just how insidiously crafty they really are. The one non-Unitarian to actually win election to mayor in all this time was poor Hal Conklin. And look at what happened to him: By the time he could wrap his fingers around the mayoral gavel, he was unceremoniously tossed from office. The pretext, of course, was that his candidacy violated the city’s term limits ordinance. The political mythology now accepted as historical fact is that Conklin’s “victory” was challenged in court by a smart, quirky, and disagreeable libertarian who wore an Abraham Lincoln beard and-on occasion-an Uncle Sam hat. Libertarians make the most convenient fall guys. They have elevated smugness down to such an ideological art form that no one likes them, least of all other libertarians. That’s why they’re always crashing other people’s parties. As power plays go, the political decapitation of Conklin’s career was beautifully conceived and elegantly executed. Hal took the hit, the libertarians took the heat, and the Unitarians maintained their place in the driver’s seat.
Age takes its toll on even the most successful of shadow governments, and the Unitarian reign has ended with a pathetic whimper. None of the major mayoral candidates were part of the fold. Dale Francisco claims no religious affiliation, and his bristly asceticism is rooted in a passion for fiscal austerity. Religiously, Mayor-Elect Helene Schneider is both spiritual mutt and secular Jew. With those credentials, she could smoothly transition into the Unitarian Party, which Schneider has already been advised would be a shrewd political move. To her credit, she don’t roll that way. Steve Cushman could easily have been a Unitarian. After all, he writes poetry and collects homeless art. But, as we were all shocked to learn, Steve-under his guise as Capo de Tutti at the Chamber of Commerce-actually was a double agent for the Kremlin. No wonder he did so poorly.
Nothing illustrates the flailing decrepitude of this once-mighty machine like Measure B. All the Unitarian mayors and ex-mayors lined up solidly behind B, which breathlessly promised to stop skyscrapers from devouring our downtown. Talk about a solution for which there was no imminent threat. Regardless of the merits, Measure B should have been a slam dunk given the breadth and depth of public support. But B, having little to no campaign of its own, found itself riding the wake of van Wolfswinkel’s money machine. When van Wolfswinkel refused to show his face-cowardice masquerading as discretion-former mayor Sheila Lodge, the penultimate Ubertarian, defended him to one and all. Big mistake. Not since Baltimore Colt immortal Johnny Unitas-the greatest quarterback in the history of the universe-fizzled out his career with the hapless San Diego Chargers have we seen such a sad end to so glorious a run.
In some quarters, the cry is: “The queen is dead; long live the queen.” But in my neighborhood, the real question remains, “Who’s your daddy?”