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Mayor Helene Schneider at City Hall

Paul Wellman

Mayor Helene Schneider at City Hall


The S.B. Questionnaire: Helene Schneider

Quizzing Madame Mayor on Work, Life, and More


Monday, December 30, 2013

I couldn’t think of a better person to answer the Santa Barbara Questionnaire during the first week of 2014 than our own Mayor Helene Schneider, who was easily elected to her second term back in November. I’ve known Helene for many years now, and what I most admire is how infinitely approachable she is.

One of my favorite memories ever of living in this inescapably wondrous city is accompanying the mayor to an “Atelier” event at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. As we mingled with strangers who became instant friends on that early summer evening this past year, I observed a master class on being present, on being able to listen to people, and, most importantly, on being grateful for the good things that have come your way.

Below, our Madame Mayor answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Earning the trust of Santa Barbara voters to be their Mayor.

What is you like most about your job?

Connecting the dots. There are a lot of dots.

What is the best thing about being the mayor for a second term?

Knowing the job’s opportunities and limitations. Now that I’ve been the mayor for four years, I think I can become more informed and effective during my second term. I am especially looking forward to focusing this year on adopting an updated Arts Master Plan and Bicycle Master Plan.

Favorite memory about being mayor?

Wow, that’s a tough one. There are many great memories these last four years, from specific ribbon cuttings that encompass the completion of a great project, to meeting 2nd graders in their classroom to talk about what a mayor does, to visiting three sister cities.

My most recent favorite memory was sharing the Fiesta Parade Mayor’s Carriage with my dad. This was his third Old Spanish Days visit, but first one in the parade with me. He had a ball and I enjoyed the ride along with him waving to the thousands of spectators who were clearly having a lot of fun.

On a more professional level, reading the e-mail last January stating that the State Department of Finance agreed with our arguments that the City should retain ownership of the downtown parking lots and not sell them to the highest bidder was quite rewarding.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Meeting up with about six dear friends over a leisurely delicious meal at a place with a great view.

What is your greatest fear?

Finding myself in a situation where I have absolutely no control over the matter.

Who do you most admire?

My mother. She exemplifies what it means to dream big and bold, make plans to achieve them, and do so while taking the bumps in the road in stride. I see this now in hindsight as I think about growing up with her being a single mom, starting her own career in a big city, and then later on when she lived a life-long dream with her soul mate embarking and completing a five-year journey sailing around the world.

What is your greatest extrvagance?

My passport. I love traveling, especially to foreign countries, and wish I had more time to do so. There’s so much to learn from other cultures and customs — not only about how different they are, but really how similar we all are in terms of the basic human condition and our need and pursuit for beauty and art in our daily lives.

What is your current state of mind?

Inquisitive. There’s so much going on in our small amazing city and I love making connections with people and moving areas of interest forward to the next level.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Being forthright, without using hyperbole.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Gratuitous grandstanding. There’s a difference between touting one’s successes (which is often necessary, especially in politics) and boasting about them.

What do you most value in friends?

A great friend is one who will drop everything to be there for you in a time of need, and who is also able to pick up the friendship where we last left it — sometimes that happens after months or even years of not seeing each other.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Big hair, perhaps? I think people tend to characterize me as accessible and open to ideas, and I appreciate those comments.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Awesome” and “It depends”

Which talent would you most like to have?

Playing the piano — both the ability to sight-read music and improvise with other musicians on the spot. How fun would that be! Should have stayed with the lessons 35 years ago.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Being an early morning person, to willingly get out of bed and see the sun rise.

Where would you most like to live?

Like that’s really an appropriate question to ask the mayor. Santa Barbara, of course! Really, I’m serious, Santa Barbara is an incredible place to call home.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have two oil paintings by Electra Goodale, my great-great grandmother. She painted them over 100 years ago. One is a simple landscape, I think of the Peconic Bay in Long Island, New York, the other of a small house with a little smoke rising out of the chimney. They are not “high art” by any means but they are priceless to me.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My dear high school friend, Justine, whom I see about once a year. Every time we meet, or even sometimes seeing something by her in writing, I end up in fits of laughter over one thing or another. My cats are also quite amusing.

What is your motto?

Say what you mean, mean what you say, and say it like it is.

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