The Democratic Central Committee endorsed Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider for reelection in this November’s City Council race as well as incumbent Councilmember Bendy White. In addition, the committee voted to endorse former councilmember Gregg Hart, who last served in 2003, as well as political newcomer Megan Diaz Alley, now approaching her first year on the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee.
But the real tension in last week’s vote was whether Hart or former councilmember David Landecker — who stepped off the council in 1989 — would get the party nod. Both are skilled and experienced players with deep roots with the local Democratic Party. Hart, a moderate policy wonk who works for SBCAG — the government entity responsible for distributing millions of dollars of state and federal transportation dollars each year — was the first candidate to announce his intentions this year. He scored the highest number of votes and took on doubters who questioned whether he could represent both City Hall and SBCAG if elected. Had Hart not gotten the endorsement, he would have withdrawn from the race. Landecker — who until recently served as executive director for the Environmental Defense Center — stated he was not surprised by the outcome and that he wasn’t necessarily bowing out. “I am definitely running,” he said, “today.”
Had experience trumped youth, the party would have found itself endorsing three middle-aged white males for the three council seats, not a likely outcome given the party’s leadership and direction. Instead, the voting members chose Alley, who moved to Santa Barbara in 2006 after a brief stint in the movie business in Los Angeles. Alley was raised in the Midwest, the only child of second-generation Mexican-Americans. She currently works for SEE International and before that worked for the Community Environmental Council. She was recruited and encouraged to run by Councilmember Cathy Murillo, and like Murillo, Alley said she would give political expression to immigrants, women, renters, and those just starting to raise a family.
While the party endorsement carries weight, it does not constitute a political slate. In fact, Mayor Schneider and Councilmember White expressed doubt that they’d endorse anyone in this upcoming race other than each other. Up for grabs this election is the mayor’s seat as well as three council positions. Thus far, no one has challenged Schneider. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss is also running for reelection and should have the backing of the Republican Central Committee, on which he sits.
While several other potential candidates have expressed interest in the race, so far only Lesley Wiscomb — a three-year veteran of the Parks and Recreation Commission — has held a public event to declare her intentions. Wiscomb was initially encouraged to run by both Democrats and Republicans, but her candidacy was ultimately embraced by council conservative Dale Francisco and planning commissioner and liberal Sheila Lodge, who share an aversion to increased residential densities and a skepticism that such densities generate the affordability their “smart growth” proponents contend.