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Will Santa Barbara’s Matriarchal Circle Be Unbroken?

Wonder Woman and the Race for Mayor


If it’s really true we get the leaders we deserve ​— ​(in which case, I’m pleading the Fifth) ​— ​thank God Hollywood churns out summer blockbusters celebrating, however rarely, the heroes we sorely need. With a self-proclaimed pussy grabber occupying the White House, Wonder Woman is precisely what the doctor ordered. And if not now, then when?

I have no idea if the movie’s any good. I don’t care. That the Boys would deviate from The Script is welcome relief enough. That they could make one about an ass-kicking Amazon with magically powered wrist bracelets that can block bullets and, of course, the knee-high dominatrix boots, even better. Since the first modern Batman movie hit the big screens, we’ve been force-fed no fewer than 96 superhero action extravaganzas. Only two, it should be emphasized, featured women heroes as the central character. Even Congress has done better. Obviously, there were female superheroes in the other movies, but in supportive roles, endowed with superpowers rarely assigned to their male counterparts: extreme empathy, the ability to become invisible, and the power to read the male mind.

Whether the timing of Wonder Woman’s release constitutes a genuine cultural sneeze in response to obvious political irritants now offending our collective nasal passages or something more cynically calculated, I don’t know. The timing is interesting. It was when the last incarnation of the women’s movement was achieving genuine liftoff ​— ​back in the 1970s ​— ​that Wonder Woman, then a TV series, last made a major splash. Hers, not coincidentally, was the face on the first cover of Ms. magazine. It was about that same time that the woman who would become Santa Barbara’s first woman mayor ​— ​Sheila Lodge ​— ​was first elected to the City Council. By the time Lodge got around to running for mayor in 1981, gender, she said, had already become a total nonissue. We live, after all, in a state whose very name was inspired by a fictional black warrior queen named Calafia, who, in a Spanish literary pot boiler written about 1500, led her army ​— ​all women ​— ​into battle against the Christian Crusaders then waging war against her Muslim brethren.

Calafia? Caliphate? Sound familiar? Who knew? In any case, of the four candidates running for mayor in 1981, only the women, Lodge said, were deemed serious contenders. Lodge, by the way, is still alive and very much kicking, an unredeemed and unredeemable old-school slow-growther on the city’s planning commission. At this point, Lodge has 27 years of public service under her belt, and her feet remain solidly planted in the here and now. If that’s not a record, she still deserves some Wonder Woman boots.

Thus began Santa Barbara’s quasi-Amazonian tradition: All mayors since Lodge  ​— ​Harriet Miller, Marty Blum, and Helene Schneider ​— have been women. There is a tiny asterisk to this 36-year matriarchal mayoral streak. Hal Conklin won the mayoral election in 1993, but he was forced to quickly abdicate when courts determined his election violated the fine print of the term-limits ordinance city voters had just approved. Today, Conklin is seeking political reincarnation and is one of a jillion candidates now jostling to become the next mayor. Normally, I would have said City Councilmember Cathy Murillo ​— ​former Santa Barbara Independent reporter ​— ​was the clear front runner in this contest and that Santa Barbara’s matriarchal streak would continue unabated. Certainly, nobody will run as hard as Murillo. She’s already secured the endorsement of the increasingly Democratic Party machine. But so far, she has not chased off the competition.

There appear to be at least four financially viable, politically experienced candidates who can draw on the Democratic base with more middle-of-the-road variations than Murillo’s lefty-populist theme. It’s anybody’s guess who comes out on top. With this split field, Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss ​— ​the only card-carrying Republican and an unapologetic conservative ​— ​would appear to have a serious shot. If Hotchkiss gets just 35 percent, he could actually win. In that eventuality, Santa Barbara ​— ​birthplace of the environmental movement ​— ​would have elected someone who argued that climate change considerations had no place in the city’s General Plan and more recently that the internment of Japanese Americans into armed guarded camps may not have been such a bad thing. As likable as Hotchkiss is, some Republicans are sucking in their teeth about him the same way some Democrats are about Murillo.

Now, a bright, new shiny object has come onto the scene: former Deckers’ CEO Angel Martinez. He combines his obvious executive chops with solidly liberal Great Society views. And he’s an immigrant! Martinez has won over Funk Zone property owners who reportedly want maximum vacation rental opportunity mixed with minimum responsibility to provide parking. We all drive Uber, right? He’s also won over Jim Westby ​— ​the accomplished NIMBY-Republican, behind-the-scenes king maker who got Hotchkiss elected in the first place. Less doctrinaire Dems are also intrigued; Martinez gave generously to both Obama and Clinton and has tweeted loudly against Trump. Of course, he has zero government experience. When Martinez tried to un-register as a Dem to maximize crossover appeal, he accidentally signed up with the American Independent Party, which, despite its nice-sounding name, has long been the party of choice for angry racists who stockpile axe handles in their basement.

It’s a mess, but at least an interesting one. Which leader we “deserve,” I don’t pretend to know. In the meantime, thank God for Wonder Woman ​— ​whatever her arrival portends ​— ​and pass the popcorn.



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