Justin Michael, who vows to represent Santa Barbara’s youthful voters in the city’s next mayoral election, appeared briefly on The Oprah Winfrey Show this past Thursday afternoon to discuss a personal experience with domestic violence that landed him behind bars in County Jail for five days two years ago. The Oprah episode focused on men who have beaten women as part of Winfrey’s reaction to the much publicized incident in which singer Rihanna was allegedly beaten by her boyfriend, singer Chris Brown. Michael was identified only as “Justin” in the episode, with no last name nor any indication of his political ambitions.
According to police reports and court documents, Michael was arrested September 1, 2007, for punching and strangling a woman with whom he was then living on the Mesa. He pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of domestic violence, and was sentenced to 75 days, five of which he served in County Jail and the remainder on house arrest. He was also sentenced to three years probation and ordered to attend anger management classes, which he has done. He has now served one year of probation and has two left.
Michael is the son of former Hope Ranch resident Reed Slatkin who was convicted of bilking investors out of $680 million several years ago in what was then the largest recorded Ponzi scheme in history. Michael was interviewed for the Oprah show on the premises of Zona Seca, where he attended anger management counseling. “I am a person. I have made mistakes. I learned my lessons,” said Michael. “I’m going to save the world so that others don’t make the same mistakes.” Michael said that he loved and respected women, adding, “If you compromise yourself with someone else, there’s a lot of help in Santa Barbara. There are people here who can help you.”
Michael, a 29-year old musician and promoter, said he’s the only candidate seeking to represent the under-40 voting block in Santa Barbara. He said that media inquiries into his criminal experience serve only to distract from the real issues, which he said include gang violence, a crumbling economy, and educational reform. “Kids in the street are getting stabbed in front of Saks,” he exclaimed. “Like never before, people will come out of the woodwork to support me,” he said. “When history is written, it will show that I fused together the new Santa Barbara with the old. Michael acknowledged he had no prior experience in electoral politics – locally or elsewhere – but said that should prove no hindrance. “If Barack Obama can become president, then I can become mayor,” he said. “Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger – he’s not even from California.”
While the Santa Barbara mayoral race appears many months away, this November’s city elections promise to be an intense and tumultuous affair. Key issues will be the sorry state of the city’s finances, gang violence, the political influence wielded by unions representing city employees, and a proposal to reduce the maximum allowable building height downtown. With four seats up for grabs – including the mayor’s – the balance of power could swing in any direction. Councilmembers Iya Falcone and Helene Schneider have been positioning themselves for the mayoral contest for at least two years already, and in recent months, Chamber of Commerce President Steve Cushman has also indicated he’s entertaining a bid for the top spot. In addition, Michael Self, an activist with Santa Barbarans for Safe Streets has said she hasn’t made up her mind whether to run for council or for mayor.
Last week, longtime planning commissioner and former water commissioner Harwood “Bendy” White announced that he’s running for council. White, a land use consultant by profession, is one of the architects of the Save El Pueblo Viejo initiative to reduce downtown’s maximum height limit from its current 60-feet to no more than 40 feet. In addition, Dianne Channing, a Riviera neighborhood activist who ran for council four years ago, is again in the running, as is David Pritchett, a creeks advocate now serving on the city’s Transportation and Circulation Committee. Incumbent Grant House is also running. While House, White, Schneider, and Channing are not technically running as a slate, they will share offices and the same campaign consultant, Jeremy Lindemann.
Roiling the political water most recently are rumors that a lifelong Montecito resident, upset at the rate of growth and development, is shopping around for candidates to support. He has reportedly vowed to spend up to $50,000 per candidate, and another $50,000 in favor of the building height initiative.