Delivering the second campaign bombshell within the past week, Santa Barbara City Councilmember Iya Falcone officially announced she was withdrawing from the city’s mayoral race. Falcone declared she would not challenge the city clerk’s finding that she failed to gather the 100 signatures of legally registered city voters required under the city’s charter to qualify for the ballot.
Last week, Falcone – a two-term councilmember and long considered a frontrunner in the mayoral contest – was notified that only 95 of the 118 signatures she submitted were valid. Falcone concluded that the probability of victory in a legal challenge was low. “After conducting my own research, talking to family and friends, I have decided not to contest the City Clerk’s decision,” she wrote in a prepared statement. Falcone said she intends to finish her term on the council. “I love my job and I love the City of Santa Barbara. I intend to focus 100 percent on my council job through January and stay active to see through to fruition the projects I am passionate about. I intend to remain involved.” Falcone, a centrist Democrat, said she hasn’t decided whether she will endorse any of the other mayoral candidates, but said she’ll consider which one most shares her passion for public safety, gang prevention, regional governance, and solid waste diversion. As far as the $63,000 in campaign contributions she’s collected thus far, Falcone said she’s not prepared to comment.
With Falcone out, the remaining candidates are councilmembers Helene Schneider and Dale Francisco, Chamber of Commerce president Steve Cushman, real estate agent Isaac Garrett, and homeless advocate Bob Hansen. While Falcone is the only prominent politico to fail to meet the city’s signature requirement, she’s not the only mayoral candidate to stumble before the starting line. Candidate Justin Michael – music promoter and son of famed con-artist Ponzi schemer Reed Slatkin – failed to turn in the requisite number of signatures.
With Falcone out of the race, a major question is which candidate, if any, the city’s police and firefighters’ unions will endorse. Both unions had thrown the full weight of their political strength and fundraising ability behind Falcone early on. Cushman and Francisco have both been outspoken in their criticism of the influence they contend public employees wield. Schneider has called on the public safety unions to negotiate contract give-backs to ease the city’s ever widening budget crisis and has suggested specific cuts the police union in particular could accept without an apparent diminution of public safety officers on the street. Schneider, a liberal Democrat popular with the party’s progressive-activist base, had not been granted an interview with the Police Officers Association before the union endorsed Falcone. Since Falcone’s announcement, the police officers union has arranged an endorsement interview with Schneider.
There are five ways in which signatures on campaign nomination petitions can be invalidated. In Falcone’s case, there were a handful of each in all categories. In some instances, Marcelo Lopez, assistant city administrator, claimed the signatures on the nomination petitions did not match the signatures on the corresponding voter registration affidavit. Lopez said there were several instances where the signatures were suspected not to match, but were close calls. “If we erred, we erred on the side of inclusion,” he said. In several instances, individuals who signed Falcone’s nomination petition had already signed the petition of another candidate. Under city law, the same person cannot sign the petition of more than one mayoral candidate. Where that’s occurred, however, City Hall counts the signature of the petition that’s turned in first and rejects the signatures that come in afterward. In a couple of instances, Falcone’s signatures were disqualified because those offering their signatures listed an address other than the residency listed on their voter registration affidavit. Finally, some of the people who signed Falcone’s petition were either not registered to vote at all, or were not registered to vote in the City of Santa Barbara.
Had Falcone challenged the city clerk’s ruling in court, she would have faced a steep uphill climb. The chances of victory, Falcone acknowledged, were slim. It’s been an exceptionally rough year for Falcone, whose husband Vince died this past winter. Nor did her mayoral campaign ever enjoy the smooth sailing that many pundits had predicted. Schneider mounted a vigorous challenge to Falcone’s left, as was expected, and Cushman and later Francisco attacked from the right. These challenges – especially Francisco’s – were far less expected and threatened to fracture the city’s bloc of centrist-conservative voters. Even so, Falcone proved highly successful in her fundraising efforts, raising a record $63,000 by the end of the most recent reporting period. Her campaign structure, however, seemed unsettled, with campaign management duties being shared between those working as staff and those in a volunteer advisory capacity. Writing in her prepared statement, Falcone summed up: “As you all know this has been a difficult year for me.”