Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider set a new campaign fundraising record for city races, generating $91,000 in donations — $83,000 when excluding in-kind contributions — by August 1, when the first mandated finance reports are due. Four years ago this time, Schneider — then confronting three legitimate mayoral challengers — had raised $44,000. Making the abundance of Schneider’s campaign war chest all the more striking is that she’s running essentially unopposed in a race notably devoid of any obvious line-in-the-sand campaign issues.
Three individuals have taken out papers indicating an interest in challenging Schneider, a popular left-tilting moderate, but none have ever run for elected office before, none have raised enough funds to trigger campaign reporting requirements, and only one — Wayne Scoles — has any public profile in Santa Barbara. Scoles — recognizable for his blistering tirades during the council’s public comment sessions — is best known for his arrest several years ago for verbally challenging and confronting Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez while Sanchez was departing from a relative’s wedding. Sanchez had Scoles arrested, but Scoles fought the charge and was acquitted.
“What do you want me to say?” she asked. “You can’t take any race for granted.”
Political insiders speculate that shoo-in Schneider’s show of force is more a statement for whatever office she runs for after she’s termed out as mayor. “What do you want me to say?” she asked. “You can’t take any race for granted.” Schneider added she was “pleased and humbled” by the generosity of the support given.
In the body language of local politics, the first campaign filing offers a strategic opportunity for candidates to beat their chests and show potential donors — and foes — how formidable they really are. In this year’s first filing, some candidates clearly succeeded better than others in letting their money do the talking. Incumbent Councilmember Bendy White — a moderate Democrat who frequently strives to play the role of swing vote — raised $40,000, also a record amount by Santa Barbara standards.
Where 35 of Schneider’s donations came in denominations of $1,000 or more, most of White’s came in denominations of hundreds, and to a greater extent than anyone else running, they came from both sides of the proverbial aisle. Certainly one of White’s biggest donors was Schneider, who gave $2,500. Incumbent Frank Hotchkiss, perhaps the council’s most outspokenly conservative member and until recently a member of the Republican Central Committee, raised a solid $35,000, suggesting that if Democrats wish to pick him off, he’s not going down without a fight.
In this fall’s mayoral and council race, there are four seats up for grabs with three incumbents seeking reelection and 11 challengers trying to land a spot. Because of deep-seated divisions within the Democratic camp, no slate of candidates was ever agreed upon, and there are more challengers sporting the letter D than there are available spots. The most dramatic tension involves former councilmembers Gregg Hart and David Landecker, political kissing cousins who now find themselves at serious odds. Landecker, forever tarred by the price-tag-switching scandal that forced him to resign from office more than 20 years ago, had to come out fast and hard to dispel prevalent doubts he could be a viable candidate. He raised $32,000 and amassed more than a credible list of endorsements.
Hart — who spent the past eight years working for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments — pledged earlier this year that he’d raise more money and knock on more doors than anyone else. He, too, reported having raised $32,000; however, unlike Landecker, Hart loaned $10,000 to his own campaign, and his campaign consultant donated $5,600 worth of service as an in-kind donation. Both Hart and Landecker are formidable, smart, and knowledgeable, but their rivalry reflects fissures within the party that are personal as much as ideological.
Although first-time candidate Lesley Wiscomb takes pains not to get painted into any political corner, the chair of the Parks & Recreation Commission is clearly running with the political and financial support of council conservative Dale Francisco and the Jim Westby machine, a faction of area conservatives vehemently opposed to schemes to promote the development of smaller, cheaper housing by allowing greater residential densities. Wiscomb raised $18,600, $2,000 from Westby and his wife, Sharon, and another $1,000 from former mayor and current planning commissioner Sheila Lodge, a traditional and liberal Democrat who joined forces with Francisco and Westby to oppose the higher-density housing plans. Wiscomb loaned her campaign $1,600.
Fellow Parks & Recreation Commissioner Megan Diaz Alley raised $12,000 so far in her effort to represent renters, Latinos, environmentalists, and young people starting families. Like Hart, Diaz Alley has been endorsed by the Democratic Central Committee but not by Schneider. Planning commissioner and longtime downtown business advocate Michael Jordan — who assiduously sought to avoid party labels or affiliation with any political camp — raised $10,700. Jason Nelson, another first-time candidate and relative newcomer to the political scene, raised $9,100. Nelson has served much of his adult life in the military and received a $1,250 check from emcee and auctioneer extraordinaire Larry Crandell, who himself was shot down during World War II.
Council candidates Cruzito Cruz and Matthew Kramer — both of whom have run before — did not raise enough to trigger the reporting threshhold. Likewise mayoral candidates Ethan Shenkman and Brandon Fereday have not raised enough to require campaign finance reports, nor have they ever run before.
Of the $10,000 raised by Jordan, $4,000 was a loan he made to his campaign. Likewise, with the $1,600 loan Leslie Wiscomb extended to her campaign, she brought in a total of $18,600. And Diaz Alley, who reported raising $12,000, donated $2,000 to her own campaign.