Former Santa Barbara city councilmember Dan Secord — best known as Dr. Dan — died this weekend at age 80 from bladder cancer. As a councilmember, Secord was the council’s reigning “numbers guy,” as he liked to call himself, a fiscal watchdog who reckoned that if he kept an eye on the “the nickels and the dimes, the dollars would take care of themselves.”
One of the few Republicans to serve on a council dominated by Democrats between 1998 and 2006, Secord was blunt, generous, independent, and famous for doing his own research. As the Republican Party shifted to the right, Secord — an outspokenly pro-choice ob-gyn — decidedly did not shift with them. By contemporary standards, Secord qualified as an old-school, limited government Republican. Mayor Helene Schneider expressed appreciation that Secord could always be counted on asking the police chief during budget deliberations just how many women had been hired as police officers.
Secord relished his role in political life. He ran twice for county supervisor, unsuccessfully, and he served as an alternate on the Coastal Commission. But Secord was never cagey and had precious little patience for political spinmanship. “You didn’t have to guess where Dan stood on things,” recalled Fire Chief Pat McElroy. “And he never took our disagreements personally.”
Secord was pragmatic rather than doctrinaire, more interested in making government work efficiently than not at all. As tourists washed into town by the thousands during Fiesta parades, Secord could be seen waving and yelling, “Viva la sales tax!” recalled Mayor Schneider. An avid runner, cyclist, pilot, and sailor, Secord once sustained a serious leg injury bolting down City Hall stairs to get a copy of a just-released budget report.
Later in life, Secord became active with the Santa Barbara Choral Society and actively encouraged Schneider — known for her ability to belt out a tune — to audition once her term in office was up and to join him on a new stage. “I’m sad now this option is not meant to be,” she said.