Opting for political friskiness over the tried and true, the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce announced it was endorsing in the mayor’s race Angel Martinez, former CEO of the Deckers shoe empire, eschewing the more expected path of backing councilmember and mayoral candidate Frank Hotchkiss, an outspoken Republican, conservative, and vocal supporter of the business community.
The charismatically tight-jawed Martinez has been quietly wowing many in the downtown business community, impressed by his corporate street cred. But even so, the handicappers and prognosticators have remained skeptical, given the fact Martinez has only just recently moved to the City of Santa Barbara and has no record of City Hall engagement to which to point.
Still, his cry for more and better ”leadership and vision” resonated with the Chamber establishment, which cited his experience and knowledge in the retail world. The Chamber endorsement referred to Martinez’s “first hand knowledge about the changing nature of retail stores will help us chart a new path.” State Street is experiencing exceptionally high vacancy rates right now, mirroring national trends and then some.
Hotchkiss, by contrast, works as a real estate agent. Where Hotchkiss is unapologetic about some of his more conservative positions — dismissing the human contribution to climate as “infinitesimal,” Martinez is a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Democrat who only recently converted to the “decline to state” party affiliation.
On the council Hotchkiss has led the charge for tougher enforcement of laws dealing with the behavior of street people. Martinez has already kicked off his mayoral ad campaign with an ad targeting street people, pledging to get tough on aggressive panhandlers.
The Chamber spoke no ill of any of the other mayoral candidates, including former mayor Hal Conklin and councilmembers Cathy Murillo — favored by the Democratic Party machine — and Bendy White, who has been closely allied with current Mayor Helene Schneider.
Traditionally, the Chamber endorsements were stolid, predictable affairs, but more recently, Chamber leadership has resisted such facile stereotyping. Last year, the Chamber endorsed Das Williams for county supervisor despite longstanding hostility and suspicion among many in the business community toward what they regarded as Williams’s ideologically fueled eco-regulator posture.
The rest of the Chamber endorsement ticket for city council was similarly ambidextrous. For District Four, the Chamber endorsed Jay Higgins, a moderate Republican and land-use planner now sitting on the Planning Commission; for District Six, incumbent Councilmember Gregg Hart — a pillar of the Democratic Party and political sachem for the freeway-widening Santa Barbara County Association of Governments; and for District Five, Eric Friedman, former staffer for county supervisors Salud Carbajal and Naomi Schwartz.