Following the Money in Santa Barbara Mayoral Race

Facing Two Challengers So Far, Incumbent Cathy Murillo Releases Campaign Finance Report

Mayor Cathy Murillo | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

While the race for Santa Barbara mayor remains barely a blip on most people’s screen, incumbent Cathy Murillo is off and running, having collected more than $54,000 in a contest that will no doubt cost the victor several hundred thousand. Murillo, a loyal Democrat hoping to secure a second term as Santa Barbara’s first Latina mayor, is a facing a field of challengers still very much in the making.

To date, James Joyce III — who ran former Democratic state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s Santa Barbara operations until she was termed out at the end of last year — is one of only two candidates to officially announce and take out papers of intent. If victorious, Joyce would be the city’s first African-American mayor. Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz, a Democrat, has also taken out papers to run for mayor. Both Joyce and Schwartz have stated City Hall needs stronger leadership from the mayor and have pledged to provide it.


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While Murillo has not officially announced, she released her campaign finance report to make it clear she will be financially formidable. Her finance statement is peppered with the names of former supervisors and former councilmembers and longtime Democratic Party players. But she also reported $3,000 from downtown developer Peter Lewis, $5,000 from property manager Michael Palmer, $3,000 from the Santa Ynez Chumash, and $5,000 from San Luis Obispo real estate developer Randall Poltl. MarBorg Industries donated $2,500, as did the pipefitters union, and so did the Plumbers & Steamfitters.

Murillo began her mayoral term with the 1/9 Debris Flow and the Thomas Fire; she ends it with the economic devastation wrought by COVID. She has wielded the ceremonial gavel over a council elected by districts — not at large — and relations between the mayor and the council have been at times bumpy.

To date, no Republican or overtly pro-business candidates have jumped into the fray, though the name of former councilmember Randy Rowse — onetime owner of the former Paradise Café — is frequently mentioned as a possibility.

The election is in November, and there are no primaries. Also running for reelection are incumbent councilmembers Meagan Harmon, Eric Friedman, and Kristen Sneddon. To date, no challengers have surfaced against any of these councilmembers either.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on February 16, 2021, to state that Deborah Schwartz has taken out papers to run for mayor; an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that she had not yet.


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