Nina Johnson, who’s worked in the City Administrator’s Office since she was a 19-year-old intern, announced last week she’s running for the downtown seat on the City Council, against incumbent Meagan Harmon. In running, Johnson — a hardworking über-wonk and a go-to person at City Hall for downtown businesspeople, property owners, and arts organizations — is charting a political path never seen before in Santa Barbara: jumping from the Administrator’s Office to the council dais.
If elected this November, Johnson would have to give up her job. She’s expressed frustration her skills and talents haven’t been put to better use in recent years and that the vast talents of the community have not been better harnessed, as well, pledging to be more proactive and inclusive in reaching out to stakeholders in major policy matters.
In taking on an incumbent strongly backed by the Democratic Party, Johnson acknowledged she faces an uphill fight. “This is a huge risk,” she stated, likening her move alternately to “having a baby” or “becoming a nun.”
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Some councilmembers, however, termed her candidacy “weird,” expressing awkwardness at having worked with someone in an administrative capacity who’s now running against one of their colleagues. With strong connections with the downtown business community, Johnson — a lifelong Democrat herself — should be able to raise serious money.
Her opponent, Harmon, was first appointed to the council two years ago to fill a vacancy and then elected without opposition; she has emerged as the council’s most outspoken progressive. Most recently, Harmon beat out County Supervisor Das Williams — a political veteran — in a polite but fierce campaign to secure Governor Gavin Newsom’s appointment to the Coastal Commission.
If elected, Johnson said all her energies would be focused on the needs of downtown. On the issues, Harmon has touted her support for a just-cause eviction ordinance. Johnson has indicated more interest in finding common ground between landlords and tenants and working to find compromise.
Two other candidates have taken out papers for the same District 6 seat: electrician Jason Carlton and disc jockey Zachary Pike.