Former councilmember Randy Rowse is fighting a six-way battle to dethrone incumbent mayor Cathy Murillo. | Credit: Erick Madrid

With the state’s gubernatorial recall election results now settled, the focus of political junkies is now shifting to Santa Barbara’s City Council race. This week, the city firefighters’ union — once upon a time a powerhouse in local politics and now climbing back — endorsed challenger and former city councilmember Randy Rowse, now fighting a six-way battle for incumbent mayor Cathy Murillo’s seat in this November’s election.

Justin Kiel, who heads the union’s political action committee, said all the mayoral candidates responded well on questionnaires and in interviews but that Rowse displayed “a deeper understanding of the department and on the lives of firefighters.” It did not hurt Rowse — running as a nonpartisan, common-sense moderate — that former fire chief and firefighters’ union president Pat McElroy has thrown his weight solidly behind Rowse’s campaign efforts.

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The union also endorsed incumbent Kristen Sneddon in her battle for reelection in District 4 against challenger and planning commissioner and developer Barrett Reed; incumbent Meagan Harmon, who’s running against longtime assistant city administrator Nina Johnson for District 6; and incumbent Eric Friedman, who’s running unopposed for reelection in District 5. 

In years past, a firefighters’ union endorsement involved substantial cash donations coupled with door-to-door knocking by city firefighters. Rowse is declining to accept donations from any union the council has to bargain with. 

Murillo, strongly backed by the local Democratic Party in what appears to be a tough election race, has never enjoyed support from the city’s public safety unions and has won in the past despite their opposition. 

Join Santa Barbara Independent reporters as they sit down with the Santa Barbara City mayoral, District 6, and District 4 candidates. All discussions will be held live on Zoom. Register at


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