The time has come for a reboot at City Hall. That’s why we’re endorsing James Joyce III for mayor. Joyce exudes the intelligence, gravitas, and grace one would hope for in a mayor. Politically, he’s a solidly progressive Democrat who has long worked alongside — but independently of — the local Democratic Party establishment. Temperamentally, he’s a low-key, get-the-job-done pragmatist.
Of the six candidates running, we believe Joyce has the best chance of harnessing the often unruly passions of an uncommonly fractious City Council into a more positive, progressive, and, we believe, harmonious direction. Something that is seriously needed.
Joyce knows how government is supposed to work and how it actually works. For the past nine years, he was State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s right-hand man in Santa Barbara. Prior to that, he worked for then-Assemblymember Das Williams, and before that as a boots-on-the-ground reporter for three different newspapers — in Indiana, Washington, and Ohio.
Over the years, Joyce frequently functioned as a second set of eyes and ears with Senator Jackson at high-level interagency briefings during some of Santa Barbara’s most searing crises: the 1/9 Debris Flow, the Refugio Oil Spill, the Elliot Rodger rampage in Isla Vista, and, most recently, COVID-19. Throughout these meetings, Joyce witnessed the almost sacramental role an elected leader is expected to play in times of natural disaster and chronic catastrophe.
That’s a role our incumbent mayor, Cathy Murillo, has not been comfortable performing. Like Joyce, Murillo is a former reporter. As such, she cringed when she saw elected leaders hogging the limelight during moments of crisis. It’s an understandable response. But the mayor of Santa Barbara needed to bear witness to the pain of the moment, and as the representative of the whole city, she needed to offer hope and courage to our community. She failed to do that.
Joyce, it should be noted, created Coffee with a Black Guy, a safe conversational space he began engineering back in 2016 so that people of all colors could speak candidly — how they really felt, as opposed to how they should feel — about the always-fraught subject of race. This enterprise is not an afterthought to who James is. It has everything to do with what he has to offer. What’s important is not so much that he is, in fact, a “Black Guy.” What is important is that for five years, Joyce has been navigating explosive conversational landmines.
So when he says, “It’s all about the conversation,” he really means it.
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This is especially relevant given the eruption of political and personal feuds now dividing our City Council — the first council in more than 50 years whose members are all elected by district elections rather than at large. As a result, the mayor is the only elected official who is voted in by the whole city. This gives the mayor a more profound role than ever in recent history — whoever holds that office is in a unique position to calm the waters. Under the administration of Mayor Murillo, this has not happened.
When Joyce talks about “building community” — as he does — we’re tempted to roll our eyes. What does that even mean? It means it is a beginning. We’re optimistic his skill set and temperament will allow him to achieve traction with members of the existing council to minimize the ancillary static and ambitions that distract them from the pressing matters at hand.
On issues that we at the Independent consider critical to the well-being of Santa Barbara — climate change, tenants’ rights, the evolution of State Street, racial equity, economic development citywide, and a spirit of cultural exuberance — we know Joyce will be there.
He has called for campaign finance reform in city elections; it’s about time. He supports a vaccination mandate for city workers; it’s about time. We expect him to initiate a broader community conversation to ensure everyone with a relevant opinion has a seat at the table and that they’re heard. From this, we expect forward direction.
Murillo, it should be acknowledged, was elected mayor at one of the toughest moments imaginable. The day she was sworn in, the Montecito Debris Flow killed 23 people. And the challenges kept mounting. Drought. Fires. District elections. The upheaval attending racial reckoning. COVID. Four years of Donald Trump’s toxic gamma radiation didn’t help matters.
Murillo is an outspoken, unapologetic progressive who pushed a progressive agenda in an outspoken, unapologetic way. A lot got done. But Murillo never reached beyond the comfort zone of her base. A lot of people — representing many walks of life — did not feel adequately heard. And then there was an unprecedented exodus of high-ranking city administrators, resulting in a significant loss of institutional memory.
Challengers Randy Rowse — who served on the council for nine years — and Deborah Schwartz — who is concluding a 12-year stint on the planning commission — have made much of this sense of turmoil. Rowse, a staunch moderate, is widely seen as a frontrunner in this race. As councilmember, Rowse enriched public debate with his common sense, affability, know-how, and an innate sense of caution. Schwartz has a great grasp of policy.
But what we need now is a competent, compassionate breath of fresh air. We need a mayor who will embrace the change that’s necessary while crafting a path forward that also embraces Santa Barbara’s unique spirit and traditions.
That mayor is James Joyce III.
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 independent.com/discussions-