Councilmember Cathy Murillo handily took first place in her race and will become Santa Barbara’s first Latina mayor when she’s sworn into office in January. The remaining council will select who takes her vacated District 3 council seat.
Cathy Murillo Will Be Santa Barbara’s Next Mayor
In a Progressive Sweep, Kristen Sneddon, Eric Friedman, Gregg Hart, and ‘Yes’ on Measure C All Claim Victory
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Backed by the full might of the Democratic Party political machine, bolstered by a foot-soldier army of supporters, and buoyed by a reputation for tireless, in-the-trenches work with city residents, former journalist and Westside renter Cathy Murillo is set to become Santa Barbara’s next mayor.
As of press time Wednesday morning Murillo held a comfortable lead over the rest of the field in the five-way mayoral race. Her closest rival, Frank Hotchkiss, sits more than 1,300 votes back, and that gap is expected to widen as the last-minute ballots still uncounted traditionally lean left and liberal. Angel Martinez, Hal Conklin, and Bendy White currently hold the third, fourth, and fifth positions, respectively. Only a miracle would put any of them over the top.
Murillo beamed as she addressed a cheering crowd of supporters at Casa Blanca Tuesday night. “It’s such an honor to stand here as your next mayor of Santa Barbara,” she said. “It’s such an honor to win the trust of the public as well. They had a lot of choices, and we went door to door and said to them, ‘I care about your family. I care about your neighborhood. I care about your prosperity.’ I meant it when I said I would work to create jobs and housing opportunities for the people and the young people.”
Paul Wellman (file)
In her six years on the council — first elected at-large in 2011 and then reelected in 2015 to represent District 3 — Murillo solidified herself as the most consistent and outspoken advocate for working-class Santa Barbarans, holding the progressive-agenda line through debates on labor contracts, the gang injunction, homeless issues, and environmental protections. Looking ahead, she’s vowed to spearhead State Street revitalization efforts, implement the Bicycle Master Plan, and shore up relations between the South Coast and its North County counterparts.
During her campaign Murillo racked up a long list of endorsements from Santa Barbara’s regional leaders, and she enjoyed widespread support from community organizations staffed with volunteers eager to see Santa Barbara’s first Latina mayor take office. According to Democratic campaign manager Mollie Culver, 60 fieldworkers were canvassing for Murillo as of 5 p.m. Tuesday; 350 volunteers fanned out throughout the day with 500 knocking on doors over the weekend.
By Paul Wellman
Iconic labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta stumps for mayoral candidate Cathy Murillo at rally in De a Guerra Plaza
Among the political handicappers, the mayoral race seemed a confounding head-scratcher, with three evenly matched Democrats going toe-to-toe with lone Republican Hotchkiss and buzz-heavy political newcomer Martinez. Great anxiety persisted among the Democrats that a split vote would hand Hotchkiss a victory. To many, it was unfathomable that Hotchkiss — a climate change denier and a supporter of President Trump’s Mexico border wall — could lead Santa Barbara, the so-called birthplace of the environmental movement heavily populated by immigrants.
Tuesday morning voters awoke to a last-minute attack mailer taken out by Hotchkiss and lambasting Murillo for being a vanilla progressive who didn’t support a sanctuary city designation for Santa Barbara. City Hall staff had strongly cautioned a lay-low approach to the issue of sanctuary when Trump was first elected president. Murillo, an ardent supporter of immigrant rights, went along with the directive. Hotchkiss’s potshot was notable as he is a vigorous opponent of sanctuary cities himself, and the ad was uncharacteristically tricky for a councilmember and candidate best known for straight talk, no matter how conservatively truculent.
Though he had the enviable distinction of being the only Republican in a tight race among liberal-leaning candidates, Hotchkiss ultimately failed to secure critical support from the constituencies he’s long professed to represent. The city’s police union declined to endorse him — or anybody, for that matter — despite his self-declaration as the “law and order” candidate. Similarly, the business community didn’t rally behind him, instead choosing to back former Deckers CEO Martinez.
By Paul Wellman
Angel Martinez (left) and Frank Hotchkiss
Hotchkiss was unavailable for comment Tuesday night, having ditched his campaign gathering at Ca’ Dario early, right after the first results were announced. In an email to supporters, he conceded defeat: “Thanks very much for all your support and help,” he wrote. “I regret to report that we were decisively beaten by the progressive candidate in the race, Cathy Murillo, who will be the next mayor of Santa Barbara. Please do not give up the fight for good values and honest leadership. Eventually, we will win.”
Admitting he was beat but promising to not go gently into Santa Barbara’s political night, Martinez at Paradise Café said he may well become “a real pain in the butt” for City Hall by continuing to demand greater transparency and accountability of its leaders. Martinez emerged as the race’s wild-card candidate, touting his business chops and outsider’s perspective as necessary assets to streamline the city’s overly bloated bureaucracy. Reviving State Street is critical to getting Santa Barbara back on a healthy financial track, he declared, and the city should expend more effort to retain a young, entrepreneurial workforce by creating downtown housing and courting employers in the green and tech industries. Martinez waged the most expensive mayoral campaign in city history, spending more than $350,000.
“The reality is we have work to do,” Martinez explained Tuesday. He said his candidacy “forced the conversation” and galvanized Santa Barbara’s business community, which was no longer content to sit back and watch the city make bad economic decisions. Martinez called his campaign an “eye-opening experience” and said “there are an incredible number of people who care about this community and want the best for it.”
There would be no second acts for Conklin, a former councilmember and mayor back in 1993, who attempted to come out of political hibernation. Although Conklin enjoyed high-profile support from the likes of Lois Capps, Supervisor Das Williams, and the Santa Barbara Independent, his campaign couldn’t keep pace. At the new bar and bistro Basil’s, Conklin held court Tuesday night. He said the energy generated by the mayoral campaign bodes well for the “future of Santa Barbara” and that if his votes and those of White’s were combined, they would exceed Murillo’s.
By Paul Wellman
Mayoral candidate Hal Conklin greets supporters at his campaign kick-off.
Of all the mayoral candidates, White has the deepest historical Santa Barbara roots, with his family going back 150 years. In that vein, it made sense he spent election night in the Pickle Room, former home to Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens restaurant — in its day, one of the city’s most beloved watering holes. White whiled away the night scanning the TV screen for fresh results. Coming in last with about 2,400 votes, he was left to wonder where the 7,000 additional votes were that he’d secured the last time he ran for office. “Where did they go?” he asked more to himself than anyone else. “Who got them?”