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Schneider Confirms Plans to Run for Santa Barbara Mayor

Helene Schneider could face fellow Councilwoman Iya Falcone, whose candidacy isn't yet official.

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Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Helene Schneider plans to run for mayor in 2009. “People who know me know I’ve been thinking about this for months,” she said. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Helene Schneider kicked off her 2009 campaign for mayor last week with an inadvertent announcement.

Schneider, who is one year into her second term on the council, sent out a holiday greetings card that made no mention of her intention to run for office, but disclosed on the back that the card’s printing costs were paid for by the Helene Schneider for Mayor committee.

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Councilwoman Iya Falcone has created a fundraising committee for the mayoral race but hasn’t officially announced her candidacy.
That led local media outlets to inquire whether she planned to run, and Schneider answered in the affirmative.

“People who know me know I’ve been thinking about this for months,” she said.

Her announcement means she could face fellow Councilwoman Iya Falcone in a contest for the mayor’s seat, which Marty Blum will term out of at the end of 2009. Falcone also has created a fundraising committee for the mayoral race but hasn’t officially announced her candidacy.

Reached Monday, Falcone said she will wait until after the holidays to make an announcement one way or the other.

“I don’t think the holidays is a time for politics,” she said, adding that she hasn’t seen the holiday card. “I think people have just had enough of politics for a while and need a break. People need to concentrate on their families.”

Schneider said she hadn’t intended to “make a big media blast” of the card.

“The media came to me,” she said. “I’m still putting together the structure and details of the campaign.”

As for the disclaimer on the back of the card, she said, “It was something I had to do technically.”

Politicians routinely use funds raised by local campaign committees to purchase cards that they send to supporters during the holidays. Schneider, who was re-elected in 2007, said she could have opted to use her soon-to-be defunct “Friends of Helene Schneider” account that existed for her City Council campaigns, but didn’t want to create the impression that she was hiding her plans to run for mayor.

“I was trying to be as upfront and by the book as I could be,” she said. Schneider launched the mayoral committee in late summer.

Schneider, 38, grew up in Manhattan, the daughter of parents who separated before she was 2. She was raised mostly by her mother — who worked as a psychoanalyst — and a stepfather.

Schneider moved to Santa Barbara in the early 1990s from New York, shortly after earning a degree in English with a minor in women’s studies from the private Skidmore College. She came with her to-be husband, David Greenberg, who earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from UCSB.

Schneider got into politics almost immediately, landing a job on the campaign to re-elect then-Assemblyman Jack O’Connell, now the California state superintendent of public instruction. Shortly after, she went to work for the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, where she became the human resources manager.

In this position, Schneider, who still works part time as a consultant for HR Xpress, said she witnessed firsthand the difficulties local companies face in recruiting and retaining quality employees in light of the high cost of living.

She kept a hand in politics, joining the board of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, for which she served as president in 1999 and 2000. Not long after, she was appointed by then-Mayor Harriet Miller to the Santa Barbara Housing Authority Commission.

Schneider said people had urged her to run for City Council, but her decision to do it happened while addressing the council as a member of the commission in 2003. At the time, she was relaying the commission’s recommendations to the council, which was updating its housing policies.

“I realized, I don’t want to be telling them what decisions to make, I want to be one of the people making the decisions,” she said. “That was sort of the aha moment.”

Although Schneider said she hasn’t yet put together a detailed platform, she generally aims to keep her eye on the council’s biggest challenges, which in the short term include grappling with a budget shortfall that, by July, could reach $8.3 million, or about 8 percent of the general-fund budget. In the long term, Schneider said she plans to do her part to ensure that Santa Barbara remains a leader in the environmental movement.

“We’ve always been seen as the birthplace to the modern environmental movement,” she said, “and I think we have a responsibility to continue that legacy.”

Falcone and Schneider have had their disagreements.

For instance, Schneider was one of two council members — the other being Das Williams — to vote against a controversial proposal known as Veronica Meadows to develop 25 single-family homes in the brushy green space across the street from Elings Park.

Politically, both women are Democrats. But Schneider is often closely aligned with Williams, who has clashed with Falcone in the past, most notably by supporting an unsuccessful bid to unseat her by Dianne Channing in 2005.

Schneider said any differences she has had with Falcone in the past have been strictly professional.

“Iya and I work together fine,” she said. “This race is about the issues, it’s about the constituents; it’s not personal.”

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