James Joyce III.
James Joyce III, a longtime political aide and the founder of Coffee With a Black Guy, announced Monday that he is running for mayor of Santa Barbara. (Contributed photo)

James Joyce III, founder of Coffee with a Black Guy and a longtime district director for former state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, announced on Monday that he is running for mayor of Santa Barbara.

His announcement was timed with the first day of February and Black History Month.

Joyce is the third candidate to join the race, after Mayor Cathy Murillo declared her intention to seek re-election, and longtime Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz launched her website last week outlining her plans to run.

“Let’s not sugar-coat what’s going on,” Joyce told Noozhawk. “Our city needs a change. We have faced the same problems for too long without seeing real solutions.

“But these problems aren’t beyond our control, and one of the great things about Santa Barbara is that the resources are here to make a change. You just have to know how to do that.”

In the scheme of local city politics, Joyce’s candidacy hits like a shockwave. He would be the first black mayor of Santa Barbara, and only the second black man to serve on the council, after the late Babatunde Folayemi.

If he wins, he would oust the first Latina ever elected to the City Council and the mayor’s seat.

Joyce’s candidacy comes with some heft because of his longtime ties to the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party and prominent elected Democrats.

In addition to working for Jackson, he spent years as a field representative for Das Williams when he was in the state Assembly.

Joyce’s decision to run and challenge an incumbent Democrat mayor is likely to vex voters and complicate the endorsement processes. The party typically likes to focus on only one candidate in a contest, out of concern that too many Democrats could split votes and allow a non-Democrat to emerge victorious in what technically is a non-partisan race. 

Having Murillo and Joyce in the contest will force activists and voters to choose between two Democrats with different backgrounds and experiences in the community. 

Murillo has long worked in the trenches for the party; she lent her name and credibility to a cascade of sitting Democrats, including council members Oscar Gutierrez, Alejandra Gutierrez, and Mike Jordan, along with school board member Rose Munoz.

Murillo is heavily backed by unions and party activists, although she suffered a blow when she ran for state Assembly a year ago, and was unsuccessful. 

She also faced criticism in 2020 for her interaction with Black Lives Matter: Healing Justice organizers at a rally and demonstration near the police department in June.

Joyce has ties to many of the same party activists as Murillo, but has not worked as deeply in the trenches as Murillo on city of Santa Barbara issues.

He has been involved predominantly on state legislative issues, and provided local constituent service. He launched his “Coffee with a Black Guy” company in 2016, as a way to facilitate difficult conversations about race. 

“James Joyce is a respected member of the community, who many of us know through his work with Hannah-Beth Jackson and Coffee with a Black Guy,” said Gail Teton-Landis, chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party. “We certainly hope he will participate in our endorsement process when we interview candidates in April.”

Joyce is already showing indications that he will attempt to appeal to the business community, including entrepreneurs. He pulled no punches when speaking about Murillo.

“Mayor Murillo has tried her best, but look around,” Joyce said. “State Street loses more businesses every day, there are no real solutions to our housing crisis, festering discord in our community, and most importantly, the tone of our council meetings has never been worse.

“It’s time for a level-headed discourse about how to fix problems, and that’s what I do every day of my life.”

Schwartz also has a plan to attract businesses, particularly developers, who have been dissatisfied with City Hall’s approach to housing development. 

Murillo, known as strong campaigner, has already raised $54,000 in her re-election bid.

In an interview with Noozhawk on Monday, Murillo said she is ready for the challenge that Joyce brings. 

“I appreciate it when people want to serve the city in elected office,” Murillo said. “It’s a tough but rewarding job that requires experience and proven leadership, especially right now. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished during my time as mayor.

“We have faced some big challenges head on, and have made important progress that has made our city stronger. 

She said the city has helped businesses weather the pandemic, protected renters with the just-cause eviction ordinance, and made “major reforms to create a more responsive and community-focused Police Department.”

“I’m focused on continuing to deliver real solutions to the challenges Santa Barbara is facing, and look forward to the work and campaign ahead,” Murillo said.

Joyce said if elected, his first priority will be “changing the tone”

“From day one, I will set a clear vision, tone and direction for the city that points us towards progress,” Joyce said. “I have brought people together to solve problems for more than a decade. I’ve been behind the scenes working on issues like housing, homelessness and environmental resilience at the state level, and now I look forward to bringing that knowledge to City Hall.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.