Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo, seen here in the City Hall Council Chambers in December, was endorsed by the County Democratic Party for her re-election bid. The November ballot will also have three council seats.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For the second time, the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party has endorsed Cathy Murillo for mayor. 

Murillo, who has been on the City Council since 2011 and was first elected mayor in 2017, was chosen for the endorsement over candidates James Joyce III and Deborah Schwartz. Candidate Randy Rowse, who is registered to vote with no party preference, was not considered for the endorsement. 

Although the mayor’s race is technically nonpartisan, the endorsement comes with thousands of dollars worth of mailers, door hangers, constituent calls and other outreach. The local Democratic Party has successfully endorsed the mayoral winner for at least the past 20 years in Santa Barbara. 

“I’m really honored by the endorsement as it’s a testament to all we are doing and all we’ve accomplished to make Santa Barbara a stronger and more equitable City,” Murillo told Noozhawk. “I’m proud to also be endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Santa Barbara Young Democrats, and to hear from voters that they too appreciate my service as mayor.”

Murillo, Joyce and Schwartz interviewed for the coveted spot at a Thursday night Democratic Central Committee meeting. They each had 15 minutes to present their case, which included time for questions from the committee members.

The mayoral candidates fielded questions about their leadership styles, but Murillo did not get questioned about her controversies involving the Black Lives Matter movement, where she verbally squabbled with protest organizers on May 31, and refused to take a knee in honor of George Floyd, the man killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota last year. 

Although Murillo was the favorite to earn the endorsement because of her strong ties to the party, there was some intrigue involving whether Murillo would earn the 65% support necessary among members. According to sources, Murillo received 70 percent of the vote.

Joyce’s presence in the race raised questions about whether he would prevent Murillo from getting the endorsement. Joyce is friendly with the Democratic Party, and has worked closely with some members of its leadership. He announced his candidacy in early February. 

Santa Barbara mayoral candidate James Joyce III.

Santa Barbara mayoral candidate James Joyce III. (Courtesy photo)

Joyce worked alongside Darcél Elliot, chair of the party, when he worked for now-County Supervisor Das Williams when Williams was a state assemblyman.

Joyce most recently worked as district director for retired state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. He also has successfully launched his business Coffee With a Black Guy, which aims to have conversations about race. 

Joyce has earned a reputation as a hard-working, constituent-focused aide, but so far he has yet to present a strong case for why he is a greater choice for mayor than Murillo. During his interview with the Central Committee, he never named Murillo directly, but said there was a problem with the “tone” on the council. He declined to comment on his reaction to the endorsement. 

Planning Commissioner Schwartz was not discouraged by the outcome. 

“While unfortunate, it’s not surprising that the County Democratic Party re-endorsed Cathy Murillo,” Schwartz said.

Santa Barbara mayoral candidate Deborah Schwartz.

Santa Barbara mayoral candidate Deborah Schwartz. (Courtesy photo)

“As I said in my interview last night, we are facing once-in-a-generation crises that require extraordinary, not ordinary, leadership in a mayor.  I have demonstrated that over the past 11 years as a dedicated city planning commissioner.  The mayor’s race is just getting started and as you can see with my active, inclusive social media outreach, my focus is on community. Ultimately the voters and not any one interest group will decide who leads our city into the future.”

Schwartz announced her candidacy for the seat in late January.

Rowse served on the City Council for almost 10 years and left recently due to term limits. He announced his candidacy in early March.

Santa Barbara mayoral candidate Randy Rowse.

Santa Barbara mayoral candidate Randy Rowse. (Noozhawk file photo)

The County Democratic Party also endorsed incumbent councilwomen Meagan Harmon, who is running for re-election in District 6, and Kristen Sneddon, running for re-election in District 4, for the November election.

For Sneddon, the endorsement was significant. She won four years ago even though the party had endorsed candidate Jim Scafide. Some of the people she has endorsed since then, including local school board members Kate Ford, Laura Capps and Vicki Ben-Yaacov, were not endorsed by the County Democratic Party. 

“I am thankful to the Democratic Party for their endorsement,” Sneddon said Friday. “We work well together on issues including community resilience, sustainability,  and the long-term livability of Santa Barbara. Along with the endorsement of the Sierra Club, this gives my campaign good momentum to keep working for District 4 and all city residents.”

Developer Barrett Reed is also a candidate for the seat.

Harmon also was thrilled with her endorsement. 

“I am immensely grateful for the Democratic Party’s endorsement of my campaign for re-election,” Harmon said.

“I look forward to our work together and continuing to support our shared values on issues that matter most to the people of my district and the City, like recovering from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, housing insecurity, supporting local businesses, and addressing the homeless crisis.”

The only endorsement that remains in limbo is that for the City Council’s District 5 seat, which is currently represented by Eric Friedman. 

Friedman, a Democrat, is running for re-election and was interviewed for an endorsement in May, but ran out of time answering questions. The committee plans to invite him back for another interview.

Friedman faced questions centered on his financial support and endorsement of his mother Celeste Barber, a conservative, who ran for the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees last year. 

The Santa Barbara City Council is the only one in the region that still holds odd-year elections, and will move to even-year elections in 2024 as part of its district elections settlement. Three council seats and the mayor’s seat are on the ballot this year, and in two years, the other three council seats are on the ballot. 

The candidate filing period is still open for the November election. 

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

Santa Barbara holds district-based City Council elections every two years, while all city voters cast a ballot for the mayor’s seat. The District 4, District 5, and District 6 seats are on November’s ballot.

Santa Barbara holds district-based City Council elections every two years, while all city voters cast a ballot for the mayor’s seat. The District 4, District 5, and District 6 seats are on November’s ballot. (Noozhawk illustration)