Former council member and business owner accrues 40% of vote in preliminary results
Randy Rowse leads the Santa Barbara mayoral race with just over 40% of the votes, according to preliminary election results released soon after voting centers closed.
“I think people were really ready for a change. I really think that was where my donor base came from was people that really want the status quo to be different,” he told the News-Press after seeing preliminary results. “They’re tired of partisanship.”
James Joyce III has almost 26% of votes; incumbent Mayor Cathy Murillo accrued 24.4%; Deborah Schwartz won almost 7% of voters; Mark Whitehurst has 2% of votes, and Matt Kilrain, “Boat Rat Matt” received .7% of votes cast.
Mayor Murillo spent Tuesday at her campaign headquarters, calling undecided voters until 7:55 p.m. Then, she stepped into De la Guerra Plaza to view the first wave of results along with community members and other candidates.
“I’m feeling really grateful to the volunteers today. We were on the phones; we were knocking on doors, we were up at four o’clock this morning to do the Get Out the Vote literature drive,” she said. “So I’m happy with the campaign that I ran and with my 10 years of public service. So we’re going to turn this into celebrating that.”
She will issue a formal statement when final results are tallied.
Tuesday’s results do not include ballots dropped off on the day of the election or those postmarked but yet to be received by the county registrar.
Joseph Holland, the county’s registrar of voters, expects to have an update by 4 p.m. Thursday, including election-day ballots.
The County received 19,587 votes of over 55,000 ballots distributed, a voter turnout of about 35.4%. City Clerk Services Manager Sarah Gorman told the News-Press that voter turnout in Santa Barbara fluctuates from 30-50% in City elections.
When Mayor Murillo was elected in 2017, voter turnout was 51%.
Mr. Rowse, a former City Council member and former owner of Paradise Cafe, ran unaffiliated but was labeled by some prominent democrats as the conservative candidate.
The News-Press asked Mr. Rowse if he considers himself a conservative.
“Nah,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t know what that even means anymore.”
He said he is best described as a “pothole politician,” meaning he fixes problems and ensures the City runs smoothly.
The “pothole politician” made some political figures nervous.
Over a month ago, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams met with Deborah Schwartz to inquire whether she was considering dropping out. He told the News-Press one of Ms. Schwartz’s supporters asked him to call the meeting.
The supporter was allegedly nervous about Ms. Schwartz’s future prospects and what might happen if democrats’ votes were spread too thin.
“Santa Barbara could have its first conservative mayor in over 30 years,” Supervisor Williams told the News-Press last week, when asked about the meeting.
When asked why he considers Mr. Rowse conservative, he said that Mr. Rowse opposed the State Street Promenade years ago.
The pandemic provoked the street’s conversion into a pedestrian walkway, but elected officials have been discussing the change for years.
“I don’t love closing streets; I really don’t, especially the main street,” Mr. Rowse told the News-Press when he announced his campaign in April.
He said he’s open to ideas. His current proposal is to use retractable gates to close the street, add a bike lane and an electric shuttle.
He resents political messaging that put him in line with Donald Trump. He recently revealed he did not vote for the former president.
People ask him about abortion and vaccines, he said. But he doesn’t think that is in the purview of a mayor.
“I have ideologies and philosophies of my own. I don’t take them to work with me,” he said.
He said he ran because he saw ideologies impacting City Hall, where he believes they don’t belong.
When election results were posted online Tuesday night, a large group of attendees at Mr. Rowse’s party held up a cell phone and cheered. “We did it,” another cheered.
“What I’m thinking about right now is to get together with my colleagues, my council members, and just talk about how we go from here to the next stage,” Mr. Rowse said Tuesday evening.
This is the first year the county has conducted the City of Santa Barbara’s election. Ms. Gorman said the city couldn’t hire its usual vendor, so it switched to a county-run process.
This will be the last odd-year city election. The mayor and council members elected will serve five-year terms, and council members in Districts 1, 2 and 3 are already in a five-year term. Subsequent elections will revert back to four-year terms.