There were times this year when Steve Cushman’s campaign for mayor looked liked the longest of long shots.
Cushman, who heads the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, stepped part way into the ring and backed away. Some close advisors wanted him to run for City Council first, something he eschewed right off the bat.
Then, when it became clear he wanted to run, he needed an exemption from his board to keep his job while seeking elected office.
Early on the front runners looked like Helene Schneider and Iya Falcone, incumbent City Council members — in a field that kept getting more and more crowded.
But suddenly, Cushman’s campaign seems to have discovered a rhythm and it has political wind at its back. He’s figured out a way to differentiate his Chamber role from his campaign persona — and he seems to be gaining respect from some members of the business community for his ability to balance the two.
He got a major boost when Iya Falcone’s campaign ground to a standstill when she failed to qualify enough signatures. The matter may yet be resolved in her favor in court, but her campaign has been badly damaged.
Schneider remains the favorite among women and Santa Barbara’s big contingent of liberal voters. She’s won a number of key endorsements and she’s talked about finding ways to help small businesses, particularly hard-hit retailers and restaurants.
But in a year that marks a big change for Santa Barbara and unprecedented crankiness among rank-and-file voters, Cushman now has a bit of an opportunity.
Public safety workers and fiscal conservatives, who might have been solidly in Falcone’s camp, are now up for grabs. The city’s ongoing budget problems could be laid at the feet of the current city council.
Small businesses are hurting from the state’s fiscal woes and from the sheer cost of doing business in Santa Barbara.
We’re not in the habit of endorsing candidates for office and we’re not going to break from our tradition now. But the emergence of the Cushman candidacy means that business issues might get closer to the top of the political agenda in Santa Barbara this year. That in itself is quite an accomplishment.