Monday, September 28, 2009

Blum On Armstrong's Show: Smackdown or Love In?

You may have missed it, but there was a minor thaw in the cold war between Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and the News-Press last week: On Wednesday Blum appeared as a guest on editorial page editor Travis Armstrong's weekly radio show.

If that doesn't seem like that big of a deal to you, consider that madame mayor hasn't made an appearance on "News-Press Radio" in nearly four years and is regularly pilloried in the paper's opinion pages.

Her absence from the News-Press airwaves can be traced back to November of 2005 when she declined an invitation from the station's general manager to talk on the radio on election night. The following April, when Blum was invited to appear on "Community Matters" a show sponsored by the Hutton Foundation that aired on the News-Press station, her appearance on the program was blocked by Armstrong who had veto power over guests.

Blum didn't appreciate being placed on the station's "no fly list" and made her displeasure known in an e-mail to her colleagues on the city council.

After that, the animosity that was simmering between the mayor and Armstrong would eventually boil over.

When the News-Press imploded, Blum very publicly took the side of the reporters in opposing the policies of the paper's owner, Wendy McCaw.

Over the next three years, Blum was a regular and frequent target of the paper's editorials and Armstrong's op-ed page columns. By Blum's count, there were over 600 negative editorials and columns.

One editorial tried to lay the blame for a fatal stabbing that took place on the Fourth of July 2008 on Blum.

And then there were Armstrong's unsubstantiated claims that the mayor was thinking about resigning. She denied it, demanded an apology and never got one. And, of course, she never resigned.

For my money, the all-time low in pettiness came in June of 2007 when Armstrong recounted how Blum and her husband Joe had placed her campaign signs in front of the apartment building where Armstrong lives. "Then they had to drive by that night, in her words, to see "how nice" the new signs looked." "How weird is that?" Armstrong wondered.

(A few weeks ago, Joe Blum told me, with a gleam in his eye, how Armstrong's landlord was a supporter of Marty's and had given his permission to place her lawn signs in front of the building. I guess the kick the Blums got out of it must have been much like the feeling I got as a UCLA student whenever the Tommy Trojan statue across town at USC would get a new paint job of blue and gold.)

Blum didn't take the pillorying lying down. On one occasion she wrote to Armstrong, "Your diatribe against me in the June 1st Santa Barbara News-Press is patently false and full of lies and misleading innuendo. You apparently think that since you have the ink, you can write anything you want, whether true or not."

So, given that history, what led to Blum's appearance on last week's show?

According to the mayor, News-Press co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger sent her an e-mail some months ago wondering why she didn't go on Armstrong's show. "He said it would be good for the community to have us talk on the air." Her answer was that Armstrong had not asked her. Evidently nothing more was said about a radio appearance until the week prior to last Wednesday's appearance when Armstrong sent her an e-mail that invited her to come on his show. "I don't know what possessed him," the mayor wrote in an e-mail to me.

Listeners who tuned into the show expecting a fireworks display got a flickering flame instead. The one coming from the candle Armstrong and Blum were holding onto together while singing Kumbayah.

Armstrong opened with the most glancing of acknowledgements of the prior history between the two. The listener, unaware of the backstory, wouldn't have had any idea of how mean and nasty he had been to her over the years.

Blum pointed out, "you've been hard on me." Armstrong tried to shrug it off.

Although Armstrong wouldn't defend his past conduct, Blum, strangely enough, seemed to. "As I told my staff, you're making us stronger," she said.

Funny, how, given all the mean things he said about Blum over the years, Armstrong didn't have the courage to go near any of those topics when he was with her face-to-face.

Blum though, wasn't afraid to raise a sore subject when she asked, "And last summer, the business about I'm going to be quitting. I don't know where that came from."

Armstrong replied, "I don't reveal my sources." To which Blum replied, "well a phone call to me would have been nice."

Armstrong, trying to change the subject, said, "I kind of feel like we've been through this war and battle . . . I didn't want to spend the whole hour hashing through old gripes." Armstrong emphasized "looking ahead."

Indeed, about the time Blum was elected mayor nearly eight years ago, Armstrong took the job as editorial page editor.

"The past eight years we've been through a lot together," noted Armstrong. He asked Blum what went awry between the paper and the mayor's office?

Blum observed that, "We don't have good communication between the mayor and the paper. I hope the next mayor can work on that. At the same time, the newspaper needs to come to us."

During the hour they were on the air, they talked about topics other than their differences. On one of those topics, Armstrong seemed to get in a subtle dig when he said, "We could have spent the hour talking about the council spending down the budget reserves but that's done and that's a fact of life."

On the budget shortfall that is facing the next mayor and council, Blum predicts there will be some layoffs and that the city will be a smaller and harder working organization.

When asked about the large number of six-figure salaries among city employees, Blum answered that the "domino effect" got out of hand.

When asked about the candidates who are hoping to succeed her as mayor, she described Dale Francicso as "having a little bit of a temper and doesn't listen very well." Though she did add that, "he's very analytical."

She described Helene Schneider as being, "very quick on the uptake. In some ways, she's smarter than I am."

She cited Steve Cushman's strong business background and said that Isaac Garrett was a "wonderful man." She didn't mention homeless advocate Bob Hansen.

The show ended with the mayor telling Armstrong, "We're both still alive. Thank you for having me in."

Given their long history of chilly relations, it was astonishing that she had been on. I mean, back in 2006, I would have predicted we would have a black President before Marty Blum would ever be invited back to go on News-Press radio.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and