Santa Barbara City Councilwomen Helene Schneider and Iya Falcone will face off as the primary contenders to replace Marty Blum as mayor of Santa Barbara in this November’s election.

Both candidates are Democrats who cite their experiences on the Santa Barbara City Council as a key qualification for the position of mayor. While the two, as Democrats and allies on the council, are running on similar platforms, there are some key differences.

Before becoming a member of the city council seven years ago, Falcone worked as a crisis counselor and as a teacher for special needs children. Schneider, who has been on the council for five years, formerly worked with groups for affordable city housing, served as the Director of Human Resources for Planned Parenthood and contributed to various other nonprofit agencies.

Schneider said she believes that her work with nonprofits and other social organizations gives her a necessary connection between the government and social groups.

“More and more, especially during tight economic times, I’ve come to realize that city government can’t do everything,” Schneider said. “But city government can give a leader connections to other public agencies, with private agencies, and nonprofit and community leaders to make stronger connections.”

“[We need to] create a stronger connection between city hall and neighborhoods and the nonprofit and business community,” she continued. “[We need a] stronger city, a more environmentally friendly city and a safer city.”

Falcone has called her approach to the election “getting back to basics,” and plans to address vital issues such as infrastructure and safety before any side projects.

“‘Back to basics’ means doing what you need to do before you do what you want to do,” Falcone’s campaign manager, Chris Marquart said. “It means focusing on public safety, public infrastructure, and the environment and not letting pet projects get in the way.”

In light of the current economic situation, both candidates have acknowledged that finances will be an important factor in determining which projects get priority.

“The budget is actually, to me, a moral document,” Schneider said. “How you put things on paper tells you where your priorities are. [I am concerned with] how you ensure that services remain intact as much as possible while remaining as efficient as we can.”

The candidates agree that youth and gang violence prevention and safety will be among the key issues in the upcoming election. However, they differ in their views towards environmental protection.

In the recent council deliberation about the Veronica Meadows project – a housing development plan that is considered by environmentalists to be too extreme for the sensitive ecological area on which the houses will be built – Falcone voted in favor of the project while Schneider, along with councilmemeber Das Williams, voted against it.

Partially because of this incident, Scheinder claims to be the more environmentally friendly candidate.

“I’ve been considered more of the environmental candidate,” she said.

However, Falcone contends that she has also worked, in different ways, to aid the environment.

“[I have been involved in] dialogue revolving around housing, alternative transportation, air quality, water quality and trash disposal, to name a few areas of mutual interest,” Falcone said.

With a number of colorful candidates with differing leadership styles and backgrounds on the ballot, Falcone believes that this November’s race will be an interesting one.

“I expect this to be a spirited and competitive race that features a variety of different voices and approaches to leadership,” she said.

Whatever the outcome, Schneider said she hopes that this race will result in an effective and strong leader.

“Santa Barbara is a special place. I want it to stay a special place,” Schneider said.