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Labor Group Endorses McKeown and Arnold

By Jorge Casuso

July 31 -- In a closed-door meeting Tuesday night, the political branch of the living wage movement endorsed Councilman Kevin McKeown and activist Abby Arnold for City Council, leaving the third seat open in what is widely viewed as a bow to incumbent Pam O'Connor.

The endorsements by three dozen members of the fledgling Committee to Protect the Living Wage could help avert a showdown between pro-union supporters within Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and O'Connor's backers when the powerful tenants rights group picks a slate at its convention Sunday.

"I'm thrilled, I'm really excited to receive their endorsement," said Arnold, who earlier this month received the endorsement of State Senator Sheila Kuehl. "It's clear that there is room for SMRR and the Living Wage Coalition to reach an agreement on a slate of three candidates."

(Last weekend, the SMRR Steering Committee recommended that the group's members endorse three candidates at the convention and that two of the candidates should be the incumbents, McKeown and O'Connor.)

The pro-union group, which is comprised of members of Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism (SMART) and which makes up an influential new faction within SMRR, was not expected to endorse O'Connor because she had not strictly towed the party line on the Living Wage.

"Last night, there were many candidates supporting the Living Wage and the organization selected two," said O'Connor, who is seeking a third term on the council and also has Kuehl's endorsement.

The group's failure to endorse Josefina Aranda Santiago, a Pico Neighborhood activist and labor advocate who was among the six candidates seeking the nod, upset top SMRR leaders who oppose Arnold's endorsement.

Aranda, who has the staunch backing of Mayor Michael Feinstein, said she was "disappointed" with Tuesday's vote, which she said did not reflect a democratic process.

"Obviously I'm disappointed that I didn't get the endorsement," Aranda said. "I honestly think that it's contradictory on their part not to endorse a candidate like myself given my history of activism in the community.

"It was clear that there were some deals brokered," Aranda said. "They didn't want to cause any ripples between SMRR and SMART. They went in already with their minds set on who they would choose. It was not a democratic process."

McKeown, who like Aranda and Feinstein is a member of the Green Party, questioned the committee's decision not to endorse a Latina candidate grew up in a union household in a neighborhood that has never had elected representation on the council.

"I'm puzzled that a group representing workers missed their chance to support the daughter of a bus driver and a janitor and to put a young Latina teacher from the Pico Neighborhood on the City Council," McKeown said.

Feinstein called the failure to endorse Aranda -- a move he said was orchestrated by SMART leaders -- "a shameful act, and a disservice to our community" and predicted that it could lead to the reelection of SMRR foe Robert Holbrook.

"This move by the SMART Steering Committee has the potential to deeply divide and weaken the ticket for November," the mayor said. "It goes to great lengths to help re-elect Council member Holbrook, a gift he couldn't have dreamed of asking for and receiving.

"By contrast, a cooperation between Josefina and the two incumbents -- McKeown and Councilmember Pam O'Connor -- would be the most unifying and inclusive effort, both for the coalition and the community," Feinstein said.

Vivian Rothstein, a SMART leader and member of the living wage committee, declined to address charges that the vote was undemocratic, saying she understood feelings were hurt.

Asked why the meeting was closed, Rothstein said, "We decided it's not a public meeting."

Rothstein said the lack of a third endorsement reflected the strong field of candidates, which also included activist Jerry Rubin and political newcomer Matteo Dinolfo.

"There are some really good candidates that put their name forward," Rothstein said. "I think people want to maintain relationships with all candidates and people who may run in the future. These are not easy decisions, and people want to be as sensitive as possible.

"It's very emotional," Rothstein said. "We're trying to be a positive force. We don't want to be seen as attacking people's careers. We want to move our agenda forward."

O'Connor is said to have upset SMART members when she voted for the Living Wage but pushed to lower the threshold from $10.69 to $10.50 an hour if benefits are included, arguing that the proposed amount -- which had become a union rallying cry -- was divisive.

O'Connor also opposed an anti-worker discrimination ordinance, which was approved with four votes, arguing that it would be expensive and difficult to enforce and that the key protections already were in place.

(The results of Tuesday's vote were not officially released. But sources familiar with the vote count told The Lookout that McKeown received 31 votes, Arnold 25, Aranda eight and O'Connor and Dinolfo each one.)
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