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SMRR Hands Out Coveted Endorsements; Passes Over Longtime Council Incumbent

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 2 -- With Santa Monica’s election season moving into high gear, the city’s powerful tenants’ group endorsed a slate of City Council candidates Sunday that includes two women in their first run for council and excludes a council incumbent the group had supported in two prior election cycles.

Candidates still have until Monday, August 9 to file nomination papers seeking to run, and 30 have requested the documents.

In a tension-filled meeting that was almost closed down by fire officials due to the large turnout at the Olympic High School cafeteria, more than 250 Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights’ (SMRR) members handed Pico Neighborhood Association leader Maria Loya and former Santa Monica-Malibu School Board president Patricia Hoffman the lion’s share of votes in the first round of polling for four slots on the election slate.

Incumbents Richard Bloom, Ken Genser and Michael Feinstein -- with almost 30 years of council experience among them -- were forced into a three-way runoff for the remaining two endorsements.

Feinstein – running for his third term on the council but facing accusations of financial impropriety from within his own Green Party and under fire by the SMRR leadership -- came in last, thus losing out on thousands of dollars in advertising and an army of campaign volunteers.

“Michael Feinstein betrayed SMRR, betrayed all renters who rely upon us for security in their homes, and betrayed the efforts of the many of the grassroots activists who had previously worked to elect him,” read a flyer signed by SMRR co-chair Denny Zane.

During the 2002 election, Feinstein “sought to undermine the candidate who had won the SMRR convention endorsement,” by urging his own “preferred candidate of choice” to keep running after Feinstein’s candidate had lost at the convention, the flyer continued.

The losing SMRR-backed candidate, Abby Arnold, did not seek election this time around.

Zane also urged convention members to refuse support for Feinstein due to an allegation that he misappropriated Green Party campaign funds -- despite the Los Angeles District Attorney having declined to file charges after a lengthy investigation.

“Michael, I’m sorry, I want to be with these guys now,” Hoffman said, after winning endorsement while urging SMRR members to back Bloom and Genser.

“I don’t want to be on the council without Ken and Richard. We need unity in SMRR,” Hoffman said.

Despite telling voters that his "electability" was shown by his already having signed up 100 supporters and garnering $10,000 for his own campaign, Feinstein could not sway enough voters to grab the endorsement as he had done in his two previous elections.

“I have been loyal to the progressive movement represented here in this room,” said Feinstein. “Unity comes in many different forms and I have as progressive a voting record as any on the council.”

Prior to the vote, Feinstein promised to remain loyal to SMRR -- if he got the group’s nod.

For their part, Bloom and Genser stressed their voting records and their ability to unite the party after the convention and into the election, rather than addressing the Feinstein issue.

“Unity is the key in Santa Monica. If we don’t have that, we are doomed to failure,” said Bloom. “We haven’t agreed on every issue, but we agree on (SMRR’s) core values.”

Genser too urged SMRR to “stick together as a family,” and noted that the group has grown in 25 years beyond its core issue of rent control.

Relatively new to the SMRR “family” is Pico Neighborhood Association member Maria Loya, a tenant activist who campaigned on a message that new blood should be governing the City.

“The vote here today speaks to the need to diversify and the need to have more women on the City Council,” said Loya, who garnered 21 more votes than Hoffman to become the top vote-getter in the endorsement race.

If Loya wins a seat on the council, she will be the first elected representative ever to come out of the Pico neighborhood, according to SMRR activists.

“We in Pico aren’t looking to take over the council, but to gain at least one voice on our own City Council,” said Loya.

Although it is her first time running for City Council, Hoffman said her experience as a school board member in the 1980s and early 1990s, experience as a trustee on the board of Community Corporation of Santa Monica -- the city's main affordable housing provider -- and her longtime involvement in SMRR will make her an excellent candidate this fall.

Calling SMRR here “political home,” Hoffman said she will be running on SMRR’s progressive platform of protection of rent control and renters, sustainable growth and “quality of life” issues.

“This vote today shows that I embrace SMRR and SMRR members have embraced me,” Hoffman said.

The four SMRR-backed candidates will have their hands full during the next three months, fending off a potentially serious challenge by the Chamber of Commerce, which has launched a fund-raising drive and already come out with campaign mailers.

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