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O’Connor Faces Tough Re-Election Bid Without SMRR Support

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 12, 2014 -- If Mayor Pam O’Connor does a victory dance on Election Day in November, she will have completed a feat matched by only one other person since Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) reclaimed the City Council majority in 1988.

When SMRR announced this weekend that it would not support O’Connor in her bid for a sixth council term (“SMRR Backs McKeown, Kennedy for Santa Monica City Council,” August 11, 2014), she became the fourth incumbent since 1988 not to receive the powerful group’s endorsement despite having earned it in the previous election.

The other people in O’Connor’s exclusive club are Kelly Olsen, Paul Rosenstein and Mike Feinstein. Rosenstein is the only one who was re-elected.

Olsen’s inability to win SMRR’s backing in 1994 was possibly due to the strength of a women’s caucus that had formed a year earlier, according to a Los Angeles Times article published several days after the group's convention. The caucus was created because most of SMRR’s picks in previous years had been men, according to The Times.

Also, some of Olsen’s positions on development and public safety were not in sync with certain SMRR members.

The 1994 SMRR slate featured incumbent Tony Vazquez and challengers O’Connor and Bruria Finkel. Although he initially considered continuing his campaign without SMRR’s backing, Olsen eventually decided to drop out of the race. O’Connor was the only person on the slate who was elected.

Two years later, Rosenstein decided not to ask for the backing of the organization that had helped him advance from the Planning Commission to the City Council in 1992. He told The Times, according to an article published in 1996, that SMRR’s slate of Olsen, Feinstein and Ken Genser was "not something I felt in good conscience that I wanted to run with."

Rosenstein’s decision to go independent did not backfire, and he placed fourth in the race for four seats. Joining him in victory were Genser and Feinstein as well Asha Greenberg, who was backed by a SMRR rival called Coalition for a Safe Santa Monica.

It was drama-free for SMRR incumbents in the next three elections. Then came the very dramatic story of Feinstein in 2004. Despite having been the top vote-getter in the 2000 election, SMRR rejected Feinstein’s bid for an endorsement while the organization’s co-founder blasted him for what he called an act of “betrayal” made two years earlier.

The SMRR rejection was the beginning of the end for Feinstein. He placed ninth in the 16-person field for four seats on Election Day. Later that month, Feinstein blamed more than the SMRR snub for his defeat during a three-hour analysis made in front of supporters (“Feinstein Blasts Election Practices, Proposes Solutions,” November 23, 2004).

The accusation of betrayal by SMRR co-founder Denny Zane at the 2004 convention was due to Feinstein’s actions during the 2002 election season. Feinstein had openly campaigned for fellow Green Party member Josefina Aranda that year, even after she failed to pick up the SMRR endorsement. He promoted her as an alternative to SMRR-endorsee Abby Arnold. Neither candidate was elected, and Arnold finished fewer than 300 votes behind the third-place winner. Many political observers speculated that Arnold would have been elected if Feinstein hadn’t interfered.

For the first time since his defeat 10 years ago, Feinstein is seeking a return to the council as a candidate in this year’s election (“Former Mayor Feinstein Could Be Making a Comeback,” June 10, 2014).

Unless O’Connor makes a shocking announcement, it is unlikely her 2014 story will be similar to Olsen’s in 1994. Whether her performance will be shades of Rosentstein in 1996 or Feinstein in 2004 is difficult to determine because this election season has been unusual.

For the first time in SMRR history, no council endorsement was made at the convention because no candidate received the required support from at least 55 percent of the members in attendance. The decision went to the mysterious steering committee, which picked incumbent Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy.

The choice of McKeown was not a surprise because he was the top vote-getter at the convention. Some political observers found Kennedy to be a strange selection because she placed fifth in voting at the convention behind former Lookout columnist and Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber as well as current Planning Commissioners Richard McKinnon and Sue Himmelrich.

There could be a perception by voters that the SMRR slate is one designed by a small steering committee that disregarded the sentiment, although fractured, of the members at the convention. This could harm the effectiveness of the SMRR endorsement, which has led to the election of six of the sitting seven council members and the people on the boards for the Santa Monica-Malibu school district, Santa Monica College and Rent Control.

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