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Santa Monica Group’s Endorsements Spark Community Debate

Phil Brock For Council 2014

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

August 12, 2014 – The decision made by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) to support only two candidates for City Council has raised speculation both about possibly supporting a third candidate and whether the group had an ulterior political motive.

The day after the tenant rights group announced their support for incumbent Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy, SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman shed some light on the decision made by the organization’s highly secretive steering committee.

“We [the steering committee] were unanimous on the two candidates and were divided on the third,” Hoffman told the Lookout Monday.  “It doesn’t mean we won’t make a decision in the future.”

When asked whether the steering committee would meet again to support a possible third candidate, Hoffman said “perhaps.”

Political insiders say that the move was political pushback from SMRR’s old guard, taking a swipe at outside factions who attended the convention to try to influence the organization’s endorsement. (“Slow Growth Group Maneuvers to Influence Council Election,” April 22, 2014)

Among those in attendance were large contingents from the City’s slow-growth community, the local Hotel Workers and Restaurant Workers Union and a Pico Neighborhood delegation.

The slow-growth delegates generally split their votes among McKeown, Planning Commissioners Sue Himmelrich, Richard McKinnon and Kennedy; the Pico delegation largely voted for Himmelrich and McKinnon; and the local Hotel Workers and Restaurant Workers Union supported Gruber and McKeown.

“All the people present were members,” Steering Committee member Maria Loya told the Lookout. “Every member comes in with their own perspective, and that’s their right.   That’s undeniable.”

Insiders also cite this year’s record attendance at SMMR’s August 3 convention, which drew more than 450 voting members, nearly twice the highest showing of previous years.

Asked whether the Steering Committee’s decision was an effort to take SMRR back to its roots and wrest control from outside interests, Hoffman responded,  “I wouldn’t say that.”

“We gave the people who attended the opportunity to choose candidates,” she said.  “They did not do that.  We chose candidates who we’ve worked closely with for many years.”

A statement released Sunday announcing the committee’s choices focused on McKeown and Kennedy’s long standing with the group.

“We chose Kevin because he is a hard-working responsive Councilmember with a great record on the issues,” the statement said. “Kevin has tirelessly worked to preserve our housing and neighborhoods and to prevent over-development.”

“We chose Jennifer because she has been an integral part of SMRR for more than fifteen years, having served on our Tenant Hotline, the Steering and the Housing Committees. She a Planning Commissioner and was twice elected to the Rent Control Board.”

McKeown, who is currently running alongside Kennedy and Himmelrich as a team for the three open seats on the council in November, said he was delighted with the decision.

"With Jennifer Kennedy and me, the SMRR steering committee has supported two rock-solid slow growth candidates, who’ve proven our commitment to protecting renters and creating truly affordable housing, not just a few cheap units slapped onto bad projects,” McKeown said in a statement to the press.

“Sue Himmelrich is my personal endorsement for the third Council seat, and I look forward to serving with Jennifer and Sue on the City Council.  We’re going to win this one for residents threatened by displacement and overdevelopment.”

McKeown and Kennedy cannot campaign as the group’s endorsees, but their name and photo will still appear on the SMMR’s highly influential campaign literature.

“I am very honored to have SMRR's support and to receive it with Councilmember McKeown, who has accomplished so much for our community and for renters' rights,” Kennedy told the Lookout Monday. 

“I have been working with Sue Himmelrich on the Planning Commission, and I know she is an excellent candidate. I consider her a part of our team to control growth and address residents' interests.”

McKeown, former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber and McKinnon were the top vote getters during the SMRR Convention, but none managed to gain the 249 votes, 55 percent, needed to win an endorsement.

“I'm disappointed that the committee didn't support me, when I received such strong support from the membership at the convention, where I came in a close second to the winning candidate,” said Gruber.

“But the committee left an open slot on the SMRR slate, and I will continue to run on the progressive values of SMRR to represent all Santa Monica on the City Council.”

Some members have been vocal about the choice, pointing out that Kennedy had the least support among the top five candidates.

“Members tell me ‘But wait, Jennifer got this amount of votes, and Frank and Richard both received more support,’” Hoffman told the Lookout.  “Vote count is only one consideration. The main factor that plays a part in our decision is ultimately who we want to support.”

“When the convention didn’t choose, they knew what was coming,” she added. “It was in their campaign literature, saying that if the membership did not choose, the steering committee would.”

Some SMRR members happily accepted the decision.

“I can't argue with this,” said former candidate Ken Robin, who dropped out of the race during the SMRR Convention in order to support Parks and Recreation commissioner Phil Brock. “I would have done the same thing and added Phil Brock.”

Some would like to see a change in the way candidates are chosen, pointing out what they see as flaws in SMRR’s voting system.

“The City Council results are a classic illustration of the limits of SMRR's voting system, which works pretty well when there are a limited number of contested seats, but suffers when there are eight strong candidates for three seats, like this year,” former Mayor and current candidate Mike Feinstein told the Lookout Monday.

“The answer is ranked choice voting which allows voters to rank as many candidates as they want. Voters only need vote once, and have an incentive to use all their votes to rank multiple candidates, because support for their second choice doesn't undermine support for their first.” 

“With only one round of voting needed, there could also be more time to hear from candidates, giving voters more information to make their decisions,” he added.

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