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Political Groups Undergo Endorsement Process

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By Daniel Larios
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July 29, 2014 -- Major Santa Monica political groups are determining this week who to support in the November election. UNITE HERE Local 11 and Santa Monicans for Renter's Rights (SMRR) are interviewing candidates. Residocracy held a candidates forum Monday evening.

The groups have different processes to make their endorsements.

"Every organization is entitled to run their endorsement process however they want," said Frank Gruber, a former Lookout columnist who is making his second City Council bid. "If the people tend to agree with the organization, then they'll value that endorsement."

City Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who is seeking a fifth term in November, said, “Most of the endorsements are made by committee, with the notable exception of SMRR, which conducts a fully democratic membership convention.”

He continued, “Almost every group sends out detailed questionnaires, whereby candidates not only explain their positions, but put themselves on the record in writing."

SMRR and UNITE HERE Local 11 require candidates to fill out questionnaires and then answer further questions in interviews.

SMRR, which is Santa Monica's most powerful political group, completed the questionnaire and interview process for the City Council candidates last Saturday.

Open-ended questions found in the SMRR questionnaire included general issues such as development, affordable housing and the future of the Bergamot Arts Center with the coming of the Expo Line in 2015.

The group will choose a slate of up to three candidates for City Council, three on the Rent Control Board, four on the Board of Education and four on the College Board of Trustees to support at its convention this Sunday at 12:45 p.m. at John Adams Middle School.

“There will definitely be a lot of politicking on Sunday,” said SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman.

With SMRR's endorsement comes a well-funded campaign along with a sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation.

To earn the SMRR endorsement, a candidate must receive support from at least 55 percent of the members in attendance. If fewer than three council candidates meet this threshold, then the group’s steering committee can add additional candidates to the organization’s slate.

UNITE HERE Local 11's questionnaire is much more detailed than the SMRR one. It asks candidates whether they are members of a union, how they have participated in supporting workers in unions, who contributed to their campaigns, whether they support a number of union-related issues and whether they support certain development projects.

The interview process includes candidates meeting with approximately 15 workers from the union and answering questions, according to some candidates. The union then makes its decision on whom to support.

In contrast, the slow-growth group Residocracy's endorsement process consists of a candidates forum followed by a comprehensive ranking, which results in an endorsement of the candidates that are seen as the best representatives of the residents.

"It's our first time making an endorsement like this and we're very excited," said Tricia Crane, member of Residocracy's Advisory Board.

While the Residcracy forum is co-sponsored by the various neighborhood associations, they are unable to make political endorsements.

Perhaps the most secretive local organization making endorsements is another slow-growth group, Santa Monica Coalition for Livable City (SMCLC). The organization announced its City Council picks earlier this month (“Santa Monica Coalition Makes Endorsements Four Months Before Election,” July 15, 2014).

SMCLC’s endorsement process involved at least 10 committee members asking questions to candidates. No questionnaires were given in advance or in writing, nor were the candidates able to speak on the nature of the process.

The group endorsed McKeown and Planning Commissioners Sue Himmerlrich and Richard McKinnon one day after people could pull nomination papers from the City Clerk’s Office.

Some political observers speculated that SMCLC's decision to endorse quickly was an attempt to influence the SMRR convention.

Others view the Coalition’s early endorsements as paving the way for an expected campaign to oust Mayor Pam O’Connor, who is seeking a sixth term on the council. O’Connor has been the target of multiple campaigns by SMCLC, which sees her as too “pro-development.”

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