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Herb Katz Would Have Loved This

By Frank Gruber

Call me parochial, but I'm going to say that Herb Katz's funeral at St. Monica's Church last week was "so" Santa Monica -- maybe even uniquely so.  Where else would a service begin in a Catholic church with the priest -- Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson -- telling the congregation that he assumes they're wondering why a guy named "Herb Katz" is having his funeral in a Catholic church.

The service was also so "American."  Not merely was it ecumenical -- Msgr. Torgerson shared the rites with Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels from Temple Beth Shir Sholom -- but more than that the service celebrated diversity of belief in a way that invoked the democratic ideals of tolerance of America's civic religion as much as it invoked the precepts of any creed.

Msgr. Torgerson told the crowd of mourners who filled the church that St. Monica's was blessed and honored by their presence, whatever their beliefs were.  Simple words, you might say, "easy for him to say," maybe, but wonderful words nonetheless, when you consider how wracked with intolerance much of the world -- and our country -- is.
Herb katz Funeral

Funeral of Herb Katz (Photo by Grank Gruber)

If our civic religion has clergy, then some of them were there blessing Mr. Katz's memory.  Mr. Katz lived for local politics and government and the speakers included two of his colleagues from the Santa Monica City Council (Ken Genser, often an opponent, and Bob Holbrook, his closest ally), County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Suzanne Frick, formerly the head of Santa Monica's planning department and now the Assistant City Manager of Long Beach, and City Manager Lamont Ewell. Mr. Ewell's eulogy been published in The Lookout. 01_13_2009_OPINION_Giving_Back.html

After the service, Mr. Katz was buried at the City's Woodlawn Cemetery, complete with military honors, inasmuch as he had been a Marine.  You don't make a living being a Marine or a member of the Santa Monica City Council.  Herb Katz's life was a reminder of how what we value of a public nature is based on the contributions of private people.

* * *

They say we all would like to be in the audience at our own funeral, but what I suspect Herb Katz would have liked the most was to listen in on all the talk about who will take his place on the City Council.

The situation is that the council has the right to elect a successor, who would hold the office until the next general election (in 2010), when he or she would have to run for election for the balance of Mr. Katz's term. If a majority on the council cannot agree on a successor, then the council will have to call a special election.

Rumors abound. Most of them have to do with whether the four members of the council who were elected as candidates of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) will unite to appoint a fifth SMRR council member.

I doubt that will happen, for a few reasons.

For one, given the recent unpleasantness regarding Measure T, it might be hard for them to agree on a candidate who would straddle the divide within SMRR over development. In fact, this dispute goes beyond Measure T: the Katz seat on the council will be quite important for the future of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

Consider that on the most contested vote regarding LUCE so far, Mr. Katz was in a bare majority of four (including SMRR members Pam O'Connor and Richard Bloom) that approved an approach that could allow, in some districts of the city, one more story than a minority of Council Members Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown (both SMRR) and (non-SMRR) Bobby Shriver even wanted to contemplate.

It's hard to see how, for instance, Council Members O'Connor and McKeown, who represent the opposing wings of SMRR, might agree on a candidate, given the importance of the decision.  The new council member would, as an incumbent, likely be reelected in 2010 and in subsequent years. 

Mr. McKeown might want the Council to select Ted Winterer, for instance, a supporter of Measure T who was the "first runner-up" in the November election and who also almost won the SMRR endorsement at the organization's convention in August. 

There are also no-growth activists in town saying that Mr. Winterer should get the nod because he was the next highest vote getter in November (although he lost to Mr. Katz by 5,000 votes).

But the precedents are not in Mr. Winterer's favor.  When Asha Greenberg resigned her seat on the council in 1998, there were also four SMRR members on the council, but they could not agree to appoint Richard Bloom, who had been the first runner up in the 1998 election.  The City had to hold a special election in April 1999.  (Readers may remember this election because it was a unique two-day, weekend affair.)

Mr. Winterer may also have competition from other SMRR candidates in recent years who came closer than he did to winning a seat -- Abby Arnold, Patricia Hoffman, Gleam Davis and Maria Loya come to mind.

An unlikely possibility -- but not impossible to imagine -- would be that if the SMRR council members split, then two or three of them might agree with the two non-SMRR members (Holbrook and Shriver) to select a non-SMRR candidate who did well in recent years, such as Terry O'Day or Matt Dinolfo.

While replacing the non-SMRR Mr. Katz with a non-SMRR member has the ring of fairness, in my opinion it would be wrong to select anyone named in the immediately prior four paragraphs.  That is because that person would then be able to run as an incumbent in 2010.

Given that open seats occur so rarely on the City Council, and incumbents have such advantages when they run for reelection, selecting a council member who would run for reelection would be a disservice to Santa Monica voters. 

In fact, the final reason I don't believe the SMRR council members will agree on a SMRR replacement is that the organization will be cautious about hurting its image by replacing Mr. Katz with a SMRR member.  In the long term doing so would gain SMRR little, as chances are good that SMRR could win an open election.

There's another precedent the council may want to follow.  When Mayor Ken Edwards died in 1985, the council appointed Alan Katz to complete his term; it was understood, I'm told, that Mr. Katz would not run for reelection.

My hope is that the council follows this approach, although for the reasons discussed above, the council members may have difficulty on agreeing on anyone in the aftermath of Measure T and in the context of LUCE. 

But the council should appoint someone, so that the city doesn't choose Mr. Katz's replacement in a low-turnout off-year election that costs $150,000.  That someone should be a well-respected figure in the community -- SMRR or non-SMRR -- who would have no further political ambitions and who would pledge not to run for reelection in the 2010 election.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several possibilities, beginning with well-respected former City Council Members Paul Rosenstein, Nat Trives, or Tony Vazquez.  I don't know if they would accept the job, but it's worth asking.  Or how about longtime civic do-gooders like Neil Carrey, Bruria Finkel, Doug Willis, or Linda Gross?  There are many others; I apologize for not mentioning them all.

I don't know if any of these worthies would take a pledge against running again, but I suggest that filling this now sadly open seat with someone with political ambitions is not the way to honor Herb Katz, who put his fate in the hands of the voters so many times.

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