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Council Incumbents Sweep to Victory Despite Attacks

By Olin Ericksen and Jorge Casuso
Staff Writers

November 8 -- One of the nastiest races in Santa Monica history and $1 million spent to sway voters did nothing to change the makeup of the City Council in Tuesday’s election.

With all the precinct votes counted, Council member Kevin McKeown finished first with 12,033 votes, followed by fellow Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) incumbent Pam O’Connor with 11,374 votes and Mayor Bob Holbrook, who has long led SMRR’s opposition, with 11,142 votes.

Council member Kevin McKeown is congratulated by former Mayor Dennis Zane. (Photos by Olin Ericksen)

Challenger Terry O’Day -- who with Holbrook was backed by a $500,000 campaign bankrolled by the owners two beachfront hotels -- finished fourth with 9,927 votes, while SMRR challenger Gleam Davis, finished a distant fifth with 8,162 votes.

Although it is likely that several thousand absentee ballots have not yet been counted, the tally is not expected to change the outcome of the race.

“It is an incumbent win,” said former mayor Dennis Zane, a co-chair of SMRR. “Bob held his base, and we held our base for Pam and Kevin despite the fact that we had a million dollars spent to change the composition of the council.

“It’s an amazing result to have several hundred thousand dollars attacking a single city council candidate, and have the voters of Santa Monica see through it clearly that they make that candidate number one,” Zane said. “I think that is a strong message.”

All three incumbents were attacked by different camps, with McKeown the target of an unprecedented, hard-hitting campaign bankrolled by the Edward Thomas Management Company, which owns Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach. (see story)

Hunched over a computer at 2 a.m. and with all 72 precincts reporting, Zane, surrounded by many of the core members of the nearly three decades old tenants group, declared that their candidate had blunted a maelstrom unseen in the City’s election history.

“Number one vote getter, Kevin McKeown,” Zane announced with unrepressed exuberance, as whoops and hollers rang out.

Moments later, McKeown -- the target of a barrage of election mailers and local cable television spots that were also handed out to voters on DVDs -- told The Lookout that he would push for campaign finance reform to “control the impact of independent expenditures or at least increase their accountability.”

“This community has shown it won’t accept the kind of overblown, over-funded campaign that was run this time, and my first commitment is to make sure no candidate ever has to go through this again,” a haggard and gaunt McKeown said.

“My wishes expressed tonight should be turned into campaign finance reform and to have truly clean elections in Santa Monica from here on out,” he said. “This really shows what attention local voters pay to elections and how much we care about our issues.”

SMRR leaders monitor election results.

McKeown said he would seek to place an item on the City Council agenda this month that would bar campaigns such as the one waged by Edward Thomas Management Company, which spent some $100,000 opposing McKeown and another $400,000 backing Holbrook and O’Day.

“We take the time to follow the money,” he said. “I want to make easier for voters to follow the money, and for Santa Monicans to know who is paying for the messages and what those messages truly mean.”

Zane said he supported reforming local campaign laws to limit contributions to independent committees to the $250 per individual allowed under current election law.

“The idea that individuals could donate tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to a committee, even though it might operate as an independent committee, is outrageous,” he said.

“SMRR is an independent committee, but we don’t accept more than $250 per contribution… because that’s what we believe the law says,” he said.

Despite being hit hard on the issue of homelessness, it was a saavy voting base in Santa Monica that kept the renters’ group in power, Zane said.

“It certainly shows that voters feelings about homelessness are far more complex than the hit pieces they put out,” Zane said. “Homelessness is a very complex issue. It’s not the fault of the whole city council and certainly not one council member.

“It is part of national phenomenon that I think this City struggles with heroically. They (voters) are not about to blame one council member for it.”

Mayor Bob Holbrook, who was attacked in several SMRR mailers during the final days of the hotly contested race, said Tuesday’s results show that negative campaigns don’t work.

“We all got hit,” Holbrook said. “This tells us that negative campaigns don’t change the outcomes of elections that much as long as you have endorsements, and we (the incumbents) had all the key endorsements.”

Jenna Linnekens finished a distant sixth with 2,578 votes, followed by Terence Later with 2,217 votes, Mark McLellan with 1,861 votes, Linda Armstrong with 1,532 votes and Jonathan Mann with 1,369 votes.






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