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Speculation Surrounds Pick for New Santa Monica Mayor

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

December 3, 2014 – Three slow-growth advocates could be in the running to become Santa Monica’s next mayor when a newly seated City Council meets next Tuesday night, according to political observers.

Council members Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez.are the three names that crop up as the most likely candidates for the mainly ceremonial post.

With the election of slow growth advocate Sue Himmelrich, McKeown – a member of the slow growth council majority and the top vote getter on November 4 – is in a prime position to win the post he’s been coveting for years, observers said. 

Himmelrich is expected to support McKeown, who backed her in the hotly contested race for three open council seats. Himmelrich finished a strong second.

When asked whether he had the four votes needed to be elected mayor, McKeown told the Lookout, “I don’t know.”

McKeown, who is starting his fifth four-year- term, has tried unsuccessfully to secure the votes necessary to become mayor in the past.

He is the longest serving councilmember not to hold the position.  He was, however, elected Mayor Pro-Tem in December 2001 for one year, and for two years in 2002.

Some political observers speculate that fellow slow-growth advocates Winterer and Vazquez could throw their hats in the ring, which could complicate a political alliance between the slow growth advocates on the Council.

Winterer declined to comment, telling the Lookout, “I really have no idea where we're headed on this decision.”

The other council members could not be reached for comment.

Political observers believe the decision could come down to Winterer, who was elected to the Council two years ago.

“Winterer is the key in this,” speculated longtime political observer Bruce Cameron.  “I think he can get the four votes, but he has to want it.”

Some speculate that Winterer could cut a deal with Vazquez to split the term, with one serving as mayor one year and mayor pro tem the other.

“I haven’t talked to anyone, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that Winterer and Vasquez are working something out,” Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who retired from the Council last month after a record 24 years, told the Lookout.

Split terms have not been uncommon in Santa Monica.

In 1998, the Council voted to split the two-year term between Council members Ken Genser and current Mayor Pam O'Connor, with Genser serving the first year as mayor.

The other three members of the council – O’Connor, Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day and Councilmember Gleam Davis – are not expected to back McKeown and may support Winterer, according to sources.

In every mayoral race, O’Connor has refused to back McKeown. The two are seen as political nemeses on the dais.

The selection of a mayor in Santa Monica has had a history of surprises, drama and debate, with individuals jockeying for power both from behind the scenes and on the dais.

In 2012, Councilmember Gleam Davis was the odds on favorite to be Mayor.  But after five rounds of stalemated voting, O’Connor was elected 4 to 3, after O'Day, who had supported Davis during the four rounds of voting, switched his support to O'Connor.

In 2006, Bloom and the late Herb Katz were elected to each serve one-year terms as mayor, with O’Connor casting the decisive vote against McKeown’s candidacy.

McKeown fell short in his mayoral bid in 2010. After finishing first in the Council race, he was defeated by current State Assembly member Richard Bloom, who had the support of O’Connor, Holbrook and O’Day.

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