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SMRR Opponents Punch Campaigns into Overdrive, as Chamber Meets with Candidates

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

September 8 -- With election day less than two months away, those seeking to evict Santa Monica’s powerful tenants group from a majority of City Council seats will be busy this week backing candidates, filling war chests, and generally gathering momentum as the race moves into high gear.

One slate, called “Team for Change” -- consisting of candidates Kathryn Morea, David Cole and Bill Bauer -- plans to raise critical campaign cash from donors at a private mixer.

The “Team for Change” will join a slew of candidates courting the coveted Chamber of Commerce endorsement during a three-day interview process. The opposition candidates hope to steal away three seats from the group which has dominated city politics for nearly two decades -- Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights (SMRR.)

The much sought-after chamber endorsements will be handed out this week, according to Chamber CEO Kathy Dodson, but not until candidates go on the record about their positions on certain issues during interviews taking place Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

There are four open seats up for grabs on the City Council and the chamber’s endorsement could mean thousands of dollars in financial backing for those favored by the business group.

The 16 candidates seeking the Chamber’s endorsement include all four SMRR endorsees: the two top vote-getters during SMRR’s recent endorsement election -- Maria Loya and Patricia Hoffman -- as well as perennial SMRR candidate Ken Genser and Mayor Richard Bloom.

Also vying for the Chamber’s nod are Bobby Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, and incumbents Herb Katz and Mike Feinstein, as well as Matt Dinolfo and Tom Viscount.

Feinstein is running for his third term -- and the first campaign in which he is not on the SMRR ticket. The chamber’s candidate interviews are open to the press, the first time in recent memory that a group has opened up its endorsement process to the media.

“These interviews are open because we feel we have nothing to hide,” said Dodson, “We don’t mind the press sitting in as long as they don’t interfere with the candidates.”

Dodson said the candidates submitted their questionnaires on time last week, and that the interviews will further aid the chamber in deciding which candidates to back.

Already this year, state campaign disclosure reports reveal the Chamber’s Political Action Committee (PAC) has raised nearly $25,000, spent almost $12,000, and ended the January through June reporting period with almost $20,000 in the bank.

However, such numbers are only a fraction of the total cash the Chamber and its PAC are expected to gather and dole out for candidates. During the last election year in 2002, the Chamber PAC raised and spent nearly $100,000 in its successful efforts to defeat the City’s unprecedented living wage law.

Such backing is attractive to candidates, such as Morea, who nevertheless worry that accepting the business group’s endorsement might be perceived as compromising their independence on certain issues.

“While we wouldn’t turn any endorsement away,” Morea said of the “Team for Change” slate, “we would be a little concerned about how receiving an endorsement from the chamber of commerce might look to some of our other supporters.”

The “Team for Change” slate will be busy mixing with its own group of potential donors at a private fundraiser organized by supporter and local commercial real estate broker, Barbara Tenzer.

Tenzer said that she sees herself as a facilitator, bringing the candidates in contact with donors who may contribute up to the $250 limit to their individual campaigns.

“I get people together and introduce them to the candidates, and don’t know how much they donate,” Tenzer said. “Yes, I’ve held fundraisers. Yes, they’ve been successful, but I don’t have anything to do with the contributions that people give.”
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