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Chamber Picks Slates

By Jorge Casuso and Olin Ericksen
Staff Writers

September 15 – Laying the groundwork for what promises to be an aggressive campaign to unseat Santa Monica’s powerful tenants group, the Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday that it will throw its considerable financial weight behind one incumbent, two political newcomers and an area physician in the race for four City Council seats.

The Chamber’s Political Action Committee also picked slates in the races for School Board and College Board of Trustees and voted to back a $135 million bond to renovate college buildings and add play fields and educational facilities in Santa Monica and Malibu.

In the hotly contested race for council, the group tapped incumbent Herb Katz, physician Matt Dinolfo and political newcomers Kathryn Morea and Bobby Shriver -- a member of the Kennedy family. The business group’s backing will translate into tens of thousands of dollars spent on the candidates’ behalf and against their opponents.

The chamber -- which has traditionally stayed out of council races -- said the four candidates were chosen for their positions on the homeless, parking, traffic and the lack of efficiency and effectiveness of City Hall.

"We set out to find candidates that not only represent the fabric of our community, but will also contribute to the quality of life in our city,” Eddie Guerboian, the chamber’s chairman-elect, said in a statement.

“What we do in this election will have an impact on our community for years to come, and we need to make sure that every resident understands the choices they have and the opportunity to create meaningful change in Santa Monica," Guerboian said.

Foreshadowing the tone of the coming campaign, Chamber Executive Director Kathy Dodson took a jab at the reigning tenants’ group, Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights, saying the chamber’s candidates “realize that City Hall does not currently present a friendly face to residents or business.”

Many of the endorsed candidates said they would not have a problem if the chamber -- which already has launched a web site and sent out a mailer challenging the council’s policies -- runs a campaign attacking SMRR on the issues.

“The problems of homelessness, traffic and the micromanagement by some on the council are all issues that I think the chamber and I agree on,” said Councilman Herb Katz, who is running for a fourth term on the City Council.

“It wouldn’t bother me at all if the Chamber runs an aggressive campaign, as long as they attack the issues,” Katz said.

Katz, one of two anti-SMRR members on the seven-member council, said he expected he might win the chamber’s endorsement, but that it was not in the bag.

“I’ve heard in the past that some of the people at the chamber were not happy with some of the decisions I’ve made, but I don’t know specifically what those issues were, and I never found out,” Katz said. “Obviously it did not affect their endorsing me.

“Police, Fire, City employees, I’ll take it,” Katz said. “I’ll take endorsements from anybody. It doesn’t mean I’m beholden to them. I think that it just means those entities like you. I have no obligation to their specific issues, nor do I promise to do what they say.”

Joining Katz on the slate is Bobby Shriver, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brother-in-law, who is expected to make a strong showing during a presidential race that promises to turn out Democratic voters in large numbers.

Shriver, a Santa Monica resident for 17 years, entered the political fray after helping to lead a homeowners’ battle against municipal laws governing the heights of hedges. Overhauling City Hall’s bureaucracy is a central issue he shares with the chamber.

“We have problems here in Santa Monica, problems that affect our everyday lives,” said Shriver, who chairs California’s State Parks and Recreation Commission.

“My priority will be to bring different groups together to solve our top problems, including our homeless problem, traffic and parking issues, education and the preservation of parks and open space,” Shriver said.

“I’ve worked successfully in many organizations to bring stakeholders together, regardless of political philosophy or party, to find solutions to pressing problems like AIDS and world hunger. I will bring these same skills to the Santa Monica City Council.”

While Shriver is a newcomer to local politics, Matt Dinolfo, a successful businessman and physician, made a surprisingly strong showing in his first council bid two years ago, garnering 8,356 votes. The chamber’s endorsement is expected to complement what, if two years ago is any indication, should be a hefty campaign war chest.

“Certainly there’s been talk about me winning the endorsement, but everyone is given a fair shot,” Dinolfo said. “Having done this before, I certainly didn’t take anything for granted... This endorsement will certainly make my own campaign fundraising easier for sure.

“I’ve always been an advocate for business,” Dinolfo said. “I’ve been a small business owner myself. I’ve always been business friendly.”

Dinolfo said he hopes to represent the interests of the many businesses and residents
frustrated with the City Hall bureaucracy and is confident the chamber will run a fair and aggressive campaign.

“I think people are fed up with business as usual in the City,” Dinolfo said. “I certainly don’t know how they (the chamber) are going to run the campaign. I’m sure it will be aggressive and fair.”

While many political observers expected the chamber to endorse Katz, Shriver and Dinolfo, it was unclear who, if anyone, the group would pick to fill the fourth slot.

Speculation that Morea would win the endorsement picked up after Tom Viscount, who was considered a leading contender, dropped out last week one day after attending the endorsement interview.

The presence of Morea -- who is also part of the “Team for Change” ticket -- adds a women to what otherwise would have been an all-male slate and helps counter the two women on the SMRR ticket, which includes Maria Loya and Patricia Hoffman, along with Mayor Richard Bloom and Councilman Ken Genser.

“I was very hopeful, and it wasn’t completely unexpected, but I am a bit surprised,” Morea said. “Certainly being a woman gives me another perspective on things. I think women bring communication and the ability to bring people together on issues.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized and to hear people saying that they don’t like the direction the city has been going in,” said Morea, a Pico neighborhood resident who has worked on permit parking issues. “The point is that we are all in this together.”

Morea thinks the chamber’s endorsement “legitimizes” the “Team for Change” platform, which includes many of the same issues.

“I think it legitimizes the slate and supports what we’ve been saying all along, that the City is out of control,” Morea said.

Morea’s running mates on the team’s ticket -- local columnist Bill Bauer and David Cole, who made an unsuccessful council bid four years ago -- said they will benefit from the chamber endorsement.

“I’m thrilled she got the endorsement,” said Bauer. “It’s a boost for all of us on the slate, and I feel it shows that the chamber really got our message.”

Bauer and Cole said they would stay in the race, despite speculation that they could siphon votes from the anti-SMRR candidates on the chamber slate.

“I would imagine that anybody in the race is going to be taking votes away from someone else, but we don’t think we’ll be taking votes away from her,” Bauer said. “If anything we hope to take votes away from those on the SMRR slate.

“We realize that we are the underdogs at this point, but we have put a message out there that people are responding to and at this point, there’s still a lot of race to be run,” Bauer said. “A lot can happen still....We are in it until the end.”

In endorsements for three seats on the School Board, the chamber’s Political Action Committee tapped two incumbents -- Board President Jose Escarce and Maria Leon Vazquez -- and Malibu resident Kathy Wisnicki.

Escarce, the chamber wrote in a statement, “is broadly endorsed by stakeholders and is an
experienced candidate who is serious about the quality of schools in Santa Monica. He has proven to be a strong and effective leader for the District.”

Leon-Vasquez, the chamber statement said, “believes the mission of the local schools is to prepare students to be successful, and she would like to expand collaboration between the business community and the schools.”

The chamber chose Wisnicki, who has served on the district’s financial oversight committee, for her commitment “to fiscal responsibility,” according to the statement.

In the race for three open seats on the College Board of Trustees, the chamber endorsed incumbent Margaret Quinones and challengers Rob Rader and M. Douglas Willis.

Quinones, who also serves on the powerful California Community Colleges Board of Governors, was chosen for her work in bringing new funds to the college, according to the chamber’s statement.

Rader, who is a member of the Bayside District Board, “is known as someone who brings people together and wants to improve the relationship between the faculty and administration,” the statement said

Willis, a long-time Pico neighborhood resident and member of the Rent Control Board, was chosen for “the ability and personality to smooth the relationship between the College and residents.”

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