Police Officers Endorse Three SMRR Candidates, One Rival
By Jorge Casuso
September 20 -- Pulling its support from two of the City Council members it backed four years ago, Santa Monica’s powerful police union threw its clout behind a pair of incumbents and two challengers in the November race for four council seats.
Viewed as the most powerful force within local government, the 200-member Police Officers Association (POA) announced Friday that it will throw its money and influence behind Mayor Richard Bloom, Councilman Ken Genser and challengers Patricia Hoffman and Bobby Shriver.
In a move that was not completely unexpected, the union’s Political Action Committee -- which has backed nine of the last ten winners in council races -- voted last week not to back incumbent Councilmen Michael Feinstein and Herb Katz.
Union officials said they picked Hoffman, a former president of the School Board, for her experience in municipal government, while Shriver, who chairs the State Parks Board and is a member of the Kennedy family, was chosen because he brings valuable connections to higher government.
“Hoffman has been in Santa Monica politics forever,” said Detective Shane Talbot, a powerful force within the union. “She’s active in school issues and in the community, so she understands the issues and workings of the City.”
Shriver, Talbot said, received the union’s support “because of all the work he’s done. He brings connections at both the state and federal levels, which I think is important.
“He knows how the system works and has been successful in consensus and coalition building, and that’s something someone who wants to change things in Santa Monica has to bring,” Talbot said.
To make room for Hoffman and Shriver, the union pulled its support from Feinstein and Katz, whom it endorsed along with Bloom and Genser two years ago. Katz had been endorsed in all three of his successful council bids, while Feinstein was endorsed in one of two.
Union representatives said they were particularly concerned by Katz’s proposal to erect a makeshift “tent city” on a beach parking lot at night, despite his expressed caveat that it must be part of a regional effort to deal with the homeless problem and that those who sleep there must do community work.
“Herb has a lot of experience on the council and he’s one of the people that’s completely aware of the problems the City is facing with the homeless,” Talbot said. But the union, he added, “is concerned with his comments about building a tent city on the beach.
“It was tried in Oregon, and it was disastrous there,” Talbot said. “It will bring a resource that will be seen as a bigger magnet to the problem. My question is, why Santa Monica? We have enough problems here.”
Talbot also questioned whether Katz, who served on the council between 1984 and 1992 and then again for the past four years, is as passionate about the job as he once was.
“He’s made it pretty clear he’s not having fun anymore,” Talbot said. “To be successful in Santa Monica, you have to fight, and you have to feel passionate.”
Katz was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Feinstein, who won eight years ago without the POA’s support before receiving its backing in 2000, was dropped from the union’s ticket for his criticism of the police department during interviews with the union and the Chamber of Commerce’s PACs, Talbot said.
“Mike has always been a supporter of the police department,” Talbot said. “We’re concerned about some of the comments attributed to him at the (chamber). He blamed the homeless problem on the police department.”
Feinstein counters that he never blamed the police department for the City’s homeless presence or anything else and that he in fact commended the police during the union’s interview.
“The last thing I would ever suggest is that the homeless issues in Santa Monica are the police’s fault,” Feinstein said. “Far from it, whoever told him otherwise, needs to answer to me.”
In addition, Talbot said that during his interview with the police union, Feinstein also blamed the department for a series of shootings during the past year in the vicinity of 17th Street and Delaware Avenue in the Pico Neighborhood.
“He suggested the problem in the Pico Neighborhood on 17th Street was our fault,” Talbot said.
Feinstein said he never blamed the police for the problem, which some have linked to an alleged drug dealer who lived in a public housing building. In fact, he was responding to a follow-up question, Feinstein said
“What I brought to their attention was that nearby residents had come to me and other council members with a concern that the crime problem hadn’t yet been resolved,” Feinstein said.
The police union, Talbot said, believes that Hoffman and Shriver understand the limitations of current laws and would support efforts to enact stronger measures that meet constitutional muster.
“I believe they have the ability to understand the limitations they have under the given law,” Talbot said. “I think they’ll support us testing the law if the problem exists and we have a solution. I think they’ll vote for it.
“I think they believe the homeless should be dealt with with dignity and they (the homeless) should be accountable,” Talbot said.
As it did four years ago, the POA backed three candidate on the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights ticket -- in this case, Bloom, Genser and Hoffman -- and one from the powerful tenant group’s rival slate -- Shriver, who won the backing of the Chamber of Commerce.
Traditionally the union has hedged its bets by backing candidates from rival factions and basing its endorsement not only on a candidate’s position on public safety issues, but on their chances of winning, according to several political observers.
Since 1988, the group has backed three out of every four council winners.
The union -- which according to the latest campaign finance disclosure statements had amassed a campaign war chest of more than $62,000 as of June 30 -- has also wielded its clout by opposing candidates.
Two years ago it attacked incumbent Councilman Bob Holbrook, who had always been a staunch supporter of law enforcement, for voting against a municipal budget ten years earlier that included adding 20 new officers. Holbrook, who had opposed other provisions in the decade-old budget, still won the election, although by a slim margin.
This time, the union is not discounting taking an active role in opposing candidates.
“There’s a lot of things we consider to try to get our candidates elected,” Talbot said. “But I think it’s too early to say whether those things are considered.”
At a chamber fundraiser Friday, land use attorney Chris Harding warned that Katz could be targeted by the POA.
“Herb needs all the help he can get," Harding told chamber members. "He's already been attacked by SMRR, and he's likely to be running against the police association."
There also is speculation that the union could target Maria Loya, a SMRR candidate who has criticized police for not doing enough to stop crime in the Pico Neighborhood, where she is an activist. Talbot said Loya’s record on public safety is suspect.
“The things she is claiming and the reasons for running are just not true,” Talbot said. “Pico has more crime resources than any other area except Downtown.” He added that crime is down all over the city.
Even if the union chooses not to target candidates, its endorsement could prove critical in what will likely be a hotly contested race.
Genser, who has been backed by the police union in three of his four prior elections, said he is pleased with the endorsement.
“I’m very honored,” said Genser, who was also endorsed by the Firefighters Union. “It’s an important endorsement because it represents the choice of the men and women who protect our community. In conjunction with the firefighters’ endorsement, it is very satisfying and meaningful personally.”
Hoffman, who was passed over by the firefighters in favor of Katz, she is “very appreciative” of the police officers’ approval. (Like the police union, firefighters also endorsed Bloom and Shriver. See related story)
“My record of working with various groups is shown by this endorsement,” said Hoffman, who is a member of the Bayside District board, which runs the Downtown. “I’m thrilled.”
In addition to endorsing council candidates, the police union threw its support behind Margaret Quinones, an incumbent running for one of three open seats on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.
“She was the only one who contacted us, and the only incumbent running,” Talbot said.
“Margaret goes back in the community,” he added, referring to Quinones stint as a member of the School Board.
The union also endorsed State Assembly member Fran Pavley and State Senator Sheila J. Kuehl, who are both running for reelection. The union also will urge voters to vote “yes” in Prop N, which would boost the City’s bed tax.Senior writer Cindy Frazier contributed to this report.
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