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O'Day Picked for Vacant Council Seat  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

February 24, 2010 -- In a repeat performance of last year, the City Council on Tuesday needed eight rounds of voting to appoint a person to fill a seat made vacant by the death of a council member. Former Planning Commissioner Terry O’Day was selected to replace the late Ken Genser, becoming only the second person from the Pico Neighborhood to sit on the dais.

As expected, it was a night of high drama, but not with the scenario many political observers had predicted. In four of the seven deadlocked rounds, O’Day fell one vote shy of an appointment, earning three votes. Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer, who was expected to be his main competitor, was never a threat, receiving no more than two votes in any round.

O’Day’s biggest scare came from Rent Control Board member Jennifer Kennedy, whose name only began to surface as a potential appointee a few days earlier. Council member Gleam Davis supported Kennedy for all eight rounds. And for two sessions, Kennedy received three votes in what looked like a possible compromise decision among the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights –backed City leaders.

Council member Kevin McKeown, who spoke highly of Winterer prior to supporting him for the first three rounds, switched his vote to Kennedy for four of the next five sessions. O’Day supporters Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor and Council member Richard Bloom also endorsed Kennedy for one round apiece.

City Manager Rod Gould may have been a factor in breaking the deadlock. After the fifth round concluded with no decision, he recommended the council members state their second preferences when voting. This was done during the seventh round, and it became clear that O’Day had enough votes for a win if Council member Bobby Shriver would switch his allegiance from his first choice, Winterer, to his second choice, O’Day. He did just that in the next session, giving O’Day his fourth vote and the victory.

“I was enthusiastic about Ted, but he didn’t have a third or fourth vote, so what are you going to do?” Shriver said after the meeting.
Had the council been unable to appoint somebody, it would have necessitated a special election at a cost of approximately $150,000. Several council members said during the meeting that they wanted to avoid doing that, citing cost as a major factor.

O’Day was immediately sworn in and took his seat on the dais. He participated in the remainder of the council meeting.
“I know I have big shoes to fill, and I take it very seriously that this is Ken Genser’s seat that I’m filling,” he said after the meeting. “I hope I can in some small measure live up to his legacy.”


O’Day is the executive director of an environmental organization. He served on the Planning Commission from 2002 until last year. O’Day made a failed bid for council in the 2006 race, placing fourth in the competition for three seats. In 2008, he led the fight against the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT), a measure that called for an annual capping of commercial development. The opposition was heavily funded by commercial development interests.

A resident of the Pico Neighborhood, O’Day is the first person in nearly 40 years to serve on the council from that area. Willard C. Lawson was appointed to the council in 1973 to complete the term of a vacated seat, becoming the first and until yesterday, only, person from the Pico Neighborhood to serve on the council. Lawson was not elected to another term. Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre, who has researched the subject, said no person has ever been elected to the council from the Pico Neighborhood.

Forty minutes worth of public comments preceded the council debate. A vast majority of the speakers supported Winterer, who had finished fifth in the council race for four seats in 2008. Many of them ripped O’Day as being in the pocket of developers.

“He comes with a great deal of baggage,” local activist John Petz said of O’Day. “He’s a person who has benefited strongly from big real estate money. He was the poster boy for the anti-Measure T (RIFT) … and I think in choosing him, you will be committing a political act which will have long-term ramifications.”

O’Day said he was prepared for the brutal comments because they were also made in e-mail blasts sent out in the days prior to the appointment.

“It hurt more for my wife,” O’Day said. “She was sitting with me and doesn’t come to these meetings as much as I do. That was fairly new to her. But I coached her through.”

The appointment sets up what should be an eventful campaign for the November election. There will be two competitions. In one race, O’Day and Davis (who was appointed to fill the late Herb Katz’ seat last year) will compete to defend their seats. The top two vote-getters in that election will serve two more years to finish the terms of Genser and Katz.

In the other race, incumbents Robert Holbrook, O’Connor and McKeown will fight to keep their seats, with the regular four-year term granted to the top three finishers.

Challengers must choose which race they want to enter. Nobody is allowed to compete in both.


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