Santa Monica Lookout
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Victorious Santa Monica Council Incumbents Troubled by Campaign Discourse
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

November 9, 2016 -- An unusual City Council campaign in which less than half the field reported any fundraising ended in a very usual way for Santa Monica -- with an incumbent sweep.

Although they were pleased with their victories, three of the four winners said they were troubled by the campaign discourse.

"I'm afraid the local level of political discourse was as uncivil as that at the national level," Ted Winterer told The Lookout.

He continued, "It's a shame we can't have a respectful dialogue about the issues facing Santa Monica without attacking the ethics or character of those with whom we disagree."

Terry O'Day, who placed first in the 11-candidate field, added, "This election was marked by an unusually nasty discourse, and the nastiness was generated by our own community members rather than an external force."

He added, "We must find a way to respect each other and work together, as this electoral outcome mandates."

Gleam Davis said she believed the appearance of the slow-growth Measure LV on the ballot, which was defeated, made the election season more contentious than usual.

She told The Lookout that now that the election is over, she hoped "we all can work together to keep Santa Monica moving forward in a sustainable and inclusive manner."

Those three candidates and Mayor Tony Vazquez were re-elected with more than 12,000 votes each.

Their closest competitor was slow-growth activist group Residocracy’s founder and leader Armen Melkonians, who received 7,870 votes.

Melkonians did not respond to The Lookout’s request for comment prior to the publication deadline.

Incumbents almost always win in Santa Monica. Mike Feinstein in 2004 was the last one not to succeed on Election Day.

The last incumbent to lose prior to Feinstein was Vazquez in 1994. He returned to the council in 2012.

"As the mayor of Santa Monica I feel wholeheartedly that we have built bridges and coalitions to move our progressive agenda of smart growth, easing traffic gridlock, supporting a living wage for the hard workers that keep our city thriving, retaking local control of our airport and keeping our residents housed, safe and active in our political process,” wrote Vazquez in a statement issued after the election.

While an incumbent sweep was in line with modern Santa Monica tradition, the lack of a competitive field was not.

Never in recent memory has there been a campaign with so few people raising money. The four incumbents and Melkonians were the only candidates to report any fundraising.

Among the other candidates was Oscar de la Torre, head of the Pico Youth & Family Center and member of the local school board since 2002. He had a website, but did little major campaigning other than that.

De la Torre’s wife Maria Loya has an active lawsuit against the City to force district-based elections. She says the existing at-large system was created to disenfranchise Pico Neighborhood residents.

There is actually a Pico Neighborhood resident on the council -- O’Day, who joined the dais as an appointee in 2010.

De la Torre did not respond to The Lookout’s interview request before the publication deadline.

As the council members celebrate their victories, they also look ahead to the next four years.

"'I'm looking forward to continuing the council's work on our priorities of mobility, inclusivity, regaining local control of [Santa Monica Airport], reducing homelessness and creating a community where all residents have abundant opportunities to learn and thrive," Winterer said.

O'Day said, "I'm enthusiastic to participate in our City's continued leadership in solving our housing crisis, reducing our environmental footprint, keeping us safe, and creating a great quality of life."

Davis said she wanted to continue to focus on housing

She said doing this would be easier with the passage on Tuesday of Measure GSH that creates a half-cent sales tax and Measure GS that recommends the revenue go to the school district and the City’s affordable housing program.

Her other focuses include "our community's well-being and the ability of each person to thrive and addressing the ongoing burden that Santa Monica Airport imposes on our city and its residents."

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