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News Analysis -- Santa Monica Mayoral Elections Often Unpredictable


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December 10, 2012 -- In 2012, it took five tense rounds of voting before the City Council elected Pam O'Connor mayor. Four years later, Ted Winterer was elected unanimously in the first round.

Electing a Santa Monica mayor is an unpredictable process that can result in high political theater or a dull and expected routine vote.

The City Council on Tuesday will once again choose a mayor to replace Ted Winterer, who has held the post for the past two years.

The post is mostly ceremonial but carries political cache, and the mayor can set the council’s agenda and -- a particular perk -- represent the City in faraway places.

It would be unprecedented for the council to re-elect Winterer to a third term, and O'Connor will not be on the dais when the vote is taken after losing her bid for a record seventh term ("O'Connor Out, Morena In; Term Limits Wins in Landslide," November 7, 2018).

Narrowing the field further is the elimination of Councilmember Tony Vazquez, who will vote Tuesday night before stepping down on January 7 to assume his newly elected post on the State Board of Equalization.

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Councilmember Kevin McKeown, would be an unlikely choice after being unanimously elected to the post in 2014 after 16 years on the Council ("McKeown Named Mayor, Vazquez to Take Top Spot Next Year," December 10, 2014).

That would leave Councilmember Terry O'Day, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Councilmember Sue Himmelrich as the likely candidates, since none have held the post.

Himmelrich, a slow-growth advocate finished first in last month's race for three council seats, and her strong showing could give her an edge.

O'Day, who is considered pro-development, was viewed as a strong candidate for mayor in 2014 before an anticipated clash with McKeown failed to materialize.

Davis was considered the front-runner in the 2012 race, before O'Connor was elected in a 4-to-3 vote that took five tense rounds of voting ("Pam O'Connor Santa Monica's New Mayor," December 12, 2012).

O'Connor's victory came after O'Day, who had supported Davis throughout four rounds, switched his support to O'Connor.

The election marked O'Connor's fourth term as Mayor.

While O'Connor has been a major -- and often unpredictable -- force in choosing a mayor, she will not be on the dais Tuesday for the first time in 24 years when the vote is taken.

O'Connor, a pro-growth member of the Council since 1994, lost her bid for a record seventh four-year term last month, finishing a distant fouth in the race for three seats.

Challenger Greg Morena, who finished a strong third, will cast the first important vote of his four-year term after being sworn in on Tuesday.

In the event of a showdown between Himmelrich, a slow-growth advocate, and Davis or O'Day, Morena's vote could be an indication of where he stands on development.

While Davis and O'Day have served on the Council since 2009 -- when they were appointed to replace Council members Herb Katz and Ken Genser respectively after they died in office -- tenure has not always been a factor.

Winterer had served on the City Council for four years when he was unanimously elected one month after winning a second term ("Santa Monica Council Incumbents Sweep, LV Loses Big," November 9, 2016).

That would be the same case if Himmelrich were to be elected Tuesday night.

If she is, Vazquez, who like Himmelrich is considered slow growth, could be a deciding vote before leaving the council next month.


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