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Only Four Council Candidates to Seek Santa Monica's Most Coveted Endorsement
By Jorge Casuso
July 27, 2018 -- Four City Council candidates will be seeking the endorsement of Santa Monicans' for Renters' Rights (SMRR) on Sunday, likely making it the smallest pool of hopefuls in the group's 40-year history.
Incumbents Kevin McKeown -- who is seeking a sixth four-year term –- and Sue Himmelrich, who is making her first bid for reelection, will be joined by challengers Mary Marlow and Greg Morena as the only potential candidates seeking SMRR's endorsement.
Marlow heads a local political watchdog group and, along with Himmelrich is sponsoring a term limit initiative on the November ballot ("Santa Monica Voters to Decide Term Limits for Council in November," July 5, 2018).
Morena is one of two residents on the City's Audit Subcommittee and owner of The Albright seafood restaurant on the SM Pier. He has strong ties to Santa Monica's business community.
McKeown, who has won the tenant group's endorsement in his five previous bids, is the only renter seeking the group's backing at the convention at the John Admas Middle School cafeteria Sunday at 1 p.m.
Incumbent Pam O'Connor, as well as potential challengers Armen Melkonians and Kate Bransfield, who have formed a slow-growth slate, are not in the running.
"I'm an independent person and always have been," said O'Connor, who said she will be in Vancouver on Sunday.
In 2010, O'Connor failed to win SMRR's endorsement at the convention but was endorsed by its steering committee ("SMRR Endorses Three Incumbents," August 7, 2010).
"I've never begged for their endorsement," O'Connor said, "and I never lobbied the steering committee."
Melkonians, who failed to win SMRR's backing at the group's hotly contested convention two years ago, said he would "absolutely not" seek its backing this year.
"They don't represent the resident sentiment I represent," he said. "I'm a renter, and I don't think they do anything for renters."
SMRR Co-chair Patricia Hoffman attributed this year's thin field on the small pool of candidates seeking a council seat, some of whom are new to local politics.
"Some of the people who are running have never been a part of SMRR," she said. "They don't understand us. One never heard of us."
In past years, the hotly contested battle for SMRR's endorsement has been sought by City commissioners and well-known activists who have been part of Santa Monica's political scene for years.
The endorsement of SMRR -- which has been the most significant player in local politics for four decades -- is a major boost for candidates who benefit from the group's campaign literature and well-oiled political machine.
Five of the seven current council members won their most recent bids with SMRR’s support. The only exceptions -- O'Connor and Terry O'Day -- had previously received the group's endorsement.
In 2014, McKeown and Himmelrich won the backing of SMRR's steering committee after failing to win the necessary 55 percent vote at the convention. None of the candidates seeking the endorsement that year met the threshold.
To win the SMRR endorsement candidates must fill out a questionnaire and be interviewed by the steering committee prior to making their case before the membership, Hoffman said.
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