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Council Expected to Choose Between Two Black Applicants for Open Seat
 

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By Jorge Casuso

July 10, 2020 -- On Saturday, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) will interview two Black applicants vying for an open seat on the City Council, indicating one of them will be chosen by the Council Tuesday.

The steering committee of the powerful political organization will interview Dr. Karen S. Gunn and Kristin McCowan, who are among nearly 120 applicants to replace former Councilmember Greg Morena.
Dr. Karen Gunn
Dr. Karen Gunn (Courtesy LinkedIn)

Kristin McCowan
Kristin McCowan (Courtesy USC)

Morena resigned last month after learning his position bars him from renegotiating his restaurant lease with the City ("Morena to Resign from City Council," June 17, 2020).

SMRR Co-chair Denny Zane called the two applicants "stars" and said they had been invited by SMMR's executive committee to Saturday's interview with the group's board.

"I can't tell you what will come of it," said Zane, a former mayor. "This is obviously an important (appointment). The Council is close on many issues and divided on some."

Zane said Gunn and McCowan "stand out among the applicants."

"We are feeling fortunate and blessed," he said. "It might be difficult to choose between them."

Gunn and McGown share similar goals -- including furthering social and racial justice, building more affordable housing and paving the way for minority owned businesses, according to their applications.

But the women -- who both have strong community ties -- come from different generations and professional backgrounds.

Gunn is a retired tenured professor in Psychology at Santa Monica College (SMC) who has owned a small consulting firm in the city since the mid-1980s, according to her application.

"I have built what I believe is a strong foundation in interpersonal communication which I think is an essential skill for working with the Council members, City staff and community constituents," Gunn said.

"Listening, in my opinion, is incredibly important and invaluable for understanding needs and issues."

Gunn notes that her professional background and volunteer work -- she has sat on numerous non-profit boards and is the lead member of the Santa Monica Black Agenda -- are especially important during a time of change.

"A good deal of my professional work and community volunteerism has been involved with changing the status-quo, addressing inequities and institutional inertia through the development of new and better (i.e., innovative) methods/programs/services," Gunn wrote in her application.

McGowan, who was born around the time Gunn was starting her business -- has deep roots in Santa Monica, where she returned last October with her husband and two small children.

She attended the local school system her children will attend and says she offers "a homegrown perspective with 40 years of lived experience as a Black child and then woman in Santa Monica."

McGowan also plans to tap her professional experience -- in her case the years she spent working in Washington D.C. and in her current post as executive director of the Getty House Foundation under Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

McGowan -- who attended local schools with Morena and serves on the Santa Monica Pier Corporation Board that was his stepping stone to the Council -- thinks it's important to have a younger face on the dais.

"When we don’t see our face in government it feels alienating to lend
our voice," she said. "With half the electorate in Santa Monica 45 and under, young adults, and especially young families, need an advocate representing their unique concerns."

Both applicants are members of the newly formed Santa Monica Black Agenda, which is working with the City "to address issues of systemic racism in Santa Monica," according to City officials.

In her "vision" statement Gunn, who was a mentor and teacher in the Black Collegians, Adelante and Scholars Program at SMC, wrote:

"The Council would act with tenacity and creativity to address its history and circumstances derived from decades of segregated neighborhoods, systemic racism and sexism (to name just two key issues) and openly acknowledge the profound privilege many people have and the disparities in resources, opportunities and access that others live and cope with everyday, especially people of color."

McCowan, who was one of the few black students at Franklin Elementary, where she enrolled on an intra-district permit in 1985, wrote:

"I appreciate that every decision our Council has made throughout the years was not the right one, however I despise the notion that we must return to a simpler, 'easier' time. It is a shortsighted and racist perspective and one that a Council without historical context can unintentionally repeat."

Gunn and McCowan are among 177 residents who submitted applications to fill Morena's seat ("Nearly 120 Applicants Seek Appointment to Vacant Council Seat," July 7, 2020).

To be appointed an applicant must be supported by at least four of the six sitting Councilmembers. If an appointment is not made on Tuesday, the Council will try again on July 21.

The new member would need to win the November 3 general election in order to finish serving the final two years of Morena's term.


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