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Campaign 2002? Already?

"I pledge that when a new council is elected in November 2002 I will bring this back." -- Mayor Michael Feinstein, speaking Tuesday evening of City Council's decision to ban henna artists from the Pier and Promenade.

By Frank Gruber

Tuesday evening's City Council meeting must have been frustrating for Mayor Feinstein, as he was on the short end of two votes: the vote against henna artists and the vote for fluoridation. In each, he was joined in a minority of three by fellow Green Party member Kevin McKeown, and one other council member from the Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) majority: Richard Bloom for henna, and Ken Genser against fluoridation.

The henna vote puzzled me a little. "We are not limited to a rigid structure of what is performance and what is not," said Bloom.

Admirable, I suppose, from a First Amendment perspective, but it sure annoys me that the same people who are so hot to protect the "performance" of henna in the middle of crowded public places, oppose building a real theater for real performers.

I am referring, of course, to the little 500-seat theater Santa Monica College wants to build (actually, rebuild) at 11th and Santa Monica, which has aroused such hyperventilation from, among others, Feinstein, McKeown, and Bloom.

If henna-ists can have a place to perform, why not chamber orchestras or string quartets?

Another thing: why be so protective of any kind of performance in the middle of the Promenade, but against dancing inside enclosed nightclubs a few feet away?

But what most intrigued me about Tuesday night's meeting was Feinstein's promise, or threat, as quoted above, to reconsider the rights of henna artists when a "new council" is elected.

Given that Feinstein is already part of a five-to-two majority, what kind of "new council" does he have in mind? Who else would he like on council, and what else would he like to bring back for a second look?

Three council seats, those currently held by Pam O'Connor, Robert Holbrook and McKeown, will be at stake in November 2002, and Santa Monicans will also vote on a challenge to the living wage ordinance. Wholesale amendments to Santa Monica's charter, in the form of the VERITAS initiative, might also be on the ballot, and Santa Monica College is talking up a bond issue.

Looking ahead to the City Council race, what change does Feinstein expect that would make the council friendlier not only to henna artists, but also, perhaps, to the anti-fluoridation crowd, and more in sync with Feinstein on other issues, such as the Pier, where Feinstein the Green has parted company with the traditional progressives in SMRR?

Kevin McKeown, another Green who almost always votes with Feinstein, will surely seek reelection.

Nobody would be surprised if Robert Holbrook should decide, after twelve years on the council, not to run, given that it would be unlikely he would be in a majority. Even if Holbrook runs again, Feinstein and/or SMRR might seek someone to run against him.

As for Pam O'Connor -- here is one voter hoping she runs for reelection, not only because she is currently our best council member, but also because she is probably the best member of the MTA Board, and she would have to give up that powerful position if she is no longer on City Council.

But O'Connor may not run. No one would blame her for a little fatigue after eight years of late Tuesday nights. As she muttered Tuesday evening, when Feinstein and some of the other night owls were contemplating keeping the meeting going until the wee wee hours, "Some of us have to work in the morning."

Presumably, along with McKeown, O'Connor would receive the SMRR endorsement if she runs. In that case, SMRR would have to decide whether to endorse three candidates, and try for six of the seven slots on the council. If O'Connor doesn't run, SMRR will endorse at least one, and possibly two candidates in addition to McKeown.

I imagine Feinstein and others are starting to identify potential candidates.

The SMRR endorsements will be crucial, because, at the moment, organized opposition to SMRR seems non-existent. Anything can happen in a year, but as of now, it is likely that whoever SMRR endorses, even three candidates, will win. The likely anti-SMRR candidates, some of whom ran in 2000, are generally anti-business and anti-growth, and as in 2000 it is unlikely they will receive the financial support from the business community necessary to make a serious challenge.

The exception would be a candidate who runs with substantial support from the hotels who oppose the living wage, but that support backfired in 2000.

A word about VERITAS, apropos of SMRR. I have been holding off on writing about the initiative because I want to discuss it in the context of other changes to local political rules that the City Council is considering, but council has delayed the debate on the other issues several times.

Even without regard to the substance of its proposals, VERITAS mixes up too many issues for it to be a good idea as an initiative, but it is strange that anyone, such as the hotels, would consider it a means to counter SMRR's political dominance. Based on a review of past elections, it would seem that SMRR would have a lock on winning at least four, and possibly five, districts, and it would certainly elect the new, powerful mayor.

Given the importance of the SMRR endorsement, one can argue that the crucial vote for City Council will occur not on Election Day, but during the summer when about 120 SMRR members gather at their annual convention to vote on endorsements.

Taking this argument to the next step, and possibly to extremes, one could say that the first crucial vote of the 2002 election season will occur this coming December 2, when SMRR holds its 17th annual membership convention and elects the eleven members of its Steering Committee. The Steering Committee has a lot of influence over endorsements, and, at times, has made supplemental endorsements itself.

So, while Feinstein's comment about the "new council" may have seemed to push the political calendar, given that the "old council" is not even half way through its two year term, in fact his remark could not have been more timely.

Start your engines.


Civic Center Working Group
6:00 p.m., Monday, October 29, 2001, Civic Auditorium East Wing, 1855 Main Street.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights 17th Annual Membership Convention
1:00 p.m., Sunday, December 2, Olympic High School (Corner of Lincoln Blvd., and Ocean Park Blvd.; enter from Pine Street)

(Only paid-up SMRR members may vote at the convention. For membership and other information, contact SMRR at To obtain information regarding, and nomination papers for, the Steering Committee, send e-mail to

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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