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By Frank Gruber
Some people have the delusion that it's more important who the Governor is than who is on the City Council. When presented by two unexciting, or worse, choices for Governor -- or even for President -- they despair at politics. Many don't vote.
How silly. No matter how bleak it looks toward the top of the ticket, you can always find a local election that is more important to your day-to-day life than who is running the state or even the country. And there's no question that your vote counts and who you elect matters.
If you've read a few of my columns, and you're familiar with the candidates running for Santa Monica City Council, you can probably predict who I'm voting for on Tuesday. That's good, and if you could let me know, I'd be grateful. As of writing, this I'm not quite sure what I'm doing with all my votes, but that doesn't stop me from having opinions about the candidates.
This is how I see them, starting with the incumbents.
Robert Holbrook: I often agree with Bob Holbrook. He voted for fluoridation, for instance, and against lowering development thresholds downtown. We have disagreed on many issues, too, including most recently the living wage ordinance and VERITAS.
Holbrook certainly has the right demeanor -- hale, hearty and even-tempered -- but he tends to confuse nostalgia for vision and ignore the realities of the future. An example of that was his vote against Target.
In the realm of Santa Monica politics, Holbrook is a conservative, and in this election conservative voters, unless they want to vote for a radical gadfly, have only Holbrook to vote for. This makes them the most important voters in the election, because, ironically, the year the "loyal opposition" nearly abandoned the fray is the year that Santa Monicans for Renters Rights faces serious competition for liberal votes.
While this likely ensures Holbrook's reelection, Holbrook's voters are in something of bind. If they bullet vote for him, they probably ensure the election of the other two incumbents, making no change in the Council they abhor.
Pam O'Connor: In previous columns I have said that O'Connor is currently the best council member and that my not supporting her for reelection in 1998 was my worst political mistake. So I can hardly say that I'm neutral. Suffice it to say that O'Connor is one politician whose views have become more subtle and sophisticated the longer she has been in office.
Kevin McKeown: Just as I can't smile coyly and claim to be neutral about O'Connor after all the nice things I've said about her, I can hardly claim to be neutral about McKeown after railing so much about the Green Party and disagreeing with him on nearly every important vote he's cast on the council, from fluoridation, to Target, to downtown development standards and other knee-jerk no-growth measures he's championed.
What bothers me most about McKeown is how he wraps himself up in righteous progressive rhetoric, and then votes the other way. He's an "educator," but he didn't support the College's bond issue. He's a "houser," but he voted against building more housing at the Civic Center. He's the great environmentalist, opposing sprawl and the "commute and pollute" lifestyle, but he makes it harder to build apartments in downtown Santa Monica.
It's not that McKeown lacks integrity. His votes on the recent homeless ordinance show that he can stand against the tide. He has principles -- I usually disagree with them, but he has them. But why can't he just vote for what he believes -- why does he have to glorify his opinions by linking them to the tide of history, I mean, the "residents."
McKeown is always for the "residents," but then it turns out that he's only for some of them -- consistently the same group, those who oppose building anything except sometimes more parking.
Take the College Bond. McKeown didn't support it, because he said people in Sunset Park were mad at the College. When the votes came in, the overall vote in Sunset Park was 58.6 percent in favor. Even the usually no-growth neighborhood group, Friends of Sunset Park, chose not to oppose the bond.
Who were so important, that their gripes caused McKeown, the "educator," not to support an institution that is crucial for the aspirations of so many people? The residents?
A lot of residents testified that Target would be a good idea -- convenient, low-price shopping, near all the bus lines, less driving. A precedent-setting urban discount store. Get people off the Promenade. McKeown's response? "It's the traffic, stupid."
Abby Arnold: I haven't written much about Arnold, since she's not an incumbent, but I have biases to disclose about her, too. Arnold is a close friend, and has been ever since I served with her late husband Karl on the Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO) board ten years ago. I can't pretend to be neutral about someone who is part of our baby-sitting co-op and whose house, as per tradition, will be our headquarters tonight for Halloween.
But then knowing a candidate is one of the charms of living in a small city.
Of course, if you read me, and if you know Arnold, you know that part of anyone's friendship with either one of us is a lot of argument, and we've argued over everything from school curriculum to traffic calming. Judging from what I've heard in candidate forums this year, it looks like in the future I'll be arguing with her about historic preservation and even more about traffic calming.
Having made these disclosures, I will try nonetheless to evaluate where Arnold stands politically in the context of themes I have written about before. First, I have often exhorted people to participate in the civic process, and Arnold has been an active citizen, participating in a remarkably long list of community, civic, and school-based organizations.
Second, in the context of local politics, Arnold represents a return within SMRR to its liberal roots, away from the radical no-growth politics that captured SMRR in the nineties. Arnold is a continuation of the tradition of SMRR leaders like Denny Zane, James Conn, Judy Abdo, and Paul Rosenstein (and Pam O'Connor).
The old SMRR leaders were staunch defenders of the interests of their renter constituents, but they had a bigger liberal agenda, which included encouraging private investment, within limits, and channeling it to serve both public and private interests, and they could work well with all segments of the community.
Matt Dinolfo: I have never written about Dinolfo, as he is a newcomer to politics. My bias against him is just that, because Santa Monica's prior experience with outside-the-system politicians has not been good. (Viz., Asha Greenberg quit, and Ruth Ebner should have.)
My bias for Dinolfo is that I wish he ran four years ago, when Paul Rosenstein's Civic Forum was looking for candidates to challenge SMRR's no-growthers but got stuck with two conservatives. Dinolfo has an attractive set of views, he's smart, and he has a wealth of practical experience outside the political realm. For one thing, he's enlightened me on the importance of Santa Monica's two medical centers and the role they play in the region.
However, I have been disappointed that Dinolfo's campaign has emphasized the simplistic ideas of spending more money on schools and public safety, and generic claims to leadership. Since Santa Monica already spends a lot on public safety, and has spent money when necessary on schools, I'm not sure why these issues would compel Dinolfo to run.
Josefina Aranda: My bias regarding Aranda is negative and it's Green. I don't believe Aranda would be running but for our local Green council members who expected her to receive the SMRR and living wage endorsements and ride to victory like they did.
It's true that Santa Monica elections are non-partisan, but it's also true that the Green Party uses its victories in local elections to elevate the importance of their party nationwide. Voters who are concerned about that should take it into account.
As for Aranda herself, she makes a good impression, but the more I have heard her at various forums, the more often I have heard her suggest programs that are already in place. For instance, at one forum she made a big deal that the City and the school district should work together to open school yards to the public, but that program is already in effect and was a big part of Prop. X.
Jerry Rubin: I voted for Rubin in 2000, a year when I had no alternatives. This year I have several, and I expect I won't. But as gadflies go, Rubin deserves a lot of respect. Funny, unfailingly polite, he always tries to be constructive, and has often been so.
I'll always remember Rubin's testimony at the City Council hearing when various council members were seeking to acquire the site of the Lobster Restaurant and turn it into "open space." Rubin perfectly summarized the argument against this bad idea by telling the Council that a park wasn't really a park unless it was big enough for throwing a frisbie.
But I can't accept Rubin's anti-politics politics. It's okay to run a futile campaign, but it's not okay not to try to win, by not accepting donations and by not seeking the organizational endorsements that are crucial in Santa Monica. Protests and fasts are one thing, elections are another.
Chuck Allord: Why anyone would think that flaunting one's anger qualifies one to be on the City Council of a city that is so successful that many people think its biggest problem is all the people who want to move here -- well, it's beyond my powers of comprehension.
Pro Se: What can you say about someone who says elect him, and he'll end homelessness?
* * *
Before next Tuesday's election, I have to say one more thing about the Green Party. The Greens base their appeal on the claim that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Fortunately, someone has analyzed the data, and has shown that the votes of Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are dramatically different. Check out this site: http://www.angelfire.com/clone/election/One may wish that the whole politics of America was further to the left, but that doesn't mean that Democrats are the same as Republicans.
views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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