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It's Getting Hot in the Kitchen

By Frank Gruber

Let me get something off my chest: Mayor Michael Feinstein runs a good meeting. I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when I watched the City Council debate whether to lower the development review threshold for downtown.

He's also good at public events. I saw that when Feinstein spoke at the ribbon cutting for the transit mall.

Feinstein can be fair with the gavel, gracious to his colleagues and the public, and charming to all.

Too bad that when it comes to politics, he's a hypocrite, an ingrate and a sore loser.

If you heard some screaming last week, it was the leadership of Santa Monican's for Renters' Rights. Their hands -- the ones with which they have been feeding Feinstein and fellow Green Party council member Kevin McKeown for years -- were bloody from Feinstein's bites.

I did a Google search on "'Michael Feinstein' 'Santa Monica' mayor 'Green Party,'" and came up with 46 unique hits, many of which were from sources outside of Santa Monica. When I substituted "renters rights," as in "Santa Monicans for Renters Rights," for "Green Party," I got 12 unique hits, nearly all local.

On the Feinstein awareness scoreboard, it's Green Party 46, SMRR 12.

For six years, Feinstein and the Green Party have played SMRR like a violin, but last week a string broke. The SMRR convention did not endorse the Green Party candidate Feinstein wanted SMRR to endorse, and he went ballistic.

Maybe "ballistic" is not the right word, since Feinstein is ever affable. "Candid" would be better.

In case you haven't been following the story, Feinstein has for months promoted the candidacy of Josefina Aranda, a 29-year old Green Party member who recently moved back to Santa Monica after completing graduate school in New York. Aranda, a Latina, grew up in Santa Monica in a working-class family, and both she and Feinstein, and Feinstein's Green Party cohort, City Council member Kevin McKeown, have argued that not only SMRR, but also the local living wage movement, should endorse Aranda because of who she is.

Or, rather, because of who her parents are. As McKeown expressed it, he couldn't fail to understand how the labor movement could fail to endorse the "daughter of a bus driver and a janitor."

As it happened, instead of Aranda, both the living wagers and SMRR endorsed Abby Arnold, who has been an active participant in the living wage movement since its inception, and involved in SMRR and local politics for nearly 20 years.

The wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the howls of outrage. "A shameful act," said Feinstein of the living wage vote. "It was not a democratic process," said Aranda.

Of the living wage contingent who voted for Arnold at the SMRR convention: "a divisive, hostile takeover," said Feinstein, who neglected to mention that he packed the 1996 SMRR convention with bullet-voting Green Party members to make sure he received the endorsement SMRR had refused him in 1994.

While many expected Aranda to withdraw from the race when she failed to receive the SMRR endorsement, she defiantly placed herself on the ballot. This no doubt ensures the reelection of SMRR-nemesis Robert Holbrook and could, if there turns out to be a second attractive non SMRR candidate, and if Aranda siphons off enough votes, result in the election of another non SMRR council member.

"This is their nightmare," said Feinstein, speaking of SMRR, the organization to which Feinstein owes his political career, to which he owes those junkets to the National Conference of Mayors, etc., to which he owes his appearances in the New York Times and other media (all listed in chronological order on his website), "because now they have to defend their flank."

Ralph Nader couldn't have said it better.

Perhaps the Greens don't comprehend the loathing they inspire in many Democrats, but then the only thing that exceeds that loathing is the contempt the Greens have for anyone in the mainstream left.

Like it or not, SMRR and its leadership have for more than 20 years run one of the most effective grass roots political organizations in American history. The living wage coalition managed to get a law passed that is unprecedented for the rights it gives workers.

Feinstein would be selling rollerblades at Green Party conventions if it weren't for SMRR and the living wage supporters who got the vote out for him in 1996 and 2000.

I have little sympathy for the SMRR leadership. They knew Feinstein. They knew he was in politics for himself and for the Green Party. They should have known he saw Santa Monica and SMRR as ripe for the plucking.

And it's not only Feinstein. Unbelievably, SMRR has elected four council members who haven't the social conscience or consciousness to support a bond issue for Santa Monica College.

I don't have much sympathy, but I do have some hope. This year the old liberal guard of SMRR, aided by a lot of energy from a social movement analogous to the original renters' rights movement, rose up and took the organization back. I hope they keep it.

These forward-thing, pragmatic progressives are much better for all of Santa Monica than narrow-minded Green Party idealogues and their allies.

* * *

One has to wonder, however, about the living wage people not endorsing Pam O'Connor.

Abby Arnold tried to put a good spin on it, by saying that by only endorsing two candidates (herself and McKeown) the living wagers had left open a spot for O'Connor, but it was hardly becoming for them not to endorse a candidate who supported a good 98 percent of their agenda, and whose other votes consistently reflect the interests of low-income people.

Clearly, communications between SMART and O'Connor broke down somewhere along the line, but it's not good politics for an interest group to appear to require absolute fealty. It makes it easier for politicians to find reasons not to vote your way. Certainly there are people in SMRR who were offended.

It's not my business whether SMRR and labor need each other, but they make a good fit, and they will certainly be stronger if they work together.

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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