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Frank Gruber

After a Super Tuesday

By Frank Gruber

Faint of heart, I was, and full of dread -- I never expected Measure R to pass. So depressed by all the attacks on the school district this past year and a half, and somewhat depressed by what the district and the school board had done to deserve them, I figured the chance was slim that two-thirds of the voters would see the swath of green covering miles and miles instead of the little spindly saplings.

But never underestimate the good sense of the Santa Monica voter, or how much the residents of this town love their public schools. Seventy-six percent of Santa Monica voters approved R. And let's not forget the voters of Malibu. They don't support public schools as vociferously as do Santa Monicans, but the 55 percent approval rate in Malibu was not appreciably different from past elections where there was no talk of secession.

Memo to the Santa Monica City Council: remember this vote the next time you try to score points against the school district and the board. What's the likelihood that 76 percent of your constituents would trust you with a tax like this?

* * *

I can't resist speculating, pundit-like, about what's to come in the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. I mean I can't prognosticate any worse from this little corner of the country than the national essayists and talking heads, none of whom predicted the course of either the Democratic or Republican race so far.

So with that license to guess, this is what I say: Mr. Obama will win.

He will do so because he's persuasive, and doesn't wear out his welcome. Or at least he has been so far and he hasn't yet.

Wherever Mr. Obama has had time to reach whatever the electorate was he was aiming for he has closed the gap that Ms. Clinton started out with. With a little more time, he's surpassed her. Time has played to Mr. Obama's strengths. Lack of time hurt him in New Hampshire and then on Super Tuesday when there was not enough time for him to penetrate all the big geographies that were in play concurrently.

He won't lack time for the rest of the race.

There's been a lot of talk about how Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton are supported by different parts of the Democratic base. To an extent this is true, and reflects "identity politics" -- African-Americans identify with Obama, and women (particularly middle-aged and older women) identify with Clinton.

There's nothing wrong with this, as both populations have historically been disadvantaged politically, and it's not unreasonable, when the candidates are so close policy-wise, for blacks and women to flip the identity coin. It's not the same as when white males do it.

But various pundits have tried to make something out of the support Ms. Clinton has received from relatively poor and less educated working class populations, including Hispanics, and in so doing they have seen something more than what is there. A better explanation for the votes of these people is that they are less connected to the media and reachable by the methods that Mr. Obama uses to persuade voters.

The Obama effect takes more time with them, but given time, there is no evidence that they refuse to accept him. The decision by the L.A. Spanish language newspaper, La Opinion, to endorse Mr. Obama was significant. Mr. Obama has been increasing his share of Hispanic votes, and if he had had another week to campaign in California, he would have won many more.

If I am right about all this, Mr. Obama will win the rest of the primaries, even states like Pennsylvania and Ohio where there are a lot of good memories about the '90s, and his momentum will persuade the super-delegates to vote for him.

The op-ed writers and talking heads have also generally expressed their opinions that in the contest for super-delegates, which will be crucial if the candidates remain tied, Ms. Clinton has the advantage, because of Democratic officialdom's close history with Bill Clinton going back awhile. But I don't think that nostalgia will have much to do with it.

Money is the mother's milk of politics, and right now Mr. Obama has the Midas touch. Particularly in red states, Democratic officeholders know that they can raise a lot more money, and run stronger campaigns, with him lending them a hand (and sharing his donor list) than with Ms. Clinton at the head of the ticket. After all, the last six years that Bill and Hillary Clinton lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were hardly good ones for Democrats running for election.

If ties to Democratic officials meant much, one would have expected that Ms. Clinton would have done better in the caucus, as opposed to primary, states. Her lack of success among the most active Democrats, those who attend caucuses, indicates that the leftover affection for the Clintons is just that -- leftover.

This doesn't mean that I don't believe Ms. Clinton would be a good president. I just don't believe she'll be the nominee.

But I like the idea that Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton will fight it out. Against the venerable John McCain, both candidates might suffer from arguments that they "lucked it out" -- Ms. Clinton because of her former first lady status, and Mr. Obama because he emerged from obscurity so fast. The fact that whoever wins the nomination will have done so after a gritty fight will be good for their images as serious players deserving what they won.

* * *

History was being commemorated this past week in Santa Monica. On Thursday, the City unveiled a monument on the beach to commemorate the "Ink Well," the portion of the beach, near Bay Street, that was used by African-Americans from the 1920s until the 1950s.

(Photos by Frank Gruber)

Mayor Herb Katz presided, and City Manager Lamont Ewell also spoke. Historian Alison Rose Jefferson put the event into historical context with a talk. As Ms. Jefferson pointed out, even though by law California beaches were open to all from 1927 on, black beachgoers from the region and Santa Monica tended to congregate at the Ink Well into the '50s.

The stretch of Pico from the beach up to Santa Monica High School was also a center for African-American businesses. The site of the Civic Auditorium and its parking lot was a small black neighborhood called the Belmar Triangle. The city's oldest black church, Phillips Chapel, is just a few blocks away, on Fourth Street.

It's ironic that after presumably better attitudes about race obviated the need for a black beach in the '50s, that was just the same time that larger, more impersonal, and more powerful forces of racism masquerading as the forces of "progress," managed to destroy much of Santa Monica's historic African-American community.

Not only the Civic Auditorium, but also the freeway (routed through a black residential district rather than the industrial lands just to the north), were supposedly colorblind projects that were devastating to black Santa Monica.

As I've written before (see column), the City will have the chance to address this history when it builds the new park planned to replace the Civic's parking lot at Fourth and Pico. This park should be named after the Belmar neighborhood.

* * *

At the dedication of the Ink Well monument I got to talking with several historically minded Santa Monicans, including Ruthann Lehrer, Margaret Bach and Nina Fresco of the Landmarks Commission, Susan Cloke of the Recreation and Parks Commission, Barbara Stinchfield and Jessica Cusack of the City's department of Community and Cultural Affairs, about Santa Monica history in general. It turns out that 2009 will be a significant date to commemorate two important Santa Monica landmarks.

The Pier will turn 100, and the Third Street Promenade, which opened in 1989, will turn twenty.

I was thinking about those upcoming anniversaries the next day, Friday, when the Santa Monica Historical Society accepted a $100,000 donation from the Macerich Company, the national shopping center company that has its headquarters in Santa Monica and which is now beginning renovations to Santa Monica Place, for the society's fund to build its museum at the new downtown library. (see story)

Santa Monica is a small city that has had a disproportionate impact on American culture. The Pier and what it represents in terms of recreation, and the Promenade, which has had a big impact on urban planning, both deserve commemorations -- conferences even -- to recognize their histories and analyze their importance.

Here is hoping that as the City puts together its budget for 2008-09, some attention is paid to these upcoming anniversaries. The City's cultural affairs staff, the Historical Society, and the Santa Monica Public Library, as well as the Pier Restoration Commission and the Bayside District Corporation, should together start planning appropriate events.

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