The LookOut columns | What I Say
About Frank Archive Email Frank  Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce
Downtown Housing
Live in Downtown Santa Monica
Read Frank Gruber's
Political Analysis in
"What I Say"
every Monday

To a Self-Nurturing Activist, Farewell   
By Frank Gruber

January 25, 2010 -- Before Geraldine Moyle spoke at yesterday's memorial service for Ken Genser, the last time I'd seen her speak was six or seven years ago when she was on the Planning Commission. To be honest, it's not likely, whatever she then said, that I thought it made any sense. Ms. Moyle was not a planning commissioner I often agreed with.

But yesterday Ms. Moyle hit the nail right on the head. Responding to a reference to herself as someone who had "nurtured" Ken Genser's activism, she cut that notion off at the roots. Ken, she said, was a "self-nurturing activist."

Bravo, Ms. Moyle. Part of the "joy of being Kenny," another phrase Ms. Moyle used to describe her friend, was that Ken didn't need anyone to wind him up.

The service was a fitting memorial for Mayor Genser, but for one aspect of it. Yes, nearly all of the political class of Santa Monica, and lot of other good people, turned out, and yes, his niece Mara Beck, his friends, and his colleagues put on an elegant and moving tribute, with heartfelt memories and beautiful and fitting song.

But I missed one thing.

In the midst of all the praise of how Ken was such a mensch, or such a good listener, or how he made you feel special, or how you could confide in him, or what a great smile and laugh he had, or how shy and self-effacing he might have been, or how he could articulate the other side's argument, or how he liked to eat and play practical jokes, none of which I'm saying was untrue, I wanted someone to say what I believe is the abiding memory of Ken that most anyone involved in Santa Monica politics for the past 25 years will have.

Which is that Ken Genser could be a sonofabitch when it came to getting what he wanted out of politics, and God bless him for it.

Sure Ms. Moyle referred to his "mighty stubbornness" and his "enormous confidence in his convictions," and Council Member Richard Bloom referred to his "steely" realism, but come on, there was a lot more to Ken than that.

He could cross-examine adversaries or staff (when he didn't like their recommendations) like a Perry Mason, he could throw softballs to his friends like a batting practice pitcher, he was tenacious and wily like a cat waiting out a mouse, he could bear grudges against perceived enemies or be loyal to perceived friends like I don't know what.

Once when I was involved in politics myself, I had a meeting with Ken and someone with whom he was co-chairing a committee. I was on the committee, too, and I thought we were meeting for a routine strategy session. Well, something ticked Ken off. I have no recollection about what the two co-chairs were disagreeing about, but I have no difficulty remembering Ken erupting -- it was like he verbally tore the throat out of the other guy.

I'm not bringing this up to besmirch the memory of Ken Genser. Just the opposite. Ken loved politics, he had fun doing it, but it was no game. If, as Bismarck said, "politics is the art of the possible," and if, as is attributed to Harry S Truman, "politics is the art of getting things done," then Ken was a genuine politician, because he wanted to get done as much as was possible.

Not everything he did was right. Feelings could be hurt. As I wrote two weeks ago I doubt anyone ever agreed with him all the time. But this was not a guy who got into politics because he wanted to have his picture in the paper, or move up the ladder in some organization of pols.

I recently was sent an article that appeared in 1976 in The New Republic. Written by someone I'd never heard of named Henry Fairlie, but who was evidently well-regarded then, it was called "Press Against Politics." In it Fairlie criticizes the cynicism of journalists covering politics. He had this to say about the journalists then, but what he says goes beyond journalism:

"The moral information which has been lacking in the coverage of this year's election [between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford] is the conviction that the political world is inherently good. It is as if every journalist is afraid that he might be caught in believing in something or in somebody. Yet on the whole, the political world in the past 200 years has accomplished a great deal of good for a vast number of people." (Emphasis added.)

Ask yourself a question: Are you afraid that you might be caught believing in something or somebody?

Look around. Look in Sacramento. Look in Washington. You'll see some politicians who try to exercise the art of getting things done. We need more of them. We need to celebrate them. We -- and I'm not speaking now as a journalist -- need to celebrate politics more. Consider the alternative.

We need more Ken Gensers, and now we have one fewer.

* * *

Speaking of politics, however defined, there is a big issue coming up this week at the Planning Commission. At its meeting Wednesday evening, the commission will consider the "float-up" (i.e., preliminary analysis) of the proposed development agreement with the developer Hines for the old site of the Papermate factory. ("WHAT I SAY -- Big Plans, December 18, 2009)

Click here to download a PDF of the staff report.

Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on

If readers want to write the editor about this column, send your emails to The Lookout at .

If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
The Lookout.

Lookout Logo footer image Copyright 1999-2010 All Rights Reserved.      EMAIL