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Feinstein Takes the Helm as Mayor

By Teresa Rochester

The night before his colleagues unanimously elected him mayor, Michael Feinstein dreamed about his father.

It had been eight years since Saul Feinstein had died of brain cancer and quite a while since his son had dreamed about him. In the dream, Saul, a once avid bicyclist and rollerblader, was healthy and happy. He urged his son to join him on an adventure, Feinstein told a packed audience in City Council Chambers Tuesday night, as he blinked back tears.

"The fact that he came to me in those circumstances was to remind me that he's still with me and I'm still on the journey with him and he'll be with me on the journey as mayor," Feinstein said afterward.

Feinstein, who is part of the powerful tenant's rights group Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights slate, was sworn in with fellow SMRR incumbents Ken Genser and Richard Bloom for four more years on the dais. Herb Katz, who previously served two terms on the council, was sworn in to fill a seat vacated by Paul Rosenstein, who chose not to seek reelection.

For Feinstein, an internationally prominent member of the Green Party, Tuesday night's unanimous vote was especially sweet. A one-time political outsider who frequently arrived at City Hall on roller blades to criticize some of the SMRR-backed Council's policies, he is now the figurehead of the establishment, running meetings and representing the City at a variety of functions.

At a party at Caspian Cuisine following the meeting, former mayor and SMRR co-chair Dennis Zane reminded the incumbents of the importance of SMRR in their political success. The comments came after a speech by Feinstein, who is widely viewed as having relied on SMRR's powerful political organization to win a seat on the council.

"They [council members] know it's the movement that elected them," Zane said. "It's the movement they represent. It's the movement they are the voices for."

During his first four years on the Council, Feinstein has not always towed the movement's line.

Relying on portents, vibes and gut instinct he has sometimes bucked the SMRR-backed majority, serving as the swing vote on the controversial Solar Webb art project and floating a compromise on preferential parking that was opposed by tenant activists.

Feinstein also helped ameliorate the impacts of an ordinance that targeted the city's auto repair shops, which were often viewed as enemies by the SMRR establishment.

On Tuesday night Feinstein -- a champion of more affordable housing and open space -- promised that everyone who comes before the council will receive "fair and friendly treatment."

A Greek orphan adopted by a well-to-do Midwest family, Feinstein rolled into Santa Monica 16 years ago in a light blue VW van. A long-time, globe trotting political activist with the Green Party, Feinstein turned his attention to local government, fighting the City Council in the early 1990s as part of the group opposed to the development of the new Civic Center.

In 1994 his bid to win the SMRR endorsement failed after one of the loyal supporters he had urged to join the organization left the nominating convention before the final votes were cast.

The narrow defeat didn't deter Feinstein, and in 1996 he swept to a surprising second place victory in the race for City Council. Last month, he won most of the city's precincts, finishing first with 21,084 votes in the crowded field of 13 candidates.

Long before Tuesday night's vote, there had been talk of Feinstein, a staunch environmentalist, becoming mayor. When it happened, Feinstein was moved.

"It's a very humbling experience to have that responsibility," he said.

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