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PART III: Green Candidate

By Oliver Lukacs

In December 2001, Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown showed up at a meeting of the Green Party of Los Angeles County (GPLAC) council with a six-month lease for the Pico office that was at the heart of a brewing controversy. He was acting, McKeown said, on behalf of Mayor Michael Feinstein.

Some party members were taken aback.

Ever since the controversy over the office had publicly surfaced in August, McKeown was among the County Council members who had expressed concerns that Feinstein had taken a $10,000 checked addressed to the GPLAC and used it in its name to fund an office the county party had no control over.

Two months earlier in October, McKeown had moved that the council reject an offer by Feinstein to extend for the remainder of 2001 its stay at the storefront office. Under the offer, the County Council would pay $600 a month in rent for the first four months of 2002, then decide whether to stay longer, according to minutes.

McKeown had argued that the lease for the office was a verbal agreement and that the county rarely used the storefront, noting that there were other meeting rooms in the city that could cost as little as $25 to $50 per meeting, according to minutes.

Although "being in this space is a good thing" McKeown said, the lease offer was "unacceptable."

"It is not clear under what authority or lease the entity (Feinstein) is making this offer," McKeown said. "I think it's very awkward to be asked to accept a verbal lease."

In what became a publicized moment, McKeown, speaking as the voice of the County Council, called on Feinstein to return all the funds that he “took.” The call came two months after the party had given the mayor a 30-day deadline to turn over the money and the bank records, which he again had failed to do.

“Being whole means Mike pays back the money he took,” said McKeown according to meeting minutes. Paying back the allegedly misappropriated money was Feinstein’s "personal responsibility,” McKeown said, “and personal responsibility is one of our core values."

Feinstein and McKeown in official council portrait

Feinstein, who was not present at the meeting, sent an email reiterating that the $30,000 he had raised was used to pay rent, phone and DSL bills at the Pico office, which the county had been using on a verbal agreement without charge since its opening two years earlier.

So some members were surprised when two months later, McKeown was arguing for a lease.

Expressing guilt over "squatting" in the office for two years, he proposed that the County Council -- which had rejected Feinstein’s $600-a-month offer -- enter into the $500-a-month lease "to make it up to Mike," according to the minutes.

To some members, it seemed that McKeown's concerns over the financial scandal had suddenly "vanished."

"I would have thought you would try to help… the State Party and greens everywhere," County Council member Coby Skye wrote in an internal email, "by not affording that office any more credibility than it deserves and by not associating other green groups with it.

"Besides being a large financial drain and a potential legal liability, it could be very damaging to greens everywhere," Skye wrote.

In another internal email McKeown wrote: "Whatever I may have said about our perhaps not having that office much longer, that wasn't indicative of a wish that we not have it, but rather an acknowledgement of unfortunate realities.

“While we DO still have the office, it makes all the sense in the world to use it,” McKeown wrote. “To do otherwise would seem to pre-decide the issue (and squander resources)."

The vote to enter the six-month lease, however, was delayed after County Council members raised concerns over the legality of the contract and the cost to the cash-strapped county party. Many members suggested looking at cheaper alternatives throughout Los Angeles County.

McKeown argued against the delay. "We've been in the office nearly two years," he said, according to meeting minutes. "Six months is not a huge commitment."

County Council member Genevieve Marcus agreed. "We are a large county, we need an office presence. We aren't a club anymore."

At the next County Council meeting in February 2002, McKeown, along with council member Ginny Case (who authored the resolution moved by McKeown to reject Feinstien's lease proposal in October) showed up with a new lease. The lease was now extended from six months to a year and already signed by Feinstein, according to the minutes.

When some members proposed that the county party rent alternative cheaper office spaces in San Pedro, Westchester and south Los Angeles on a month-to-month basis, McKewon argued against them.

McKeown moved for a vote for the Pico office, in order "to provide one stable office through the election," which passed 7 to 2, according to minutes.

"When we talked about using the office for elections," said Skye, who voted against the motion, "we were talking about Kevin's re-election" in November 2002.

McKeown, Skye argued, was placing his personal interests above the common interests of the county party, which would have benefited from lower rents and from distancing itself from a scandal that would turn away potential donors.

McKeown, Skye wrote in an email to party members, “failed to recuse himself at any of the numerous votes the county council has taken with regards to this same office, even though he knew full well that he would be (and continues to be) a direct beneficiary of the office space for his personal political campaign.”

McKeown recently told The Lookout that he hadn’t declared his candidacy when the County Council voted to enter the lease in February. But he acknowledged that he had plans to run.

The role of his re-election bid in his push to keep the office, McKeown said, was “not a major factor,” but “a factor.”

McKeown, as well as Case, said he pushed for the Pico office because Feinstein planned to turn it into a headquarters for statewide Green Party candidates in the 2002 elections.

The storefront, Feinstein told them, would be used by gubernatorial hopeful Peter Camejo and Lieutenant Governor candidate Donna Warren, as well as the Mexican Greens and the Westside Greens.

“Other places didn't seem attractive,” McKeown recently told The Lookout. “Because we were coming on a statewide election, and there were indications that other Greens were going to use that office, we thought it was a good idea. It made sense to share synergy with fellow Greens.”

Green Party storefront during 2002 elections

While McKeown would run his reelection campaign out of his rent-controlled apartment north of Wilshire, the storefront windows of the office facing Pico Boulevard would be plastered for months with his campaign posters, as well as those of City Council hopeful Josefina Aranda, who Feinstein had urged to run.

Volunteers would operate out of the office, staffing phone banks, organizing precinct walks and covering the city’s doorsteps with generic Green literature about the environment, California’s three-strikes laws, the Green slate for statewide elections and Aranda and McKeown’s council bids.

McKeown would be re-elected to a second term on the City Council. After finishing a close second in the race for three council seats, he looked forward to becoming the next Green mayor of Santa Monica.

“Of course I’d like to serve the council and the City as the next mayor,” McKeown told The Lookout days before the council picked a new mayor. “The election showed a broad base of residents' support, and I’ve been Mayor Pro Tem for this past year.”

On Monday: While the office had been a source of contention between Feinstein and the county party and a springboard for McKeown’s reelection, state officials began distancing themselves from the storefront and isolating the mayor from the party he helped build.
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