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Shriver Streaks Ahead in Absentee Balloting; Mixed Results for Education Candidates

By Jorge Casuso

November 2 -- If early absentee ballots are any indication, challenger Bobby Shriver should cruise to an easy victory in the race for four City Council seats, having garnered more than half of the 7,000 early votes cast by Santa Monica voters.

Shriver, whose appeal seemed to cross political boundaries, received 4,045 early absentee votes, finishing more than 1,000 votes ahead of Mayor Richard Bloom, who was a distant second with 2,951.

Councilman Herb Katz finished third with 2,798, followed by Councilman Ken Genser with 2,527.

The fourth incumbent, Councilman Michael Feinstein, finished a distant eighth with 1,550 votes, although absentee ballots are usually not a good early indication of how independent candidates will do.

Challenger Matt Dinolfo, who like Shriver was backed by the Chamber of Commerce, finished fifth with 2,132, followed by Patricia Hoffman -- who along with Genser and Bloom is endorsed by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights -- with 2,041.

The early absentee votes -- which likely represent 40 to 60 percent of the total absentee ballots cast -- could be a good indicator when coupled with early precinct counts, political observers said.

"If we see the early asbentees and the precincts mirroring each other, we could come to a pretty early conclusion," said Steve Alpert, who has observed local elections since 1979. "But if the precinct results are different, it could be very muddled."

The early results seem to indicate that Shriver's popularity -- bolstered by a hefty war chest and nationwide publicity -- has managed to draw wide support from both the SMRR and chamber's rival factions, election observers contend.

"His appeal appears very broad based, garnering more than half of absentee voters," said a long-time political observer. "He's getting votes from all across the spectrum.

"Shriver is appealing to a much wider audience than the chamber candidates," he said. "He's getting SMRR votes as well."

Pico Neighborhood activist Maria Loya received 1,671 absentee votes, while fellow Pico resident Kathryn Morea, who is a member of the Chamber slate, received 1,345 votes. A Pico resident has never been elected to the City Council.

Absentee ballots for College Board gave Susan Aminoff a clear early lead with 3,974 votes, followed by Rob Rader with 3,068. Margaret Quinones, the only incumbent in the race for three seats, had 2,872 absentee votes, followed closely by M. Douglas Willis with 2,757.

Aminoff, Rader and Willis have the backing of both SMRR and the Education Team, a group that includes college faculty that is trying to unseat Quinones, claiming she is too close to the college administration.

In a related election, Measure S, the $135 million Santa Monica College bond to build facilities and purchase park land, was leading with 4,803 votes, or 56 percent of the vote, giving it a tenuous lead. To be approved, the measure requires 55 percent of the vote.

In the race for three open School Board seats, incumbent Jose Escarce led the four candidates with 4,662 absentee votes, followed by challenger Kathy Wisnicki, the only Malibu resident in the race, with 4,328 votes.

Maria Leon Vazquez finished a close third with 4,313, with challenger Ana Jara, trailing with 3,483 absentee votes.

Measure N, a local initiative to raise Santa Monica's hotel bed tax from 12 to 14 percent, seemed poised for an easy victory, with absentee votes giving it a three to one margin. The measure needs a simple majority to pass.

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