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Bobby Shriver: A Man for All Seasons

By Susan Reines and Jorge Casuso

November 4 -- Although only one post on the City Council changed hands Tuesday, Bobby Shriver's commanding victory at the polls will likely alter the dynamics of the council.

A member of the Kennedy family who has made an impact on national and global issues, Shriver vowed during his campaign to battle the status quo at City Hall, which he blames for burdening residents with a cumbersome bureaucracy.

Still, it is unclear how Shriver -- a liberal who received the backing of the Chamber of Commerce -- will vote on key issues when he assumes the seat vacated by Michael Feinstein, who ran as an independent after failing to win the backing of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR).

The powerful tenants group, which had won three of the four open seats in 1996 and 2000, held on to two seats with victories by Mayor Richard Bloom and Councilman Ken Genser, giving SMRR four seats on the seven-member council.

The anti-SMRR faction thinks Shriver will make a difference, SMRR has downplayed the new councilman's impact, and Shriver himself said he could not predict where his votes would fall.

"It depends so much on the context, it depends so much on what the issue is," said Shriver. "Not all the SMRR people always voted as a block. They've made up their own minds on various things, and I expect that they'll continue to do that, and I'll do that too.”

Asked whether he would change the council dynamic, Shriver responded, "I don't know enough about what the dynamic was before. Any team forms up around the players."

The two anti-SMRR members on the council -- Herb Katz, who received the chamber's backing in his successful bid Tuesday, and Bob Holbrook, who was not up for reelection -- believe Shriver's presence on the council will make a difference.

"I think with Bobby on there it's a different dynamic," said Katz, who was elected to his fourth term. "I hope SMRR realizes that they lost some power because they ran four candidates and basically got only two… I think it's going to be a different council with less of a power structure."

"Now SMRR returns two members to the council; they (returned) three before," Holbrook said. "I think that's significant, and it's going to be interesting to see what happens."

Officials who ran an anti-SMRR campaign -- which used Shriver's popular candidacy to push the chamber slate -- quickly jumped on his victory to predict that SMRR's days as a powerful force in City government are numbered.

Seth Jacobson, a spokesman for Santa Monicans for Change, an independent expenditure committee that raised $170,000 by mid-October to unseat SMRR, called Shriver's victory "a referendum on the misguided policies of the City Council majority."

"Clearly the voters recognized that the issues we raised and the candidates we supported were important to them and to the future of our community," Jacobson said in a statement released Wednesday. "Given the election trend, we would anticipate that the days when SMRR could dictate the future direction of the council and the city are over.

"They are a relic of a time when our community was focused on one issue (rent control)," Jacobson said. "It is now time to build bridges and discuss issues that are important to all members of the community."

But Shriver's victory does not wrest power from SMRR, which has controlled City government for most of the past quarter century. In fact some SMRR officials -- including Patricia Hoffman, who along with fellow SMRR candidate Maria Loya did not win Tuesday -- question whether Shriver's politics are very different from those of the tenants group.

"I think there's likely to be a shift, but I think that Bobby's politics are actually closer to SMRR's politics than they are to, for example, the Chamber of Commerce's politics," said Hoffman, who is a member of SMRR's steering committee. "So I don't think we're going to see any dramatic changes in the way the City is run in the next two years."

SMRR officials also counter Jacobson's contention that Tuesday's vote was a call for change. Genser, who won a record fifth term on the council, believes voters, in fact, sent a mandate for the sitting council.

"Three of the four people who returned to office were incumbents," Genser said. "The one who wasn't returned to office (Feinstein) was dropped by his supporters. The other person who wasn't an incumbent was Bobby Shirver.

“So I think if you can read anything in this election, it's that people are not unhappy with the direction the city is moving in," Genser said.

Hoffman agrees.

"By voting in three incumbents and Bobby, people have shown that Santa Monica is going in the right direction," Hoffman said. "I think that as much as everybody, the press and the Chamber of Commerce, might like to think that nobody likes what is happening in Santa Monica, I think that people are generally pleased to live here."

If it s unclear what Shriver’s role on the council will be, his victory Tuesday has spurred speculation that SMRR Council member Pam O’Connor, who is considered a moderate, could be the swing vote when the SMRR and business-backed council members split.

“I think that on a lot of issues, Pam will be a swing vote,” Holbrook said.

“I think she’ll sway away from SMRR on anything she believes in,” Katz said. “Even I fall with SMRR once in a while. They're not all wrong.”

O’Connor said she could not predict whether Shriver taking a SMRR seat would put her in a swing position more often.

“We have one new person in the mix,” O’Connor said. “I don’t know where he is on the liberal to conservative continuum on the issues, and that, time will tell.

“I predict going forward it will be similar to the present council in which it will be a lot of four to three votes, and some you know who the four are and some you don’t,” she said.

There is one issue on which Shriver’s victory will likely have an impact -- the election by the council of Santa Monica’s next mayor.

Had Shriver not run, fifth-place finisher Hoffman would likely have been elected.

“I think before Bobby came into the race,” Hoffman said, “I had a very good chance of winning, and once he came into the race it was clear almost immediately that he was going to come in, if not first, then highly seeded.”

Had Hoffman won, there is speculation that SMRR Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown would be the city’s new mayor.

"If Hoffman would have gotten on," Katz said, "Kevin would have been put up for mayor right off the bat and had four votes... I think it's more open now."

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