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Feinstein Blasts Election Practices, Proposes Solutions

By Phil Wayne
Staff Writer

November 23 -- Characterizing the recent City Council race as “vicious” and “mean-spirited,” City Councilman Michael Feinstein gave supporters a rare analysis of his election loss during a meeting last week at the local Green Party offices.

A seemingly upbeat Feinstein blamed misleading statements and false hit mailers, as well as a desire by local Democrats to eliminate a visible Green Party leader from the council, for his ninth-place finish in the race for four open seats.

During the nearly three-hour campaign analysis that included questions from the audience, Feinstein blasted Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the powerful tenants group that failed to endorse him, and the Community for Excellence in Public Schools (CEPS), an influential group of parents.

Both groups -- which attacked him in hit mailers and phone messages -- are linked to former Mayor Dennis Zane, who heads SMRR and sits on the CEPS committee. Zane also ran the successful campaign for a $135 million bond for Santa Monica College.

Zane, Feinstein said, “played a big role in the horse trading of votes this year at the SMRR convention. Denny Zane was a major player within the CEPS dynamic. And Denny Zane just got paid a large commission for running the Measure S campaign in the fall.

“So, you got somebody here who… had a real financial interest and a political interest… in the dominoes falling exactly in this way,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein charged that SMRR had been highjacked by special interests -- who bought blocks of $25 memberships to influence the endorsements at the group’s convention -- and was controlled by a three-member campaign committee that greenlighted hit pieces with virtually no input from the group’s 4,000 members.

SMRR did not endorse Feinstein, after supporting him in his previous two winning bids.

Feinstein also claimed that CEPS had mischaracterized his education record in a series of phone calls urging voters not to support him. The organization gave Feinstein a failing grade while handing out passing grades to all four members of both the SMRR and the Chamber of Commerce slates.

Feinstein argued that he had repeatedly supported extra funding for the School District, but abstained on a vote to direct staff “to prepare a contract” that would guarantee at least $6 million a year in City funds to local schools.

Feinstein argued that it was unwise to promise funds the City may not have, forcing cuts in vital municipal services. He added that he voted for the budget that contained the increased funding for schools.

Feinstein also blasted a last-hour attack piece financed by Samuel Kardashian, the owner of Southern California Disposal (SCD), a trash hauling company that is lobbying the City to privatize its transfer station and turn over its recycling and transfer business, a plan Feinstein opposes.

The mailer, which Feinstein’s campaign attorney called “scurrilous,” focused on a controversy surrounding a $10,000 donation to the Green Party the councilman placed into a bank account he controlled and used to pay the local party's expenses. The mailer accused Feinstein of violating state law, even though the District Attorney’s office declined to pursue charges.

Asked if he planned to take legal action, Feinstein responded, "I am currently looking into my options." He suggested that when campaign finance disclosure statements are filed with the City Clerk in January, “we’re going to find out some interesting things about who sent out the mailers.”

“It may be the case that Kardashian didn’t act alone,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein also claimed he “got hit because I was Green” and pointed to a general backlash against the Green Party, which many blame for former Vice President Al Gore’s loss in 2000.

“When we got to 2004, there was a strong desire on the part of …people who were (from the) County Democratic Central Committee (and) people who were from the Democratic Club here in Santa Monica, who just wanted to put an end to having a visible Green on the council,” Feinstein said.

A mailer that called attention to the fact that he is not a Democrat implicitly suggested that he might be a Republican, Feinstein said.

Saying he had deliberately chosen the high road, Feinstein said that honesty “got me elected in the first place and that’s what got me taken out.”

The hits that he took during the campaign, he said, “reinforced to me… how corrupt our local process had become.”

Feinstein offered a list of changes that he feels might provide more fairness, transparency and accuracy in future campaigns.

His suggestions included neighborhood-based community forums for candidates, more television time on the City’s cable channel and the addition of a second, City-funded mailing, containing statements from ballot-qualified candidates.

The mailing would appear much later in the election and would serve as a post-rhetoric follow-up to one that comes out in April.

Other suggestions included having a non-profit, independent agency -- perhaps similar to www.factcheck.org -- that would serve as a clearinghouse for examining and publicizing the veracity of campaign claims, especially those made in mailers.

Feinstein also called for publicly identifying those behind campaign endorsements and literature as well as for sharing “indie” videos of candidate forums. Lastly, he supported a system of “ranked voting,” which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

While admitting that these measures might not cure all that ails the election process, Feinstein suggested they might provide the “tools for residents to try and take control back of their election.”

He added that if these changes were adopted, they could be “part of the silver-lining” of the clouded 2004 election.

Looking back, Feinstein -- who will attend his final council meeting Tuesday night -- said, “I had eight great years. I had a fantastic run.”

As for his future plans, Feinstein joked, “I’m going to ruin my knees and park myself into a lotus position and do 17 years of hard meditation.”

Feinstein told supporters he planned to take a break from his nearly 15 straight years of activism and community service.

“I’m going to essentially not make any long-term commitments for six months,” he said.

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