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SMRR Convention Could Be Fractious

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 2 -- A few days before Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) picks a City Council slate it hopes will retain control of City government, there are fissures forming in the powerful tenant groups’ ranks.

Although three unopposed candidates are seeking what should be uncontested endorsements for three open council seats, factions are lining up to assure, and in some cases prevent, the prospective candidates from winning the necessary 55 percent of the vote at Sunday’s convention.

“We all know that there is definitely politicking going on,” said longtime SMRR steering committee member, Patricia Hoffman, who identified nearly five groups, some with overlapping members, expected to show up at the convention.

It is expected that all three contenders -- incumbents Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor, and education activist Gleam Davis -- will win the group’s backing, which translates into campaign cash and a politically savvy get-out-the-vote operation.

But in a race that jeopardizes SMRR’s control of City Hall for the first time in more than a decade, unity may be hard to find, especially among the two incumbents who may be less than enthusiastic about running on the same slate.

And the cracks are already showing.

On Monday, McKeown, who is seeking his third term on the seven-member council, endorsed Davis, but did not back his SMRR colleague on the dais.

“Gleam Davis has impressed me as a clear thinker, with a good heart and a commitment to Santa Monica’s future and quality of life,” McKeown said in a statement issued Monday.

Some SMRR insiders anticipate a movement to back McKeown and Davis, while omitting O’Connor, will materialize at the convention.

Asked why he offered only one endorsement, McKeown said he was “not opposing anyone,” and that he “strongly supported Gleam Davis.”

Whatever the outcome Sunday, McKeown expects the SMRR slate will “run as a team on a unity platform” and feels “more than comfortable” running on the SMRR slate with the either or both candidates.

“I’ve tried to handle this in a statesperson manner and all,” McKeown said. “I prefer to continue to allow my actions to speak for themselves.”

Both McKeown and O’Connor have a long history of tense relations that inadvertently became public several years ago when O’Connor let slip an expletive at a City Council meeting when she thought the microphone was off.

As for O’Connor, she said she is not going to worry about what McKeowns’ sole endorsement means.

“Unlike some people who might have the time to do this high-school behind the scenes politicking, I am busy running a campaign,” she said. “I’m not going to spend my time whining and speculating what will happen at the convention.

“If a group or individual does not endorse you, you move on,” she said.

The organization behind Davis’ bid -- the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), of which she is a member – also had had disagreements with O’Connor.

O’Connor referred to CEPS as “schoolyard bullies” when the group forced the City’s hand two years ago into carving out at least six million dollars annually for the local district. (see story)

O’Connor said she felt CEPS members were pushing the City into adopting the measure or placing it before City voters without guaranteeing oversight of how the City funds would be used. Regardless of her strong statements, O’Connor ultimately cast a deciding vote for the agreement.

“We had a different opinion on (the CEPS initiative), and we got it out in the public,” said O’Connor. “It’s not about personalities, it’s about issues.”

Davis -- who is endorsing both McKeown and O’Connor for the SMRR slate -- said she “doesn’t know anything about the tension” between the incumbents and is far from holding a grudge over the vote two years ago.

“Don’t forget Pam voted the right way,” she said. “Besides, I’m looking forward, not looking back… You can’t have thin skin in politics.”

As each candidate steps up the rhetoric, SMRR factions are maneuvering behind the scenes to position their candidates for endorsements not only for City Council, but for hotly contested School Board and College Board races as well, according to several SMRR insiders.

Among the key players are the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), along with School Board Member Oscar de la Torre; CEPS; Santa Monica College faculty members; SMRR’s long-time rank and file and Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism, which backs the hotel unions.

At least one new group -- the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City -- is all expected to make its debut at the convention. (see story)

Former council member, Michael Feinstein, who failed to win the SMRR endorsement two years ago, thinks the “horse trading” style of politics may be a symptom of a larger problem.

“The current process promotes deal making where the highest priority is the endorsement,” said Feinstein, who lost his seat on the council two years ago. “There’s nothing wrong with coalition building… but when you put a premium on deal making instead of issues, it emphasizes the wrong side of politics.”

SMRR’s annual convention will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. at Olympic High School, 721 Ocean Park Boulevard.

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