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McKeown Subject of Pre-campaign Battle

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 18 – When City Council member Kevin McKeown officially announced his reelection bid last week, his supporters and foes were already waging a heated campaign battle.

The two-term council member had been the target of two mailers sent by Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities, a group financed by hotel and business interests that played a key role in the council race two years ago.

And when many local voters picked up their phones last month, they heard former mayor Dennis Zane defending McKeown’s record and warning that a negative campaign targeting the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights council member was afoot.

But the former Green Party leader-turned Democrat is eschewing the attacks ridiculing his voting record, saying he “intends to run a positive” campaign in the race for three open council seats.

“It’s unfortunate, I think they are misrepresenting my voting record,” said McKeown, who is known as a staunch tenant advocate. “I also think voters lose because the political discourse becomes less transparent.”

McKeown issued a press release over the weekend boasting key endorsements by State Senator Sheila Kuehl and Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl and extolling his vision of Santa Monica.

“The privilege of serving my Santa Monica community as one of our seven Councilmembers is one I fully intend to earn again,” McKeown wrote in his statement. “My proven commitment is to listen hard and work even harder, providing leadership while making sure each and every Santa Monican is heard and empowered in our decisions.”

To win, McKeown said he is again seeking the backing of SMRR, the powerful tenants group whose grassroots fund raising and well-oiled political machine has helped it control City Hall for most of the past quarter century.

But with three open seats up for grabs and one vote shy of a majority, SMRR foes are expected to aim their considerable resources at a seat that could give them control of the council for the first time in more than a decade.

“It’s really about payback,” said Zane, a co-chair of SMRR who believes that the hospitality industry and developers are still sore at McKeown for his vocal support for a living wage, as well as other measures that favor residents over businesses.

“Kevin is not being targeted solely because he was pro-living wage, but also because he stands up for slow-growth, stronger neighborhood connections and renters’ rights,” Zane said.

In addition to those issues, McKeown said he will continue to work for environmental issues, solutions to homelessness and better education.

“Kevin has been consistently committed and effective on issues in Santa Monica regarding quality of life and social justice,” State Senator Sheila Keuhl said in an endorsement statement. “I live in Santa Monica, and I'm voting for Kevin."

Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl also lent McKeown words of support.

“I certainly embrace Kevin and his work on regional issues including homelessness,” Rosendahl was quoted in McKeown’s press release. “We are good progressive partners for the benefit of the whole Westside.”

The real test may come in the coming weeks.

On Monday, the first day candidates could pull papers with the City Clerk, 11 Santa Monicans signaled their intentions to run -- including incumbents Pam O’Connor, a SMRR member, and Bob Holbrook, who has led the SMRR opposition since the early 1990s.

With a field already crowded with potential candidates, capturing the SMRR endorsement at the group’s August 6 convention will be the next -- and many say the most important -- hurdle for McKeown to clear.

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