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Council Race Hits Home Stretch

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

November 6 -- Like scores of campaigners blanketing Santa Monica streets the weekend before Tuesday’s election, Micheal Bonitatis had a message to deliver to local voters. But his was different. It could be played in slow motion.

Burned on thousands of DVDs, the message opposing Council member Kevin McKeown was delivered this weekend by scores of canvassers working for Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities (SMSP), which spent $20,000 on the unprecedented last-ditch effort to oust the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) incumbent.

The spots, also being beamed to local cable subscribers on stations ranging from CNN to ESPN, are bankrolled by the owners of two beachfront hotels who have so far pumped more than $500,000 to oust McKeown and elect Mayor Bob Holbrook and Planning Commissioner Terry O’Day. (see story)

Clad in dark blue shirts emblazoned with SMSP’s moniker, Bonitatis -- a young, energetic free-lance 3-D animator -- reached into a bag full of discs and handed them out to everyone he encountered, including one woman who said she was voting the “SMRR slate all the way.”

“Please take a look at this DVD, it might really be informative,” Bonatitis said. “It’s about homelessness.”

SMSP’s campaign troops were countered on the streets Saturday by SMRR canvassers who knocked on doors and handed out literature touting the tenant group’s slate -- composed of McKeown, incumbent Pam O’Connor and challenger Gleam Davis -- in an effort to hold on to a one-member majority on the council.

“They’re trying to buy the election by whatever means possible,” said Michael Tarbot, a long-time SMRR organizer. “We’re doing what we always do,” he said, noting that SMRR has held a majority on the council despite being outspent in recent elections by groups backed by the local hotels.

SMSP has come under fire for a hard-hitting campaign that uses television, as well as mailers, to attack McKeown’s opposition to laws that crack down on programs that hand out free meals to the homeless and bar them from sleeping on the bluffs beneath Palisades Park. The ads also target McKeown’s his failure to support a measure to install security cameras on the pier and Third Street Promenade.

McKoewn and SMRR have been able to fight back by disclosing that Tim McAlevey, a resident who appears in one of the three cable television spots, is a McKeown supporter who was paid $200. The disclosure was the subject on local press stories and a column in the Los Angeles Times.

But Bonitati -- a six-year resident of Santa Monica who admits he does not know much about local politics -- said he feels the controversial means justify the ends.

“I think controversy is what causes evolution in life, and I think it’s the most important thing for change,” he said. “Controversy equals change, and that’s positive.”

SMRR and SMSP foot soldiers weren’t the only ones combing Santa Monica streets this weekend. The candidates and their supporters also were knocking on doors and trying to sway voters in what promises to be a hotly contested race for three open council seats.

O’Day -- a planning commissioner and executive director of Environment Now making his first election run -- was busy this weekend, but not doing any election work.

“Terry’s wife is having their baby today,” said Greg Matusak, a seasoned campaign organizer and O’Day’s cousin. “I came all the way from Ohio.”

In a scene played out across the City, Matusak and Judy Schwartz-Behar went door to door dropping off literature in support of O’Day and talking with people they met along the way.

It is part and parcel of a larger effort to get out the vote as time ticks down, Matusak said.

While Matusak and other O’Day volunteers were walking the leafy, upscale streets north of Montana Avenue, their focus as Election Day neared was in O’Day’s neighborhood, he said.

“We’re mostly concentrating our efforts in the Pico Neighborhood today,” Matusak said, referring to the area on the south side of the city as O’Day’s “base of support.”

If O’Day wins Tuesday, he would become the first elected official from the city’s poorest and most diverse neighborhood.

Another first-time candidate, Gleam Davis was also out walking the streets north of Montana, her home turf.

“I’ve been out walking most of the day,” she said.

With a smile, Davis greeted several residents, asking if they had particular issues they were concerned about and handing out campaign literature stating her positions.

While she and O’Connor have escaped SMSP’s negative ads, Davis said she feels it has weighed heavy in this election.

SMSP, she said, “has had a very strong late push, and I suspect that means they feel they haven’t accomplished their task.

“I’m not concerned that they are expressing an opinion, I’m just sorry that it has been so negative,” she said.

While SMSP is hammering on the issues of homelessness and traffic, Davis is echoing a theme that resonates with many SMRR supporters, she said.

“People are very concerned about over-development,” Davis said. “It needs to be well-managed.”

With just one day left before voters go to the polls, Santa Monicans can expect more phone calls, literature and door knocks encouraging people to get out and vote for their candidate.






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