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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 21, 2016 -- If Phil Brock decides to run for Santa Monica City Council as a write-in candidate, he would become just the fourth person to take on the difficult challenge since 1984.

The recently appointed arts commissioner and former longtime recreation parks commissioner, who made a nearly successful council bid two years ago with his name on the ballot, pulled papers earlier this week to begin the rare pursuit (“Brock Launches Write-in Campaign for Santa Monica City Council,” October 19, 2016).

As of Thursday Brock had not decided if he would actually run. He has until Wednesday to make the decision official.

Write-in victories in any election are rare, with there being only a handful of modern successful examples nationwide. These cases usually have special circumstances that made the victory possible.

The most significant recent write-in victory was probably Republican Lisa Murkowski’s re-election to the U.S. Senate for Alaska.

She had lost her party’s primary to a Tea Party activist, but bested the challenger several months later in a seven-person general election field.

Of the three modern Santa Monica council write-in hopefuls, only one mounted a serious challenge. That was Dolores Press in 1984, and like Murkowski she was also an incumbent.

Press was part of the 4-3 council majority backed by the then-young organization Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR).

All four SMRR leaders faced re-election in the first council contest taking place in November of an even year. Previous council elections had taken place in April of odd years

But Press’ bid hit a huge bump in August when she was disqualified because her nomination papers had three fewer valid signatures than the 100 needed.

Three people had signed twice and others were not registered at the addresses they listed, according to a Los Angeles Times article from that year.

Allies were upset, publicly scolding Press for only collecting 110 signatures, which left little room for error.

“Dropping out is not an option,” Press told The Times. “I still very much want to be re-elected.”

An attempt to win her place on the ballot through the court system was not successful, and Press was left with a write-in bid as her only option.

She announced her new plan on the steps of City Hall in early October, according to The Times.

Joining Press for the announcement were supporters, including then-Mayor Ken Edwards, who also faced re-election. He said she would be part of the SMRR slate along with three others who were on the ballot.

“It’s certainly a challenge, but one that I don’t think is hopeless,” said Edwards, according to The Times. He added, “This campaign will be run as if she were on the ballot, and we’ll just go forward with that.”

Despite a massive amount of money for the time put into the campaign, the challenge of not being on the ballot proved too difficult to overcome.

Press placed seventh in the 10-candidate field with 12,652 votes--nearly 5,000 fewer than Herb Katz, who claimed the fourth seat and would become a political force in the City for years to come (“Katz Dies; Helped Shape Face of Santa Monica,” January 8, 2009).

Press’ SMRR allies -- Edwards, Denny Zane and the Rev. James Conn -- won the top three seats. But the election of Herb Katz, who would be re-elected four times, meant the end of SMRR’s council majority.

The renters’ rights group did not reclaim the upper hand on the council until 1988.

Two more write-in attempts to reach the council since 1984 were not anywhere near as strong as the one mounted by Press, who would later serve on the City's Rent Control Board.

Terence Later, a regular on the ballot including this year, ran as a write-in in 2008. He placed last with 238 votes. Two years later, bar owner Jeff Decker gave it a try. He also finished last with 56 votes.

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