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Special Interests Are Major Players in Council Race

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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) received a $50,000 contribution from a real estate investor. The recipient was Santa Monicans for Residents Rights.

October 3, 2022 -- Special interest groups will have a major impact on the November 8 City Council race, with one union spending as much to target a single candidate as all eleven candidates have spent combined.

The hotel workers union has spent $56,815 opposing Councilmember Lana Negrete, nearly $22,000 more than she has raised, according to campaign finance disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk.

Unite HERE local 11 has also spent nearly $30,000 backing Rent Board Commissioner Caroline Torosis, Planning Commissioner Ellis Raskin and Public policy adviser Jesse Zwick, who have spent a combined total of $33,042.

Negrete, who was the target of a hit piece by the union, will have plenty of help during the final month of what promises to be a hotly contested race ("Negrete Target of First Election Hit Piece," September 23, 2022).

With the County elections office set to start mailing ballots this week, the two unions representing police officers and firefighters have been holding on to war chests that total $242,769.

The Firefighters union -- which backs Torosis, Negrete and slow-growth activist Armen Melkonians -- has a balance of $134,708, while the Police Officers Association (POA) has $108,061 on hand.

The police union is backing Negrete, Melkonians and Recreation and Parks Commissioner Albin Gielicz, instead of Torosis.

Santa Monicans for Change -- a slow-growth group that backs Negrete and Melkonians -- has raised $50,705 and has a balance of $38,276, nearly as much as both candidates have raised combined.

Political organizations that have traditionally been major players in local elections have fallen behind their usual fundraising pace.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), which raised an average of $131,796 in the five election years before the coronavirus shutdown in 2020 from hundreds of contributors, has raised $43,374 this year and has a balance of $37,245.

Meanwhile, Santa Monica Forward, which backed three incumbents that lost in 2020, has raised only $3,700 and has a balance of $3,590 to support Torosis, Zwick and former League of Women Voters president Natalya Zernitskaya.

CEPS (Community for Excellent Public Schools) has raised $27,301 and had an ending cash balance of $31,048, including money left over from the previous year.

A new group named Santa Monicans for Residents Rights has raised $55,000 thanks to a $50,000 contribution from Sergey N. Vershinn, a real estate investor and has $54,950 in hand. They have yet to spend money backing or opposing any candidates.

Of the eleven Council candidates, Torosis easily leads in fundraising with $65,160 in contributions, including a personal loan of $6,500. After expenditures, she has a balance of $52,684.

Zwick is second, having raised $47,884, and has a balance of $40,901, while Negrete, the only incumbent in the race, has raised $34,942 and has a balance of $21,598.

Zernitskaya has raised $31,069 and has a balance of $22,110, while Raskin has raised $18,738 and has $5,442 left in his war chest.

Troy Harris has raised $9,705, almost all of it from more than one hundred personal loans totalling $9,121, of which he has $584 left, while Gielicz has raised $8,375 and has a balance of $6,848.

Melkonians, the founder of the online group Residocracy, has raised $7,510, including a $2,500 personal loan, and has a balance of $4,962.

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