By Jorge Casuso
October 10, 2022 -- The hotel workers union has escalated -- and expanded -- what is likely the hardest-hitting campaign to unseat a City Council incumbent in nearly three decades.
Unite HERE local 11 continued its attacks on Councilmember Lana Negrete this week and targeted candidate Armen Melkonians in a flier that attempts to tie the two registered Democrats to extremist Republicans.
"Our Democracy is under attack," the flier reads. "Republicans use corporate money to promote outrageous conspiracy theories, spread the fear of crime, and erode free speech.
"Incredibly, we see this behavior in some of those seeking to represent us in Santa Monica," reads the red back of the flier.
The front of the flier touts the union's slate of "real Democrats" with their names in blue.
The hit piece comes two weeks after the union fired the first attack of the 2022 Election season with a mailer targeting Negrete ("Negrete Target of First Election Hit Piece," September 23, 2022).
Negrete, who was appointed to the Council in June 2021, is viewed as a major obstacle to the hotel union's efforts to regain their influence over the Council.
The election of Melkonians would further erode the clout Unite HERE Local 11 lost when the Change slate won three seats in a voter revolt in 2020.
"They're losing their position on the Council, and they're resorting to complete lies," Melkonians said. "I've been a registered Democrat my whole life.
"It's a hotel union," he said. "They want a hotel on every street corner of Santa Monica. I'm opposed to that. They know it, and they're attacking me."
The union's mailer charged that Negrete -- the only rent control tenant on the Council -- had "put rent control at risk" by floating a proposal to restructure rent increases.
Negrete's proposal, the union contends, "would have increased rents for half of all renters and exposed rent control to great legal risk."
The proposal, which failed to win the necessary support, was intended to spare lower income tenants a rent increase while imposing the Rent Board's mandated increase on higher income tenants ("Last Minute Rent Proposal Triggers Political Firestorm," July 29, 2022).
"I grew up in a rent control building, my father is aging in a rent control building, I live in a rent control building," Negrete said. "Why would I want to kill rent control?"
The latest flier also renews the union's attack on Negrete for voting to approve new uses at the Shore Hotel, which has been embroiled for years in a bitter unionizing battle ("Council Breaks With Union, Backs Hotel's Proposal," December 9, 2021).
The union has joined forces with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) to unseat Negrete and block Melkonians from winning a seat.
Both groups have been walking precincts, mailing fliers and texting messages in an effort to sway Santa Monica voters.
The union spent $57,230 on the first mailer opposing Negrete, and more than $30,000 backing Caroline Torosis, Ellis Raskin and Jesse Zwick, the slate of candidates it shares with SMRR.
The union's latest mailer comes as absentee ballots are scheduled to arrive in voters' mailboxes on Tuesday.
Negrete and Melkonians have the backing of the police and firefighters unions, whose war chests total nearly $250,000.
The hotel union's campaign against Negrete is the hardest-hitting against a sitting Council member since the police union's successful effort to unseat Tony Vazquez in 1994.
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