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Council Race Could Test SMRR's Clout

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By Jorge Casuso

September 13, 2022 -- This year's City Council election could be a major test of the political clout Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) has wielded for four decades.

Questions that were raised when two of the three Council incumbents backed by the group were swept out of office in 2020 have resurfaced after a record-low turnout at Sunday's SMRR convention.

Sunday's low turnout helped the local hotel workers union, whose caucus accounted for a fifth of the ballots cast, cement an endorsement for its chosen candidates -- Caroline Torosis, Ellis Raskin and Jesse Zwick ("Hotel Unon Flexes Muscle at SMMR Convention," September 12, 2022).

UNITE HERE Local 11's win could help it regain the influence the union lost in 2020 and, in turn, boost SMRR's prospects of avoiding another defeat in the race for three open Council seats November 8.

The union has vowed to mobilize "everyone, everywhere" as part of a canvassing effort that has helped boost the prospects of local candidates for more than two decades.

SMRR's role, however, is less clear. In the past, the group's candidates were backed by hefty war chests and armies of canvassers before the coronavirus emergency erased that advantage two years ago.

Former Mayor Denny Zane, a SMRR founder and its current co-chair, acknowledged the turnout Sunday was a record low for a group that had drawn as many as 500 members to conventions during hotly contested election years.

Still, Zane said he was pleased with the turnout, given the soaring humidity on Sunday and a senior base that also stayed away due to COVID fears.

"After 40 years," he said, "getting one hundred is pretty good."

Zane expects the group "will have more canvassing" than in 2020, when SMRR's door-to-door efforts were suspended, but they will likely not match previous campaigns.

Neither will its fundraising. As of June 30, the end of the latest campaign finance filing period, SMRR had an ending cash balance of $33,681, according to disclosure statements filed by the group.

That's more than the $24,042 it had raised at the same point in 2020, when it raised what is likely a record low $75,362 after its fundraising efforts were hamstrung by the economic shutdown.

Zane estimates that this year SMRR will raise a total of between $75,000 and $100,000.

That would represent a dramatic drop from the annual average of $131,796 it raised in the five election years between 2010 and 2018.

SMRR's current war chest is already dwarfed by the $133,591 the Firefighters union had raised by June 30, or the $108,061 raised by the police union.

In addition, SMRR-backed candidates may not receive the usual backing of other major political groups. So far, Torosis is the only SMRR candidate endorsed by the three groups other than the hotel workers union that have made endorsements.

Zane believes that in the end, SMRR's established brand will help turn out voters who trust the groups recommendations.

"People have known us for so long and trust us, so we're part of the family," Zane said. "We don't need as much money as other people do."

SMRR, he said, "is still a force to be reckoned with after all these years."

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