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Dem Club Membership Breaks with Tradition in 'Surprising Upset'

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By Jorge Casuso

September 30, 2022 -- In a highly unusual move, Santa Monica's three most liberal groups are not in lockstep with their City Council endorsements, risking a takeover by a "conservative" majority.

Democratic Club members on Wednesday broke with longstanding tradition by choosing former League of Women Voters president Natalya Zernitskaya, instead of Planning Commissioner Ellis Raskin.

In "a surprising upset," the group's membership went against the Executive Board’s recommendation, handing Zernitskaya "a decisive majority on round two of voting," the group said in a statement Thursday.

The Democratic Club, however, joined the hotel workers union and Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) by endorsing public policy advisor Jesse Zwick and Rent Board Commissioner Caroline Torosis in the November 8 race for three Council seats ("Hotel Union Flexes Muscle at SMRR Convention," September 12, 2022).

“Although there are several great candidates, we feel this slate best represents the overwhelmingly Democratic base of Santa Monica voters and have the strongest campaigns to win," Club President Jon Katz said.

"We strongly urge all Democrats to unify behind all three of these progressive candidates in order to prevent a potential conservative majority on Council from taking power in Santa Monica.”

The Club's endorsement threatens to divide Santa Monica's most liberal Democrat voting block, paving the way for Council member Lana Negrete and slow-growth activist Armen Melkonians to gain two of the open seats.

Negrete was the target last week of a hard-hitting mailer from UNITE HERE Local 11, after the hotel workers union failed to lobby her to vote against the expansion of the Shore Hotel ("Negrete Target of First Election Hit Piece," September 23, 2022).

The Councilmember's critics fear that if Negrete holds on to the Council seat she was appointed to in June 2021, she will increasingly side with with the "Change" slate that won an unprecedented three seats in 2020.

A victory by both Negrete and Melkonians, the founder of the online grassroots group Residocracy, could give the change slate a five-vote super-majority after Mayor Sue Himmelrich and Councilmember Kristin McCowan decised not to seek re-election.

The 'Change' slate composed of Councilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra won in a historic upset two years ago by promising to slow development and crack down on crime.

This week, the slow-growth group SMa.r.t (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) endorsed Negrete and Melkonians in the race for three Council seats.

The group said in a column in the Mirror Friday that both candidates "have the history, expertise and generosity of spirit and commitment to guide the city during the challenging times that lay ahead."

In other endorsements Wednesday, the Democratic Club voted to back School Board incumbents Laurie Lieberman and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and challengers Alicia Mignano and Stacy Rouse in the race for four open seats.

In choosing Rouse, a Malibu residents, the Club broke with both SMRR and CEPS (Community fort Excellent public Schools), which only endorsed the other three candidates.

The group also endorsed Measure GS, Mayor Himmelrich's $56 per $1,000 transfer tax hike for properties that sell for $8 million or more to fund affordable housing, homelessness prevention and public schools.

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