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SMRR, Dem Club Poised to Make Early Endorsements


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By Jorge Casuso

June 19, 2024 -- Santa Monica's two most influential political groups are hoping to avoid a divided slate at their upcoming conventions that dashed their efforts to regain a council majority two years ago.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and the local Democratic Club -- which will hold their nominating conventions historically early -- will make endorsements in the November 5 race for four open Council seats on Saturday and Wednesday respectively.

Santa Monica's political establishment must win three seats to regain the Council majority it held for most of the past four decades before losing it to Change candidates swept into office during a voter revolt in 2020.

But with the emergence of five strong candidates, the two groups can ill-afford a repeat of 2022, when for the first time the Democratic Club broke with the tradition and placed a different candidate than SMRR on its three-member slate.

"Two years ago it lost us the extra seat and the Council majority," said Patricia Hoffman, a member of the leadership committee for both groups ("Dem Club Membership Breaks with Tradition in 'Surprising Upset,'" September 30, 2022).

The SMRR Steering Committee has not recommended candidates to the group's membership, which will vote at noon Saturday at John Adams Middle School (JAMS).

"The steering committee feels any four of the five are all winners," said former mayor Denny Zane, who co-chairs the committee. "You can feel comfortable voting for anybody."

On the other hand, the Democratic Club's Executive Committee has recommended four candidates to its members when they vote four days later.

"Both organizations are trying to work together," said Jon Katz, the Club's president. "We hope to avoid what happened when we were split.

"If SMRR endorses a different combination, that certainly weighs on the membership, but the (Executive Committee's) recommendations won't be re-voted," Katz said.

This year, Club leaders are recommending Santa Monica College Trustee Barry Snell; Planning Commission Chair Ellis Raskin, and Natalya Zernitskaya, who served on the City's Audit Subcommittee.

It also is recommending Pier Corporation Board member Dan Hall, one of the club's most visible members, who announced his candidacy in mid-March.

Also seeking the endorsement of both organizations is Rent Control Chair Ericka Lesley, a vocal advocate of tenants rights who could do well at the SMRR convention.

Two years ago, Raskin, who is a member of SMRR's Steering Committee, won the group's endorsement, while the Dem Club broke ranks and backed Zernitskaya, who is a member of the Club's Executive Committee.

The two candidates split the liberal establishment vote, paving the way for the re-election of Councilmember Lana Negrete, who is aligned with the Change faction on the Council.

The two candidates backed by both groups -- Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick -- finished some 4,500 votes ahead of Negrete, who kept Zernitskaya at bay by fewer than 800 votes.

Of the four incumbents up for re-election this November, Councilmember Gleam Davis, who has been backed by SMRR and the Dem Club, announced she will not seek reelection.

Of the three Change incumbents whose terms expire this year, only Oscar de la Torre has indicated he will run. Mayor Phil Brock and Councilmember Christine Parra said they have not yet made a decision.

While SMRR and Dem Club leaders are confident they will field a winning slate, they remain wary the groups could once again divide the vote.

"We went all out" to campaign in 2022 "and you saw what happened," Katz said. "It was only a couple of hundred vote difference.

"It was a shame SMRR and the Dem Club didn't endorse the same slate," he said. "We hope this year it works out that we're on the same team."

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