Despite the fact that I applied for the vacant City Council seat appointed last Tuesday, I didn’t expect to get it. But I didn’t expect it to be a scam either. Following the appointment of Gleam Davis, there is hardly any mention of the farce. Here’s what happened from an applicant’s point of view.
Six council members had the task of appointing a new member to fill Herb Katz’ seat, a veteran of the council who passed away in January. All registered residents were invited to apply, but without a majority vote, a special election would be called. I tried not to be cynical, that it was just some pro forma gesture. Instead, I imagined all the amazing go-getter types, especially the Santa Monica moms who constantly network, brainstorm and effectively manage 10 things at once. I started talking to la crème de la crémé and encouraged them to go for it. But I usually got the same response. The appointment is a done deal. The council runs like the Mafia. All they want is a Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) majority .
It was the process that intrigued me most. I knew I wouldn’t be appointed, but I was inspired by Obama’s call to service. I had my own agenda for proposing some projects to the council down the road, but I was curious how the council would handle this “open” invitation. I wanted to look into the heart of the council. If the intent were to convey an open mind, surely they’d put themselves more at risk for exposing the contrary. They could have easily posted expectations or criteria for consideration: must be known to a majority of the council members, must have proven political experience and must have demonstrated community support from residents. Easy to follow bold print would have made sense, and most of all, it would result in a manageable applicant pool, maybe five or six, allowing for personal interviews and intelligent screening.
Bobby Shriver, who appears to still be taking his integrity vitamins, convincingly spewed passion and appreciation for the election process. He described his own invaluable experience: campaigning door to door, the rewards of winning, owning that win, and having to be accountable. It made sense. Everyone in the room believes in democracy. But when he motioned for a special election, Richard Bloom struck it down.
Whispers filled the room. Ted Winterer, a Parks and Recreation commissioner, all-round good guy, who did mighty fine as a newcomer on the November ballot with over 12,000 votes, came in fifth to the four re-elected incumbents. He was the obvious people’s choice.
Winterer was also the SMRR enemy, the co-author of the Prop. T citizen’s initiative to put a cap on development. Squelched by an SMRR-backed “No on T” campaign with major money from big time developers, the proposition lost by only 11percent.
The voting began. After the first round, Winterer received three votes, with two going to Patricia Hoffman and one for Gleam Davis. All three contenders had been on the City Council ballot, Winterer in 2008, Davis in 2006 and Hoffman in 2004. A half-dozen more rounds came up short of a majority. Then, former Mayor Nat Trives, not even registered in the applicant pool, was nominated by another former mayor, Holbrook. But never mind that. The clerk didn’t notice either. Bloom and Pam O’Connor practically held up SMRR banners.
The room reeked of a sham. I began to feel badly for some of the new applicants who may have believed they were actually being considered. I noticed one well-groomed woman with a fresh hairdo wearing a tiny sparkling pin on her blazer, and another gentleman reviewing his notes, sweating slightly under his new Lands’ End sweater that neatly revealed the Brooks Brothers’ collar of his buttoned-down shirt. Many were sincere in their efforts and actually had faith that they would be considered. Sad really. That’s the core issue here. It’s about the mock open invitation.
Even though it was entertaining, but really quite terrible, the council finally resumed with the task at hand until the deal was sealed for Gleam Davis, co-chair of SMRR! She fit the unpublished criteria: well-known to council members, politically experienced, and recognized by the Santa Monica community. After the oath taking, the council members resumed business, remarkably uninspired, as if they had welcomed back a friend after the weekend.
Although drama trickles through the roots of the City Council (collectively serving 75 years), eventually the mud will dry up. And sooner than later, one, maybe two, or hopefully, three or four of the current council members will recognize that change is not a bad thing. It happens from the bottom up so let’s encourage new blood and maybe even a voice from the 30-something or 40-year-old set.
Case closed until 2010.
Dinah Minot is a documentary filmmaker and recent City Council applicant.