There’s been much debate about how to fill the late Ken Genser’s vacant City Council seat.

City Council will consider naming an interim appointee to fill Genser’s seat at their Feb. 23 meeting. City Hall’s Web site states, “Residents interested in being appointed to this vacancy may contact any council member(s) directly, or the City Clerk’s Office to convey his/her interest.” My advice: Don’t bother unless you’re already on a short list of political insiders.

For the record, the interim appointee will serve through November, 2010 then must run for election to complete Genser’s term expiring in 2012. However, if council decides to call a special election to fill Genser’s seat, there is a four-week candidate filing period and an 88-day election period, so the earliest a special election could be called to fill Genser’s seat is Tuesday, June 22. The good news is the victor would serve out Genser’s full term until November, 2012.

Coincidentally, the late Herb Katz’ council seat is occupied for the moment by Gleam Davis who was appointed by council last year. Davis must run for election this fall and win to keep the seat until the end of Katz’s 2012 term.

Many residents fear the majority of council members aligned with the powerful Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights will appoint “one of their own” like they did with Davis who (along with Patricia Hoffman) was SMRR co-chair at the time. Thus would allow SMRR to maintain its tight control on City Council and get a leg up on the fall election. A special election would be the democratic way to fill Genser’s seat and avoid back-room deal-making, observers say.

In a special election, as in regular elections, SMRR will campaign hard for its candidate(s). It’s virtually impossible to beat the SMRR machine because the organization can always produce a large, loyal voter turnout. In any case, whether by appointment or special election, it’s all about power. The chance of a bright, new, independent face rushing in on a white horse to “save Santa Monica” is just wishful thinking.

On the short list of politically connected prospects is current SMRR chair and insider Patricia Hoffman. Unfortunately, at Genser’s recent memorial service, his close friend Kelly Olson mentioned that Ken hoped Hoffman would replace him if he couldn’t continue. Her appointment will raise howls about more SMRR cronyism and manipulation, so the aging Hoffman would be a poor choice.

Ted Winterer is also on the hot list. Ted ran for City Council in 2008 coming in fifth — just out of the money. Winterer is on the Planning Commission and active with the Ocean Park (neighborhood) Association.

Terry O’Day was a former planning commissioner who resigned last year to spend more time with his family. Now, he apparently has found even more time to devote to City Council. More than one person informed me that O’Day was table hopping and pumping flesh like a “politician on the stump” at the reception following Genser’s memorial.

O’Day was co-chair of Save Our City, the political committee that raised over $700,000 in mostly developer and real estate largess to defeat Measure T, also known as the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic in 2008. RIFT was the ballot measure that would have temporarily limited commercial development.

Robert Kronovet’s surprise victory in 2008 won the Republican/Pico landlord and businessman a place on the Rent Control Board — the first time in recent memory a non-SMRR member has sat on the board. It’s not likely the SMRR council majority would appoint him, however in a special election, Kronovet could amass the backing needed to run a tough, nasty race.

The controversial and feisty Oscar de la Torre has publicly expressed interest and told the news media he will give up his school board seat and run for City Council in November whether appointed or not.

This fall, a large crowd of council hopefuls will run for Genser’s and Katz’ seats and three “at large” seats currently occupied by Robert Holbrook, Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor, whose terms expire in November.

Don’t fool yourself, the debate on replacing Genser will be a lively one. Whether an appointee or election victor, our new council person will be a “power” insider with “big-buck” backing from either SMRR and/or opposition business/developer/hotel and landlord interests.

What’s in the future for the rest of us? Nothing much will change whoever is seated. We’ll see more development especially in mid-city. But don’t fret, developers promise their large projects aren’t going to create more traffic, probably less. Yeah, right. More resources will be devoted to “green” projects. Congested street and parking infrastructure will be usurped for bicycle lanes and mass transit.

Expect more taxes and higher fees especially for basic city services as City Hall realizes revenues are out of balance with income. And, we’ll all continue to be screwed over.

There’s still time left. Bauer can be drafted at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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