Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, the city’s most influential political organization, failed to endorse candidates for City Council at their annual convention on Aug. 3.
The surprising result leaves the field wide open with several candidates still in the running. SMRR did settle on endorsements for School Board, Rent Control Board and the Santa Monica College Board.
Todd Flora, Nicole Phillis and Steve Duron were endorsed for Rent Control Board. Organizers said the three were the only candidates to seek the SMRR endorsement and participate in the interview/convention process. Patrick Regan and Anastasia Roark have also pulled papers to run but have not yet qualified for the election.
Oscar de la Torre, Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Laurie Lieberman, Ralph Mechur were endorsed for School Board. De la Torre, Lieberman and Mechur are all incumbents. Tahvildaran-Jesswein has been a member of SMRR for several years and recently resigned from SMRR’s steering committee to make a run for office. Patricia Finer, Craig Foster, Melanie Luthern, Dhun May and Jack Wachtel have all pulled papers to run for school board.
Nancy Greenstein and Barry Snell were endorsed for College Board. The two were the first official endorsements announced at the convention. Also pulling papers for a College Board seat are Dennis Frisch, Louise Jaffe, Andrew Walzer and Maria L. Loya.
While SMRR failed to endorse for city council, there was a show of support for some candidates over others. In the convention process, members have three rounds to vote on their chosen candidate. Individuals who receive less than 20 percent of the vote are eliminated while individuals that receive 55 percent receive an endorsement. Candidates Mike Feinstein, Pam O’Connor, Phil Brock and Ken Robin were eliminated in the first round with Robin announcing he would withdraw from the race and support Brock.
The remaining candidates participating in the SMRR process, Sue Himmelrich, Kevin McKeown, Richard McKinnon, Jennifer Kennedy, and Frank Gruber, all has varying levels of support but were unable to clinch an endorsement.
Additional candidates have pulled papers to run for office but did not participate in the SMRR process.
Prior to the convention, SMRR officials had decried the presence of specific voting blocks coming to the convention with specific agendas. SMRR co-Chair Patricia Hoffman said the competing special interests were part of the reason no endorsements were made.
“We’ve never had so many different groups try to take us over and they seem to have canceled each other out,” she said.
SMRR’s steering committee has the option to pick endorsements and the group has done so in the past, but rarely for all open seats.
“At some point later this week, the steering committee will meet and figure out what we want to do,” she said.
Robin said the room felt like 500 people with individual agendas and that an endorsement by a small committee would lack a mandate.
“The room was loaded with people supporting specific contingencies and that’s why it ended up like that,” he said. “The endorsements have nothing to do with the community at large.”
He said he made a decision to withdraw because he felt he couldn’t win but that he would draw enough votes to potentially thwart a political ally. He said Phil Brock was the candidate he felt most comfortable supporting.
“(SMRR’s) core message, their core reason for being in existence has been deviated from and the current council and the people that were running on the list in that meeting were all involved in various deviations from the core preambles of SM renters rights,” he said. “The debate at the time in the 70’s was not about most of what most of the people on that list address. So the only person other than myself that’s pretty much true to that message from the 70’s was Phil Brock.”
Brock previously said he expected to be eliminated in the first round and while he attended the convention, he wasn’t surprised at the result.
The candidates who did receive an endorsement were grateful.
“I want to thank the SMRR members who voted today to support my re-election campaign to the school board,” said De la Torre.
While his wife Maria L. Loya, was unable to secure an endorsement for College Board, De la Torre said the results showed a lot of support for her.
“We came really close to endorsing Maria Loya for the SMC Board of Trustees,” he said. “She was the top vote getter in the second round and received more votes than two of the incumbents.”
The SMRR endorsement is highly coveted by candidates for local office due to the organizations historical ability to pick winners. Reaching voters in Santa Monica is expensive and time consuming for candidates. SMRR has traditionally leveraged it’s members to help candidates reach voters in their residences, something non-SMRR candidates have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do. The organization has also had fruitful partnerships with other political organizations, such as local unions, further increasing the power of a SMRR endorsement.
Hoffman said the organization will probably have a discussion about future convention policies but that it will be up to the 11-person steering committee to make decisions this year. At least three members – Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Denny Zane, who’s serving as a campaign manager, and Maria Loya, who is running for the Santa Monica College Board – are expected to recuse themselves. Genise Schnitman, who is married to incumbent Councilmember Kevin McKeown, may also recuse herself.
Hoffman said, the Steering Committee should have enough members present and able to vote to make an endorsement if need be.
The SMRR convention followed the release of survey results conducted by the political group Residocracy at their forum. According to the results, Residocracy members said Kevin McKeown, Phil Brock and Richard McKinnon where the three candidates whose views seemed closet to those of members. Sue Himmelrich came in a close fourth.
McKeown, Brock and McKinnon were also listed as the candidates who had the best solutions for solving the City’s problems.
The results provided a graphical representation of member support but did not include any specific numbers. Residocracy has said their executive committee will make endorsements at some point in the future.