The Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights annual convention Aug. 1 was a hoot and a half.

SMRR members voted to endorse candidates for City Council, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education, Santa Monica College Board of Trustees and the Rent Control Board. With nearly 70 percent of Santa Monica’s voters being renters, SMRR’s blessing is a big head start toward victory in November.

The convention is usually routine. Incumbents and candidates with a history in SMRR almost always get the party nod. Loyal party workers moving up the political ladder who’ve paid dues on Planning Commission or other city boards also receive prime consideration from SMRR and usually do well when seeking elected office.

Recently, newcomer candidates trying to snare SMRR’s endorsement signed up friends, family and associates — all to show up and vote for them. This year, a good number of the 234 members who voted were recent joiners on hand to champion favorite candidates.

Supporters for Ted Winterer and incumbent Kevin McKeown (running for four-year council seats) also included “newbies” from the various neighborhood groups as well as from the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City.

Terry O’Day brought in a contingent of supporters to promote his bid for a two-year council seat. A number of school boosters joined specifically to support school activist Laurie Lieberman running for school board and Gleam Davis running for the other two-year council term. All the above candidates easily won SMRR endorsements on the first ballot.

Candidates without big “fan clubs” fared poorly. School board incumbents Oscar de la Torre and Ralph Mechur — both previously endorsed by SMRR — and newcomer Nimish Patel fell short of endorsements at the convention.

The biggest upset of the day concerned incumbent Pam O’Connor who is seeking her fifth term on council. Although she was enthusiastically supported by traditional SMRR leaders, she failed to secure enough votes for endorsement after two rounds of voting. Members then voted not to hold a third and final round of balloting. It was quite a rebuke.

In her brief remarks before the balloting began, O’Connor reminded members that she’d consistently supported the schools. However many school supporters remember her calling them school yard bullies a few years ago when they proposed that City Hall voluntarily subsidize the district or face a ballot measure they’d float that would permanently mandate city financial support to the district.

Slow growth advocates were increasingly annoyed by O’Connor’s coziness with developers. Her kick-off campaign fundraiser last September was sponsored by Shutters and Casa del Mar hotels and hotel/business lobbyist Kim Karie. Ironically, many of O’Connor’s contributors were the same business and real estate interests behind the anti “living wage" battles of the 1990s and that have for decades tried to wrest political power from SMRR.

Pico Neighborhood residents blame O’Connor, who sits on both the Expo Construction Authority Board of Directors and the Metro (transit) board, for not doing more to move a proposed Expo rail maintenance yard out of their neighborhood.

O’Connor has also consistently voted against landmark status for rent-controlled apartment buildings and for their redevelopment costing us both our history and the city’s inventory of older and more affordable rental housing.

SMRR is governed by a secretive, 12 voting member steering committee comprised of mostly long-term SMRR party workers and ex-politicians. Behind the scenes influences include former mayor and councilman and former SMRR co-chair Denny Zane, who as executive director of the transit advocacy group “Move LA,” has close ties to O’Connor. This cabal runs SMRR and dominates college, school and City Hall governance.

After the convention, the steering committee can vote to “support” and add any candidate who fell short of endorsement. This means the “supported” candidate appears on SMRR campaign literature along with candidates legitimately endorsed by SMRR’s membership. It’s a blatant example of cronyism and how SMRR maintains its almost exclusive domination over Santa Monica’s political scene. “Supported” or “endorsed” — it’s a distinction most voters won’t recognize and it’s patently misleading.

SMRR’s power hungry oligarchy bristled about not getting their own way this year and complained about newcomers who aren’t renters and who “don’t share SMRR’s core values.” The steering committee’s actions mock democracy and blow credibility out the window.

It’s time for SMRR to change its by-laws and prohibit this post-convention, back-room meddling. Fat chance of that really happening.

A few more cents about proposed tax increase<p>

City Manager Rod Gould asked me to clarify a point concerning City Hall’s consultant HDL Companies that had studied 37 of the 79 California cities which had enacted "transaction and use tax” increases and found that they had no impact on taxable sales. I commented in last week’s column that in the remaining 42 cities, “there was an impact.” Gould added that because the remaining 42 cities had not been studied, the extent of impacts, if any, were undetermined.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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