CITY HALL — Santa Monica’s election season has had a blisteringly fast start with endorsement piling up long before the nomination period has ended.
Several individuals and organizations have issued public endorsements of candidates in the past few days and several candidates said the burst of activity is likely an attempt to influence the historically king-making endorsements of Santa Monican’s for Renters Rights.
Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City issued endorsements on July 14, the first day for candidates to pick up nomination paperwork. Incumbent councilman Keven McKeown is one of SMCLC’s endorsements and in announcing the filing of his candidate paperwork last week, McKeown issued his own endorsements. Other candidates are listing the support of local leaders, neighborhood groups and former politicians on their websites.
Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, a political science professor at Santa Monica College and a candidate for school board, said the timing of the City Council endorsements suggest a scramble to position candidates for bigger announcements in the near future.
“It’s clear they are trying to influence SMRR,” he said. “They’re not just trying to persuade and influence voters, they’re also trying to persuade and influence stakeholders in the community.”
“The most important endorsement for many years has been that of SMRR,” he said. “What you’re seeing this year is an attempt to influence that most important endorsement by getting out in front of it.”
McKeown said he hoped his support of Planning Commissioners Jennifer Kennedy and Sue Himmelrich would propel them into the public eye and help boost their campaigns.
“To me it’s really important this year in particular to elect trustworthy people who will continue to vote in residents interests once they are in office and I think that both sue and Jennifer are 100 percent trust worthy,” he said.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Phil Brock also cited institutional influence as a motivator for early endorsements.
“SMCLC endorsed early because they wanted to see if they could get others to follow their path,” he said. “The bottom line is they felt if they endorsed early enough, they could influence the other organizations that endorse.”
Brock said early endorsements could also be a psychological boost.
“The idea of momentum is always very strong in campaigns,” he said.
Tahvildaran-Jesswein also cited momentum as an important factor. He said many studies have shown the average voter doesn’t engage with the political process until two to four weeks prior to election day so early action is really all about preparing for the final sprint.
“It’s fairly safe to say as a political scientist, that endorsements and early endorsements aren’t about influencing the electorate at large but are to influence other politicos,” he said.
He said candidates might solicit early endorsements as a tactic to intimidate potential candidates who might choose to forgo a run for office if they feel their constituency has already picked a candidate.
“You want to influence early,” he said. “There’s a chance of people not running if there are early endorsements and the interested parties have solidified behind a candidate. It could persuade someone to look at that list and think ‘hmm it looks like the field is already set.’ Its kind of what we see in national politics.”
As a candidate, Brock said he didn’t think early endorsements would really depress the number candidates but he said the weight of combined endorsements, including the local union, SMRR and Residocracy, to be made soon could weed out some individuals.
“I would think after that time, there may be a thinning of the heard,” he said. “The momentum will build for the candidates that have had a tremendous level of endorsements.”
Former councilman and current candidate Mike Feinstein said he appreciated the multiple chances to speak to residents but that clustering endorsements too early could undermine the larger election.
“I like every opportunity to share my views,” he said. “But there is a sense to which, wow do we really want the election to be over in August? Don’t we want all the residents to have a say, not just a small group.”
Brock said early endorsements had pros and cons for everyone involved. He said voters could reject an endorsement from a group they perceive to have made a hasty decision or if it looked like a reward for being a political insider.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to be an insider,” he said. “I’ve spent time trying to improve our parks and improve the
Tahvildaran-Jesswein said regardless of their timing, endorsements serve a fundamental function in democracy as a means of identifying candidates by the issues they support.
“When they are looking to influence, one of the tools if you will that’s very traditional in American politics, is to identify who stands with you,” he said.
Brock said endorsements are an important part of the political process but only in the context of their value to the average citizen.
“What I most want are the endorsements from the residents and voters of the city,” he said.