CITY HALL — The November election is still eight months away, but some Santa Monica politicians and residents are already gearing up for a fight.

Ted Winterer, who in February was nominated to fill a vacancy on the City Council for the second straight year but failed to win the appointment, is starting to raise money for his council campaign early, holding a “meet and greet” event on Wednesday and scheduling another for tomorrow afternoon.

He said he wanted to capitalize on the momentum he was feeling from his supporters following his failed bid to fill the council seat vacated by Mayor Ken Genser’s death in January. The council instead voted to appoint Terry O’Day at its Feb. 23 meeting.

“The people who are hosting [the fundraising events] were upset that I didn’t get appointed to the vacancy last week so they decided the best outlet for their frustration was to help me kick off my campaign,” Winterer said.

The other reason for the early start, Winterer said, is that “it’s incredibly challenging to be mounting a campaign and trying to connect with the voters at the same time you’re trying to fundraise.”

Getting some money in the bank early, he said, means there will be more time to knock on doors and meet voters later on.

Both events were put together by Meyera Robbins and her husband Jay Gordon at their home. The couple hadn’t previously been active Winterer supporters, but Robbins said she has organized fundraisers in the past for Councilman Bobby Shriver.

In past political cycles fundraisers in March would seem early. But in fact Winterer isn’t the first candidate campaigning for election in November to invite political donations.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor held a fundraising event geared toward the business community in September, raising about $5,000 at a breakfast meeting where Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was the speaker.

O’Connor said she decided to hold the event last fall largely because she knew she would be sidelined with knee surgeries during part of 2010. After recently recovering from an operation in January, she said she expects to take time off for another knee surgery in April.

In an interview Thursday, O’Connor, who in her last campaign was backed by the political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, said there was nothing unusual about her decision to hold an event aimed at brining in donations from business interests.

“I take money from a wide range of community members,” she said. “You’ll have different groups that you raise money from, so my first focus was with the business community.”

At a fundraiser held so far in advance of the election, O’Connor said it made sense to target business people rather than the average voter who isn’t so politically engaged that early in the election cycle.

Though candidates were required to file reports on their political fundraising activities from last year by Feb. 1, O’Connor is yet to file her paper work with the City Clerk. She said she missed the deadline because of her surgery and plans to file her forms next week. The Clerk’s office gave O’Connor an extension but had asked her to file by Thursday.

With five City Council seats up for election in November, some observers have predicted an up-tick in the amount of spending on campaigns.

Winterer, who said he raised just over $30,000 for his last campaign in 2008, said he’s aiming to raise at least $60,000 this year in order to have a competitive shot.

“My perspective is that in the last several elections fundraising has been increasingly important,” he said. “The ante has been upped by various parties.”

Others, though, said more available seats means it could be harder to raise money.

“With five [available seats] I think you could argue that it could require less for each of the candidates,” said O’Day, who would keep his seat on the council for two more years if he prevails in the November election.

He said he hasn’t scheduled fundraisers yet, though supporters have asked him about hosting events.

“Every time you stand for re-election you have to take it seriously, but the most important thing is connecting with voters and the best way to do that is to reach them one by one,” he said.

Robert Kronovet, an outspoken Republican who shocked Santa Monica’s political establishment by winning a seat on the Rent Control Board in 2008, also has yet to begin fundraising, though he has started a committee for the November election.

“I think it’s a little premature now,” he said, but added he expects to begin raising money in April or May.

Though his views run contrary to those held by mainstream Santa Monica politicians — he wants to shift money away from affordable housing in order to better fund the business improvement districts — he said he doesn’t think he’ll need a large war chest to crack the top five in November, predicting he’ll raise about $20,000 and get at least 20,000 votes.

Candidates have a rough road ahead thanks to one of the strictest campaign contribution laws in the country. Candidates are only allowed to receive $250 per resident. Incumbents are prohibited from accepting contributions from those who have received contracts from City Hall.

The candidate with the most money, while not guaranteed victory, has a better chance of reaching voters through expensive mailers, campaign literature and community events. An average mailer can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000 depending on how detailed it is and how many voters one wants to reach.

nickt@smdp.com

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