JAMS — Grab a friend or a hundred and head on down to John Adams Middle School for the most high-stakes endorsement convention in the city this Sunday.
Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the city’s largest political party, will host its 2014 convention at 1:15 p.m. in the JAMS cafeteria.
SMRR members will make endorsements for City Council, Rent Control Board, Board of Education, The Santa Monica College Board, and 33rd Congressional District in a three-round extravaganza.
The endorsement, which is earned by receiving a vote from 55 percent of the membership in one of those rounds, is highly sought after. Most candidates that get the endorsement, and the campaign support that comes with it, go on to win a seat.
Six of the seven City Council members were endorsed by SMRR before their last elections.
Only longtime member Bob Holbrook has had consistent success without the backing of the party.
Holbrook is a major wildcard this year because many speculate he won’t seek reelection but the six-term councilman told the Daily Press Wednesday that he’s keeping his options open. He’ll be watching the results of the convention closely, he said. Holbrook is interested to see if the candidates that don’t receive the SMRR endorsement will drop out of the race.
Nine council candidates are seeking the golden endorsement on Sunday, according to SMRR’s website.
Recreation and Parks Commissioner Phil Brock said he’s going to show up but that he doesn’t expect to make it through the first round.
“I’m more involved with the neighborhood groups and Residocracy and groups like that,” he said.
Jennifer Kennedy, the chair of the Planning Commission and former member of the Rent Control Board, has been a volunteer with SMRR for more than a decade and has recently served as the organization’s coordinator, a paid positions that she stepped away from when she announced her council candidacy.
“I think there will be a lot more attendees this year than in past years,” she said. “The conventions are always exciting. I’m really looking forward to it. Of course, I’m nervous too. But a lot of SMRR members know my record and my history of service in the community and within SMRR. As a candidate I know I have a lot to offer.”
Councilmember Ted Winterer, whose seat is not up for election this year, said he couldn’t begin to hazard a guess as to who would com out on top Sunday.
“I’ve heard there will be multiple groups attending with the intention of voting for certain candidates in blocs,” he said. “While bloc voting has certainly occurred at past conventions, this year the groups are likely to be larger and more numerous and the differences of opinions more contentious. So I hope people attending will do their best to respect the voices of others and embrace civility.”
Controversy entered the convention talk earlier this week when Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre told the Daily Press he was bringing a 100-person voting bloc he’s calling the Pico Delegation.
Council candidates could win his delegation’s support, he said, if they promise, among other things, to fire City Manager Rod Gould.
De la Torre has an ongoing beef with Gould, who he says unfairly targets the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), which de la Torre runs.
Gould has repeatedly pointed to bookkeeping issues at the PYFC — accusations that de la Torre denies — and recently recommended that council allot less to the nonprofit than they had in years past. Council concurred with Gould’s analysis.
“This seems to me to be about a dispute over $35,000 of funding to a non-profit and certainly shouldn’t be the sole issue on which to base endorsements of Council candidates, who should be measured on the totality of their records and platforms on a wide variety of issues,” Winterer told the Daily Press. “Wouldn’t it have been preferable to focus all this energy on raising funds for the PYFC and the good work it does? Even worse, an elected official is using the political process for the benefit of his day job and that is entirely inappropriate.”
Upon hearing about de la Torre’s plans, SMRR leadership urged council candidates not to agree to make personnel decisions prior to the election.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown, an incumbent with strong ties to SMRR, told the Daily Press that those involved with the delegation had “disgraced themselves.”
“The disgrace is not in the formation of a voting bloc, nor in a bloc’s support for specific candidates, but in the nature of the pledge some candidates apparently signed,” he said in an e-mail Thursday. “What is involved is not a general policy or legislative matter, but a promise to vote a certain way on a personnel matter. State law specifically defines personnel matters as properly heard in closed session, where information can be presented while protecting the rights of the individuals involved on both sides of an issue.”
De la Torre would not tell the Daily Press which candidates had agreed to his demands.
McKeown, who is expected by many to receive one of the SMRR endorsements, said that neither Kennedy nor Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich — candidates he’s endorsed — have agreed to the pledge.
Brock told the Daily Press that he’s not gotten de la Torre’s backing either.
Former Mayor Mike Feinstein, who is throwing his hat in the ring once again, said that he has not, and never would, make a pledge during an election campaign about any personnel matter that he might have responsibility for as an elected official.
“I am seeking votes from every person and constituency within SMRR,” he said of the convention. “I look forward to being judged upon my record in office and my platform, which has been and will continue to be consistent with SMRR’s own platform and values.”
Former Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber said that he has not spoken with de la Torre about the pledge.
In addition to the names mentioned above, Mayor Pam O’Connor, Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, and Ken Robin will be seeking SMRR’s council endorsements.
“On Sunday, the names of those who signed the pledge will become known,” McKeown said, “and there will be enough disgrace to go around.”