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Mayor Ken Genser (photo by City Of Santa Monica)

DOWNTOWN — Mayor Ken Genser, the longest serving elected official in city history with more than 20 years as a member of the City Council and Planning Commission, is gravely ill and is not expected to survive, friends and family members told the Daily Press Friday.

Genser, 59, who last attended a council meeting on Oct. 27, was brought to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 10 weeks ago complaining of severe back pain and a shortness of breath, said former City Councilman and longtime friend Kelly Olsen, who has been staying at the hospital with Genser since he was admitted.

The pain may have been caused by acute respiratory distress syndrome, Olsen said. Friends and family did not want to release any more information on the cause of the mayor’s illness.

In a statement released to the Daily Press, family and friends said:

“Ken is very sick and not expected to survive. His family and friends appreciate the outpouring of support he has received. We request that we be allowed continued privacy as we deal with losing our beloved friend and mayor.”

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor has filled in for Genser over the last two months, coordinating council agendas and running public meetings. She said in December that the council excused Genser’s absences in November, although no formal vote was taken. 

Under the City Charter, if a council member is absent from all regular meetings of the council for 60 days, unless by permission of the council, the council member’s seat shall become vacant and be declared so by the council. If that occurs, the council has 30 days to fill the vacancy or hold a special election. 

There have been several rumors circulating throughout the city, one which said Genser was in a coma but had since recovered consciousness. 

Those close to Genser said his condition was closely guarded because there were signs that he was recovering. Genser is described by friends as being tenacious, and there was hope he could fight off his illness. However, about three weeks ago, Genser’s health deteriorated, with doctors giving him little chance of recovery. 

“It’s like having our hearts cut out,” said Patricia Hoffman, a former school board member and close friend of Genser, who has been by his side daily.

Genser has had health problems in recent years. He received a kidney transplant in 2006. Genser was battling pneumonia and was on blood thinners when he was brought to Cedars, said longtime friend Dr. Bruce Shragg.

Those close to Genser do not want to focus on the last few months. They would rather remember the last 20-plus years. In those years, Genser has been a staunch supporter of affordable housing, renters’ rights and the preservation of the beach tract in Ocean Park. His institutional knowledge has been invaluable, colleagues said, and he has shown an ability to be passionate about issues, but never emotional, always trying to understand all sides of an issue. 

“It’s extremely difficult because he’s a great friend and it will be a tragic loss for his friends and it is even a greater tragedy for the community because he is such a fantastic leader and I just can’t imagine what the city will be like, and our personal lives, without him,” Olsen said. 

Santa Monica has recently had to deal with the loss of another long-time public servant. Councilman Herb Katz lost a long battle with cancer in January, 2009. 

kevinh@smdp.com

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