MY WRITE — A funny thing happened on the way to the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) convention a week ago yesterday. Outside the John Adams Middle School (JAMS) cafeteria, I saw lots of folks wearing red t-shirts and waving flags.
They were union members from UNITE HERE, Local 11. The crowd of exuberant, mostly young people was an omen of things to come.
This SMRR convention was similar to others I’ve attended. But, unlike the young members of hospitality union rallying on the JAMS patio, most of the folks inside were like me: older and grayer.
SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman called the assembly to order and started with City Council endorsements. After short speeches, we marked our ballots and deposited them in white ballot boxes. While ballots were counted, voting continued for Rent Control Board, School Board and Santa Monica College Board of Trustees endorsements
Finally, the results for the first round of voting for council were announced. No candidate received the required 55 percent required for an outright endorsement. Incumbent Kevin McKeown came the closest with 201 votes out of 452 cast.
Attorney Frank Gruber who received support from the union contingency and the “Pico Delegation” led by activist Oscar de la Torre came in second with 188 votes. Rounding out the top five were Planning Commissioners Richard McKinnon, Sue Himmelrich and Jennifer Kennedy. Neither incumbent Pam O’Connor or Phil Brock received the required 20 percent (90 votes) to continue and were eliminated.
A second round of balloting commenced and although attendees were tiring and leaving, hundreds of folks hung in including the entire UNITE HERE delegation.
In the second round, 356 votes were cast. McKeown led with 175 votes followed by Gruber with 166. McKinnon, Himmelrich and Kennedy trailed. Hoffman ruled against a third round of voting because of the apparent deadlock.
When UNITE HERE held candidate interviews prior to their own endorsements a couple weeks ago, they asked council candidates about specific hotel developments including a four-floor hotel component in the 12 floor development proposed for 4th and 5th Streets and Arizona Avenue. They also asked candidates if they supported a hotel at a redeveloped Bergamot Station Arts Complex.
Council hopefuls were asked if they supported a proposed increase in the real estate transfer tax on the November ballot as its revenues would go toward building more affordable housing — for hotel workers.
Lastly, the union leaders asked candidates if they would support any large, new hotel developments that exceeded the city’s zoning codes in exchange for (unspecified) community benefits.
Candidates had to fully support UNITE HERE’s agenda if they expected endorsement. It would appear that McKeown and Gruber, who were both endorsed, promised to deliver the union’s pro-hotel/pro-development wish list.
SMRR has always had a tight relationship with UNITE HERE. In return for SMRR politicians meeting union demands, union members assist SMRR-endorsed candidates by campaigning for them. Last election, hundreds of hotel workers went door to door and told residents to “Vote SMRR.” It works as SMRR-endorsees rarely lose at the polls.
The reason why SMRR’s number one priority is “affordable housing” is painfully obvious. I’m betting that most of those union members voting at the convention live in subsidized apartments promoted by SMRR politicians.
I’ve got to hand it to UNITE HERE’s bosses. They played the game perfectly. They had a solid turnout estimated at around 60 to 75 hotel workers who voted the straight party ticket. Some, if not all, were paid and given lunch and voted for the candidates their leadership told them to vote for. In other words, they did what Residocracy.org, the neighborhood groups, independents and slow-growth organizations didn’t do.
Neighborhood groups and Residocracy.org leaders dropped the ball and failed to even endorse a slate of candidates before the convention. Despite a big movement by Residocracy and the neighborhood groups to have people join SMRR last spring to be able to vote at the confab, nothing happened.
Without a strategy and with Residocracy and slow-growth leaders inexplicably on the sidelines, their followers attending the convention probably spread their votes over numerous candidates. And, although Phil Brock scored second behind McKeown in Residocracy’s candidates forum poll, he failed to garner the required SMRR minimum to continue to a second round of voting.
I’d been critical of Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) for striking out on her own and ignoring efforts to form an all-resident coalition to back three candidates and offset the unions and other special interests.
Gordon held small private meetings with select neighborhood leaders and told them to vote for McKinnon, Himmelrich and McKeown. She worked hard to support SMCLC’s favorites. It’s why McKinnon made a strong showing at the convention.
With the endorsement of council candidates now in the hands of the secretive SMRR steering committee, anything can – and did – happen. With Gruber receiving UNITE HERE’s nod you’d think he’d get the Steering Committee’s endorsement. Nope. Didn’t happen.
SMRR co-founder and long-time leader Denny Zane is managing Sue Himmelrich’s campaign and you’d think that she should’ve also received the committee’s blessings. Wrong again.
Trumpets please. The Steering Committee announced yesterday afternoon that they were endorsing only McKeown and Kennedy. Kennedy was been rewarded with an endorsement for her 15 years of service to the organization according to the press release. Seriously?
It coulda been worse. They could’ve endorsed O’Connor and Gruber.

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

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