CITY HALL – Leaders of the city’s largest political party are concerned that some new members may not share the organization’s ideals and are instead trying to influence the endorsement process.
Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) will hold its endorsement convention this Sunday and they’ve seen a membership spike, as is the case every election season. The SMRR endorsement, which is voted on by the organization’s membership, is highly sought after.
To attain membership, one must pay annual dues and sign a document vowing support of the organization’s platform.
Six of the seven current City Council members were endorsed by SMRR before the last election. Longtime Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who is on the fence about seeking reelection this year, is the only member who’s had long-term success without the endorsement.
SMRR co-Chair Patricia Hoffman said many people have renewed their dues and “hundreds” have joined the organization, which has a membership in the “thousands.” SMRR declines to release its membership totals, a protection, they claim, of their members’ privacy.
Is Hoffman concerned that some of the newcomers may not be in agreement with SMRR’s commitment to, among other things, affordable housing and rent control but are jumping on board to influence the endorsement process?
“No question about it,” she said.
Democracy is not easy, she said.
“It is the nature of the game but it may be time to take another look at how we operate,” Hoffman said. “I think that we have the best platform of virtually any organization anywhere, and while we don’t expect everyone to vote exactly in conformance to the platform on every single issue, we certainly would like to see movement in that direction. If we’re just going to be used as ‘SMRR: They’re the guys who can get people elected,’ we do have to rethink how we do things.”
The organization’s other co-Chair Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein has taken a leave of absence from his role because he is running for the Board of Education. He’s heard that members are joining SMRR in large groups.
“I really want to know if those people who signed up to be a part of our organization are committed to our values,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the people who will be there on Sunday are tried and true believers in rent control, affordable housing, and protecting our neighborhood.”
Daily Press columnist Bill Bauer sees affordable housing as development, which he is opposed to, but he joined SMRR this year in an attempt to influence the powerful endorsement. Bauer, an outspoken critic of SMRR, acknowledged that he disagrees with much of its platform and its proclivity to endorse, as he sees it, insider candidates. Still, he plopped down his membership dues, signed his name, and will be pushing for his candidates on Sunday.
To add another wrinkle to this year’s endorsement process, several Steering Committee members, including Tahvildaran-Jesswein, will be recusing themselves because of their involvement in campaigns.
Three rounds of membership voting will occur on Sunday. The top three council candidates to pull in a super-majority during any of those given rounds will receive an endorsement. Tahvildaran-Jesswein is expecting upwards of 400 members to show up.
If less than three council candidates score endorsements from the membership, the question is posed to the 11-member Steering Committee. At least three members – Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Denny Zane, who’s serving as a campaign manager, and Maria Loya, who is running for the Santa Monica College Board – are expected to recuse themselves.
Genise Schnitman, who is married to incumbent Councilmember Kevin McKeown, may also recuse herself.
Regardless, Hoffman said, the Steering Committee should have enough members present and able to vote to make an endorsement if need be.
There are three council seats up for grabs this year.