DOWNTOWN — The political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights will back full slates of candidates for all races in November’s election, adding incumbent Councilwoman Pam O’Connor and incumbent school board members Oscar de la Torre and Ralph Mechur to the list of candidates with official SMRR support, leaders of the organization announced Friday.
Each of the three candidates had failed to receive the 55 percent super majority vote required to win an endorsement from the party’s members at last Sunday’s SMRR convention.
But on Wednesday, the 12 voting members of the organization’s steering committee met in private and voted to support the candidates. A two-thirds committee vote was required to give a candidate the group’s backing. The committee’s action was not made public until 5 p.m. Friday.
While not technically equivalent to an endorsement, support from the steering committee means the candidates will be included on SMRR campaign literature.
For 30 years, backing from SMRR has been considered the most potent weapon in local politics.
On Friday, SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman said the committee’s decision to back the additional candidates who did not win endorsements was a vote of confidence in SMRR incumbents who have done a good job.
Under SMRR’s bylaws, the steering committee is allowed to decide which candidates to support only when convention voters fail to endorse a complete slate.
Hoffman said the steering committee has voted to support candidates a handful of times since the early 1980s, including in 2008 when it supported Jose Escarce for a school board seat after he had fallen just short of winning an endorsement at that year’s convention.
Hoffman denied the committee’s decision to support candidates that were rejected at the convention de-valued the votes that members cast last Sunday.
Critics of the committee’s actions, she said, “think of democracy as only what happened [at the convention], and I think that democracy is a bigger picture.”
SMRR insiders have privately complained that a large group of no-growth activists attended the convention this year with the goal of blocking candidates they perceive to be pro-development from winning endorsements. Many of the no-growthers are homeowners and aren’t committed to SMRR’s core principle of protecting rent control and supporting affordable housing, these people said.
Hoffman said the decision to support O’Connor reflects SMRR’s values.
“Pam has voted for everything that has had to do with rent control and affordable housing,” she said. “Pam has voted with the SMRR position 100 percent of the time.”
In the school board race, the committee opted to back longtime SMRR members de la Torre and Mechur over Nimish Patel, a SMRR newcomer who is a challenger in the race.
“Both Ralph and Oscar have always been big supporters of rent control as well as big supporters of the schools,” Hoffman said.
Reached on Friday, Mechur said he was pleased the committee voted to support his campaign. His failure to win an endorsement last Sunday, he said, was the result of feuding voting blocks within the organization.
“My personal feeling is that one or more groups came in, well organized, some to support particular candidates and some to cause pain to SMRR as an organization, and I got trapped in the focus of those groups,” he said.
“I feel that I’ve been a positive force on the school board, a positive force in the community and there really shouldn’t be a reason that I don’t have the full support of SMRR and I’m glad that I do.”