JAMS — Santa Monica’s foremost political organization threw its weight unanimously behind candidates vying for educational posts and the Rent Control Board at its convention Sunday, but struggled to gather consistent support for the highly-contested City Council and 50th Assembly District races.
After three rounds of voting, the nearly 200 members of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, or SMRR, endorsed Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer and Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis in their races to fill two of the four open City Council seats in the November general election.
They were the only two of six City Council candidates on Sunday’s ballot to break the 55 percent threshold required to snag the coveted SMRR endorsement.
Winterer grabbed the endorsement outright in the first round with 125 votes, comfortably above the 109 required to meet the majority required by SMRR rules. Davis hit the mark in the second round on the dot with 101 votes. The bar was slightly lower because fewer ballots were cast.
“I think it’s a validation of the work I’ve done on behalf of the groups,” Winterer said after receiving the endorsement.
Former City Councilman Tony Vazquez fell only two votes short of the endorsement in the first round of voting, and incumbent Terry O’Day, who won a SMRR endorsement in 2010, also couldn’t muster enough support to push past the 55 percent barrier, coming in nine votes short in the first round.
Vazquez said his campaign would push forward without the endorsement, noting that he still had support from over half of Sunday’s voters.
O’Day’s bid for the endorsement had opposition from within SMRR’s own leadership. SMRR co-founder Michael Tarbet handed out slips of paper with his picks for endorsement as people milled about outside the convention before the doors opened. O’Day was notably absent.
The incumbent council member has been taking heat from some within the organization for a recent vote to support a ban on smoking within apartment complexes and condominiums.
Former Planning Commissioner and long-time local columnist Frank Gruber and education activist Shari Davis also failed to get the endorsement with 98 and 87 votes in the first round, respectively.
Gruber said he felt good about his showing, particularly given the quality of competition.
It was the caliber of candidates that made it difficult for SMRR membership to rally behind just one individual for each seat, said Patricia Hoffman, the organization’s co-chair.
“We had six well-qualified candidates,” Hoffman said. “It was a fairly even distribution of votes, and because of that we had trouble making endorsements.”
The remaining four candidates still have an opportunity to benefit from SMRR’s considerable pull within Santa Monica.
The organization’s steering committee will meet in coming weeks to discuss supporting, rather than endorsing, candidates for the remaining two seats. Seven of the 13-member steering committee must agree on one or two candidates for that to happen, Hoffman said.
The process has drawn criticism in the past.
In 2010, the steering committee chose to support Councilmember Pam O’Connor when she did not hit the 55 percent mark at the annual convention, and got behind Ralph Mechur and Oscar de la Torre in the Board of Education race.
The convention was also divided in its support for the 50th Assembly race between Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler.
Butler led Bloom by an 11-vote margin Sunday with 101 votes to his 90. Butler supporter and Rent Control Board member Todd Flora characterized it as a win for his candidate.
“Our feeling is that this was Richard’s to lose,” Flora said.
For Bloom, it was one more close vote in a race defined by close votes.
After the primary election in June, Bloom and Butler were separated by less than 1 percent, and the two other candidates in the race, Democrat Torie Osborn and Republican Brad Torgan, trailed by under 2 percent.
“It’s fine for me,” Bloom said. “This is a district race. In the primary I did very well here.”
SMRR membership voted unanimously to support slates of incumbents for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education, Santa Monica City College Board of Trustees and Rent Control Board.
SMRR also endorsed the following ballot measures:
• Proposition 30, also called the “governor’s tax.” It would raise sales tax by a quarter of 1 percent and increase income taxes on the wealthy. The money would be used, in part, to forestall cuts to K-12 education
• Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without opportunity for parole
• Proposition 38, the Our Children, Our Future measure. Put forward by activist Molly Munger, Proposition 38 would increase taxes on the wealthy for 12 years. The money would flow directly to school districts.
• Proposition 39, which would require corporations that operate in multiple states to base their tax liabilities on their sales in California, which would likely result in an increase in taxation on some large corporations.