DOWNTOWN — As Nov. 2 nears, a certain sector of the Santa Monica electorate is beginning to wonder: What’s more important, experience or newcomer enthusiasm? And who’s got the right mix of both?

The question may have the most relevance to the campaign of school board challenger Nimish Patel.

After beginning his campaign by mostly emphasizing his qualifications (he’s a licensed CPA and has an MBA and a law degree) and his history of involvement with the district’s Financial Oversight Committee and education advocacy group LEED, Patel in recent weeks has shifted toward talking up his outsider status, portraying himself as a candidate who’s not beholden to local power brokers.

It’s easy to read the change of tone as a reaction to a series of political misfortunes: Patel sought but failed to receive endorsements from Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights and from the local Democratic club, as well as from LEED and Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) — two groups he had worked with closely in the past year.

The snub from LEED in particular was a surprise, since the group shied away from backing the status quo, declining to support two incumbents, Ralph Mechur and Oscar de la Torre, and endorsing another political newcomer, Patrick Cady, and LEED co-founder Laurie Lieberman. But rather than support Patel, the group’s leaders chose to back an incomplete slate for the four open seats. (LEED also endorsed Barry Snell, the current board president).

“That was a little surprising, the way that came down,” Patel told the Daily Press this week, especially since he felt he was privately being encouraged to run by members of the group.

Despite the lack of institutional support, Patel said he’s as determined as ever to campaign hard. His war chest of more than $63,000 gives him one big reason for optimism (that’s more than double the amount raised by the second-place fundraiser, Chris Bley, and about 10 times more than the best-financed incumbent).

“I expect to win. I’m not doing this for fifth place,” he said, adding he doesn’t feel under-qualified, despite the lack of confidence from LEED and CEPS.

After failing to win endorsements, he said leaders from the groups told him: “Nimish, you’re intelligent, you would be really good for the school board, you’ve got everything that were looking for — but you’re relatively new.”

Sources within LEED essentially confirmed that view, telling the Daily Press the consensus was that while promising as a potential leader, Patel wasn’t yet experienced enough with local politics to win an endorsement.

For his part, Patel said he doesn’t think being a newcomer should stand in his way.

“I feel like I know the issues, I’ve been involved. I think that’s sort of my strength — being new sometimes is refreshing and it brings a new perspective,” he said. “For the insiders that may not resonate, but for the outsiders that message is resonating loud and clear.”

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