All of the votes cast in the Nov. 2 election have finally been counted and five-term City Councilman Bob Holbrook won re-election by 56 votes. Holbrook nudged out Ted Winterer for the third of three full-term seats.

Many insiders believe that slow-growth Winterer was done in by a series of slick political mailings from an entity called Santa Monicans for Quality Government that were bought and paid for by hotel and developer money. SMQG was fronted by Fred Huebscher who runs a political consultancy/direct mail house out of Redondo Beach called The Political Scientists. The mailers featured Holbrook, Pam O’Connor, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day — all incumbents. Huebscher also worked on O’Connor and Davis’ campaigns.

I’d written previously that Huebscher told me that City Councilman Kevin McKeown was on one SMQG mailer and that Winterer’s campaign consultant told him they had no money for slate mailers.

McKeown told me that his name appeared on a “Democratic Voter Guide” — a 20-page color booklet published by SMQG in part because he was named 41st Assembly District “Democrat of the Year” and his absence would have raised questions about the mailer’s credibility. McKeown noted he didn’t pay to be on the mailer.

Sharon Gilpin, Winterer’s campaign manager, said they were offered and declined space on another Huebscher slate mailer — not a SMQG mailer.

SMQG’s “Democratic Voter Guide” didn’t mention Winterer even though he had the endorsement of both the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Santa Monica Democratic Club. The prevailing feeling is that the mailer’s purpose was to mislead Democrats that Holbrook was endorsed by Democratic organizations. In this case, that guide may have pulled enough votes for Holbrook to beat Winterer.

It seems that neither Winterer nor McKeown were asked to appear on the public safety, school and environmental-themed SMQG mail pieces, which were heavily funded by developer and hotel interests. According to the tiny print on the mailers, O’Connor and Davis paid for space on the now controversial mailings while Holbrook and O’ Day got a free ride.

Choosing the boss

Tomorrow night, the new City Council will be sworn in. Members will decide amongst themselves who will be mayor and mayor pro tem. I see two options here that make sense. (1) Support McKeown for mayor for a two-year term. The popular McKeown has consistently received the most votes in elections — and after three terms (12 years) on the dais, he has yet to be mayor. He’s way overdue. (2) Extend current Mayor Bobby Shriver for another year and award the second year to McKeown as a compromise.

Academic freedom or exploiting students?

Hotels, developers and their associates definitely hold the prize for dirty political deeds done dirt cheap, but Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights is close up their behinds. At issue is a classroom project involving Santa Monica College political science students campaigning for SMRR candidates in the last election.

On the surface this may seem benign, however, the professor of SMC’s poli-sci class is Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, co-chair of SMRR.

Local attorney Stanley Epstein (also a student at SMC Emeritus College) filed a formal written complaint Dec. 1 with the college claiming this constitutes a conflict of interest and breach of professional ethics. He’s asked for a full investigation. Epstein says that Tahvildaran-Jesswein’s involvement is a conflict of interest because “the line is breached when an option is given for classroom credit in return for distribution of election materials of an organization in which the professor is co-chair.”

This is nothing new and is standard operating procedure for Tahvildaran-Jesswein. It’s been going on for years. Both SMRR and SMC traditionally have shrugged off criticism of the practice.

Don Girard, SMC’s senior director of government relations and institutional communications, claims that students had a choice of volunteering for field work or completing an in-class assignment. The field work required 15 to 20 hours with a campaign and a report. Eighty of the 300 Political Science 1 students participated and distributed SMRR campaign material.

SMC administrators have avoided answering whether students had other choices, such as volunteering for a specific candidate or working with other political groups. Epstein told me that Tahvildaran-Jesswein already admitted to him that only SMRR materials were made available to the class.

Now that Epstein has pushed the issue, don’t look to SMC’s Board of Trustees for objectivity. It’s entirely made up of SMRR old guard and activists.

Already its chair, retired Judge David Finkel, has dismissed Epstein’s charges with a statement he posted online: “As long as student participation in political campaigns is not coerced, but is voluntary and comes with evenhanded choices, it is praiseworthy and should be applauded. Congratulations, Dr. Tahvildaran.”

All students know the path to good grades is pleasing the professor. Unfortunately, before rushing to praise his fellow SMRR-mate, Judge Finkel should have recognized this assignment was not “evenhanded” (without partiality) and did constitute coercion.

I’m with Epstein on this. The whole situation smells like a cat’s litterbox.

Bill Bauer can be reached at

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