CITY HALL — The Steering Committee of the city’s largest political party voted Thursday night to support Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich for City Council.
The Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights committee announced support of incumbent Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy earlier this year.
At Thursday’s meeting they also voted to support incumbent Andrew Walzer in the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees race, eschewing challenger and recused Steering Committee member Maria Loya.
SMRR-backed candidates almost always go on to win reelection. At the SMRR members’ convention in August, no council candidates were able to pull in the necessary 55 percent of the vote to score an endorsement.
McKeown, followed by former Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber and current Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon were the top vote-getters. Himmelrich placed fourth and Kennedy fifth.
With three contested seats in this year’s council race and no endorsement from the membership, the Steering Committee is allowed to pledge support for candidates. Supported candidates receive the same financial backing as endorsed candidates.
Four of the 11 committee members recused themselves: Loya because she is running for College Board, Richard Tavildaran-Jesswein because he is running for Board of Education, Denny Zane because he is working as Himmelrich’s campaign manager, and Genise Schnitman because she is married to McKeown.
The remaining seven supported McKeown and Kennedy in August. Thursday night they decided to add Himmelrich.
“She’s so smart and she is so analytical and she pays attention to details and she’s super talented and super committed to the issues that are crucially important to us like affordable housing and rent control,” said the Steering Committee co-Chair Patricia Hoffman.
The timing, Hoffman said, was right
“It came from analyzing what would be the best for the city and how would SMRR best address that,” she said.
There was one dissenting voice, she said.
“It was really nice to have almost the whole Steering Committee agree on it,” Hoffman said.
She brought up Himmelrich’s record on development in expressing her support.
“She has approved any number of projects that have come before the Planning Commission,” Hoffman said. “She’s not a no-growther. She’s just said ‘yes’ many times but she also knows when to say ‘no.'”
Himmelrich, who has been working with SMRR and others on housing issues over the past several years, called the support a “natural fit.”
“I am just thrilled,” she said. “I actually thought we were doing very well anyway and this is fantastic.”
Gruber, who was helped at the SMRR convention by support from Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality union, was not happy about being passed over by the committee.
“As someone who joined SMRR almost 30 years ago, and as the second top vote-getter at the SMRR convention, I am saddened that the Steering Committee members have disregarded, now for the second time, the democratic vote of their membership convention,” he said in an e-mail. “For years, SMRR has been known as a democratic, grassroots organization, and one tolerant of a wide range of views behind a progressive banner. I have always fought for, and will continue to fight for, SMRR’s platform — for renters rights and affordable housing, excellent public schools, social and economic justice, controlled growth and a human-scale city. SMRR will now run a campaign based on ‘us and again them,’ but the reality will be ‘us against us.'”
This closes the door on Mayor Pam O’Connor’s chance to grab SMRR support. She has been backed by SMRR in her previous elections but failed to make it passed the first round of voting at the convention.
Longtime councilmember Bob Holbrook announced in August that he would not seek reelection.
Walzer gets SMC Board support
Incumbents Barry Snell and Nancy Greenstein got endorsements from the membership at the convention and the Steering Committee went on to add incumbent Louise Jaffe in August.
Walzer, the fourth incumbent in a four seat race, was picked on Thursday.
“There are a lot of people who are associated with and affiliated with the college who really think that Andrew has been a positive productive member of their board and they see him as carrying forward the mission of the college and bringing forward the depth of knowledge that not everyone has because he is a community college faculty member at other community colleges,” Hoffman said.
Maria Loya, a Steering Committee member who recused herself because of her involvement in this year’s election, was unable to pull an endorsement from the membership or support from her own committee.
“Of course it’s a little bit awkward but when we weighed what our opportunities were, they tilted in favor of Andrew,” Hoffman said.
Walzer did not respond to request for comment by press time.
“As a 9-year member of the SMRR Steering Committee, I believe in advocating for the progressive values that define SMRR’s platform,” Loya said in an e-mail. “I am disappointed to learn that the Steering Committee has chosen to endorse the lowest vote getter in every round of balloting during the endorsement convention.”
She highlighted the endorsements she received from the Los Angeles County Democratic party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
With the exception of O’Connor, the membership and the Steering Committee supported incumbents whenever possible this year.
“We usually back incumbents unless we have a reason not to,” Hoffman said. “That happened in 2004 with Michael Feinstein. It’s happening now with Pam O’Connor. Otherwise, if our incumbents are doing well don’t throw them out of office.”