Depending on your tolerance for politicians, the following is either great news or grounds for day drinking: 2016 is an election year.
With the presidency on the line this year, experts are predicting an upswing in voter participation across the board and local election junkies are already shaking the trees to establish the 2016 field in Santa Monica.
Four councilmembers are up for reelection: Mayor Tony Vazquez, Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer, Councilman Terry O’Day and Councilwoman Gleam Davis. Winterer confirmed that he would run for office this year and challenger Laura Wilson has also confirmed her intent to run.
While some candidates are already stating their intent, nothing becomes official until paperwork is filed with the City Clerk’s office. The filing period for nomination papers and candidate statements runs from July 18 through Aug. 12. If an incumbent fails to file during that time, the nomination period is extended through Aug. 17.
Over the last 10 years, Santa Monica council races have drawn 10-15 candidates per year and the number of votes necessary to win a race has fluctuated from as low as 6,696 in 2014 to 17,202 in 2008.
Alan Buckley, a political science professor at SMC said the 2016 presidential election will bring out more voters, but some of the statewide voter trends might not be reflected locally.
Buckley said the number of republican voters might increase statewide as a result of a hotly contested primary race. However, he thinks it’s unlikely an upswing of conservative sentiment will impact City Council races.
He said Santa Monica’s homegrown political party, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), is likely to dominate due to their established organizational structure and the persistent goodwill many voters feel toward an organization that is focused on renters.
“One important thing to understand about Santa Monica politics … all city races are an at large election,” he said. “The same majority gets to elect everybody.”
Buckley said he used to be a SMRR member and, while he is still sympathetic to the group’s ideology, his evaluation of their strength, tactics and influence is based on his work as a professional political scientist.
“It’s about the organization; people that walk the streets, make telephone calls and the precinct workers for SMRR are just so motivated that it would be difficult to create a counter machine and SMRR is a political machine,” he said.
As a majority of the city’s elected officials have been endorsed by SMRR, including all four of the City Council incumbents, the SMRR machine can make it even harder for challengers.
“Unless they are a celebrity with name recognition, to elevate the voter’s knowledge they have to spend more money,” he said. “It’s always easier for an incumbent.”
Buckley said there have been individuals with enough money or pre-existing fame to challenge SMRR, but not many.
“Bobby Shriver could beat the system because of his name, he had a definite advantage that most challengers in Santa Monica don’t,” he said. “I can’t see anyone beating a SMRR candidate unless they’re Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bobby Shriver. SMRR’s organization is just too tremendous.”
In 2014 two of SMRR’s three endorsed candidates won seats on City Council, incumbent Kevin McKeown and challenger Sue Himmelrich. SMRR’s third candidate in 2014, Jennifer Kennedy, came in sixth place with 5037 votes. The third winner in 2014 was incumbent Pam O’Connor who received 6,696 votes. While O’Connor had been endorsed by SMRR in the past, she was not endorsed by the organization in 2014. She is currently the only City Council member without an active SMRR endorsement.
Buckley said trends are important signals for what might happen but at the end of the day, elections are up to the voters.
“You can never predict exactly what voters are going to do,” he said.
Successful City Council Candidates with the lowest number of votes
Year, Votes, Name
2006, 13,041, Bob Holbrook
2008, 17,202, Herb Katz
2010, 12,775, Bob Holbrook
2012, 11,939, Tony Vazquez
2014, 6,696, Pam O’Connor