If you’re a progressive on the west side, the Santa Monica Democratic Club (SMDC) has suggestions for how to cast your vote in the upcoming June 7 primary elections.

More than 60 members of the Club gathered for a virtual meeting on Wednesday, April 27, to select their endorsements for the upcoming primary.  

The SMDC, which describes itself as a progressive club, selected a slate of candidates including Eric Strong for Sheriff, Henry Stern for Third District Supervisor, Rick Chavez Zbur for Assembly District 51 (Santa Monica’s newly redrawn Assembly District), Malia Cohen for State Controller and Ricardo Lara for Insurance Commissioner.

With supporters speaking up to cite his progressive platform, environmental backing (including a recent endorsement from the Sierra Club) and experience attending Santa Monica-Malibu schools, the club voted to endorse Stern to take the Third District seat that will soon be vacated by retiring Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Among the 50 votes cast, Stern earned 30, giving him 60 percent of total votes. West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath came in second with 17 votes and Senate Majority Leader Emeritus Bob Hertzberg came in at a distant third with three. 

“There are things that are broken about LA County, but we’re going to need progressive solutions to fix it,” Stern, a current State Senator, said while addressing the SMDC prior to the endorsement vote. “We can’t snap back and revert back to some conservative indulgence here, where we start locking people up again, or criminalizing homelessness. And I’m really concerned that in this moment in LA, there’s so much negative energy that things are going to swing that way, unless you’ve got somebody with the reach to get into the San Fernando Valley and speak Valley, which I’ve been doing for the last six years since being a senator.”

While many in the SMDC brushed off moderate candidate Hertzberg, who did not attend the supervisorial debate hosted by the Club in March — “Bob Hertzberg was not seemingly interested in coming to speak to the club. You know, he seemed like his scheduling conflict wasn’t really related to the day of the week that we were proposing,” SMDC President Jon Katz said — many in the club spoke in favor of Horvath, who also espouses progressive ideals, although she has not gone on record with the SMDC or on her campaign website identifying herself as a progressive.

“Her career in public service has really been dedicated to standing up for the people who need it most,” member Abby Arnold said at the Wednesday meeting. “She has very strong relationships with the LGBTQ+ community, advocating on their behalf [and] of course, on [behalf of] women. In the City of West Hollywood she’s created age friendly, sustainable neighborhoods, and she’s endorsed by Planned Parenthood and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.” Arnold added she felt it was important to see a woman in the role, citing the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Currently, all five LA County Supervisors are women.

In response, Stern said he hoped his gender and race would not count against him, saying he hoped the Club could “look past the fact” he was a white man.

“I think Justice Ginsburg would want it that way, too,” he added.

In the race for Sheriff, the SMDC chose not to offer an endorsement to embattled incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whom the Club threw its support behind in 2018.

In the years since, the SMDC has distanced itself from that endorsement, going so far as to call for Villanueva’s resignation in 2020, writing in a letter to Kuehl: “We regret our 2018 endorsement of his candidacy, which now serves as a cautionary tale for those of us who rightly demand change in our community.”

For the 2022 primary, SMDC selected Strong, an LA County Sheriff’s Lieutenant and reform candidate who lists Mike Bonin on the top of his endorsement page of his campaign website. Strong earned 32 of the 57 votes cast, earning 56.1 percent of votes. Cecil Rhambo earned 18 votes, and Alex Villanueva earned three. 

“We have a lot of work to do with law enforcement in our communities,” Strong said following the announcement of his endorsement from the Club. “And I’ll tell you, it’s going to take somebody that just really cares and wants to put community first, and that’s me. I want to tell you all: Thank you so much for taking the time to really look at the candidates. They all have great resumes, you know, but what it’s really going to take is that person who’s going to work with you all — individually, as all the Democratic clubs with all the communities — and give everybody a seat at the table, because the reality of it is no one person can fix the problems that we have. It’s going to take a collective effort.”

Strong’s supporters said they were particularly impressed by the Lieutenant’s responses during the February Sheriff’s candidate forum. Member Dan Hall noted Strong supported a charter amendment to potentially give the LA County Board of Supervisors the power to vote out a sheriff. He was also impressed that Strong said he had led an investigation into deputy gangs.

“The other thing that really stood out to me was that he was the only candidate who said he had witnessed fellow officers use excessive force and that he had supported or reported it to a supervisor or internal affairs,” Hall added.

The SMDC endorsement meeting is available to watch on YouTube by searching for the Santa Monica Democratic Club.