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Secretive SMRR Committee Could Shape Santa Monica Council Race  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

July 20, 2012 -- With half a dozen City Council hopefuls seeking to win the backing of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) at Sunday's political convention, the final decision could rest with the group's 13-member steering committee, according to political observers.

But it’s difficult to ascertain the identities of the committee members who could shape the future of the City Council, since the list is not SMRR’s website.

Asked to provide the names of the members, Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman said she didn’t have a list readily available. When asked if she could e-mail one, she said, “I’m not a touch typist.”

A call to Co-Chair Jennifer Kennedy, who sits on the City’s Planning Commission, went unanswered.

Asked who was on the committee, one long-time political observer did not know.

“It’s secretive,” the observer said. “Don’t quote me.”

The observer referred The Lookout to an insider known as “the source.” Repeated calls to “the source” went unanswered.

The Steering Committee could ultimately decide who the powerful tenants group will endorse.

That is because for the first time in a quarter century, there will be two open seats after Mayor Richard Bloom stepped down to run for State Assembly and Council member Bobby Shriver is not expected to run.

The wide-open race has drawn a crowded field that includes two incumbents and four strong challengers vying for the SMRR endorsement.

“I don’t remember ever having such a blessing of riches,” said former mayor and a co-founder of SMRR Dennis Zane, referring to the pool of candidates.

As a result, SMRR members could bullet-vote for their candidate, making it difficult for anyone to win the necessary 55 percent of the vote from the floor.

Former mayor and SMRR member Mike Feinstein thinks it’s likely that at least some of the candidates won’t get the necessary votes.

“This election has so many substantial candidates,” said Feinstsein, “and with such a high approval threshold” it could be hard for the candidates to get the votes from the membership.

When asked if he thought that the vote would be split six ways, Zane said it was “a reasonable projection.”

The candidates who will be seeking the endorsement at Sunday’s convention at John Adams Middle School are incumbents Gleam Davis and Terry O'Day, Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer, former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber, former Council member Tony Vazquez, and education activist Shari Davis.

Sunday’s convention will have up to three rounds of voting, said Hoffman. Each candidate earning more than 20 percent of the vote will continue on to the next round.  Those candidates who reach the 55 percent threshold win the endorsement.

However, if the SMRR members present fail to choose a slate of candidates by the end of the third round, the discretion to fill the remaining endorsements falls to the SMRR Steering Committee, Hoffman said.

That is what happened in 2010, when incumbent Council member Pam O’Connor failed to receive enough votes to gain an endorsement from the membership.

The Steering Committee then voted to back O'Connor, saying she enjoyed plenty of support from the members, even if she didn’t break the 55 percent threshold.

Incumbent School Board members Oscar de la Torre and Ralph Mechur also required the steering committees vote after failing to win the necessary backing from the floor.

On Sunday, SMRR will also be voting to endorse candidates in the race for California’s 50th Assembly District, which pits Bloom against incumbent Assembly member Betsy Butler.

Members also will vote to endorse candidates in the race for three School Board seats, two Rent Control Board seats, and three College Board seats.

One source did provide the list of Steering Committee members. In addition to Co-Chairs Hoffman and Kennedy, they are former mayor Judo Abdo; artist and former Arts Commission and Rent Control Board member Bruria Finkel; community activist Maria Loya (who is married to School Board member Oscar de la Torre); former School Board member Barry Snell; Community Corporation Board member Catherine Eldridge; Linda Sullivan, who is married to former City Attorney Bob Myers; long-time SMRR members Michael Tarbet and Roger Thornton; Genise Schnitman, who is married to Council member Kevin McKeown; attorney Sonya Sultan; and SMC’s Faculty Senate President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

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