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O'Connor Targeted by Coalition; Hit Piece Exposes Rift Within SMRR

By Jorge Casuso

October 30 -- City Council incumbent Pam O'Connor is the latest target in what is rapidly becoming one of the most negative local elections since tenants and landlords began fighting for City Hall a quarter century ago.

But this time, the hard-hitting piece comes not from opponents of the powerful tenants' group, but from slow-growth supporters of Council member Kevin McKeown, one of O'Connor's Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights running mates in the race for three open council seats November 7.

The mailer -- sent by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City's (SMCLC) political action committee -- accuses O'Connor of being "willing to sell Santa Monica out to developers," and focuses on contributions made to her campaign by officials and employees of the Macerich Company, which owns Santa Monica Place.

"City Councilmember Pam O'Connor took thousands of dollars from one developer months before she was to vote on their project," reads the mailer, which shows a dour-looking O'Connor next to large green dollar signs.

The mailer urges voters to "tell Pam O'Connor and developers that Santa Monica is NOT for sale," and concludes, "It'’s our city. Let's take it back."

O'Connor openly acknowledges having received the 13 checks from Macerich employees referred to in the flyer. But she quickly adds that, like the other council members, she voted to send the company back to the drawing board after its plan to redevelop Santa Monica Place and include a 21-story condo tower failed to win support. (see story)

"This is the only thing they could find -- that I took legal money," said O'Connor, who is seeking a fourth council term. 'It didn't influence my vote, but they're trying to spin it into something evil."

O'Connor said that leaders of the coalition -- which was formed less than two years ago to oppose the Macerich project -- have tried to influence the council, sitting in the third row of the council chambers earlier this month to visibly back one of their members for a seat on the Convention and Visitors Bureau board. The coalition's candidate failed to win the appointment, with McKeown casting the only supporting vote.

"This is a special interest group who don't want leaders on the council," O'Connor said. "They want people who jump when they say jump."

"These are people with deep pockets who don't like me, because they can't dictate to me," she said. "The longstanding community groups have never tried to strong arm me."

The mailer exposes a rift in the SMRR ranks that has been growing since long before the election campaign kicked into gear. During the group's convention in early August, McKeown endorsed Gleam Davis, but not O'Connor, for the SMRR slate. (see story)

Among those bankrolling the coalition's mailer were SMCLC head Diana Gordon, Pier Restoration Corporation Chair Ellen Brennan, Elizabeth Riel and Victor Fresco, according to a campaign finance report filed with the City Clerk last week.

Brennan, Riel (who was pictured in a mailer for McKeown) and Fresco each gave $250, the maximum allowed under local election law, to McKeown's campaign, according to a campaign finance statement filed earlier this month.

The two other contributors to the mailer – which hit mail boxes this weekend – were Laurel Ronneau, a long-time friend and supporter of McKeown, and Art Harris, a longtime supporter and former member of the Bayside District Board.

McKeown returned Brennan's $250 donation because it was in violation of the Oaks Initiative, which bars candidates from receiving money from individuals and organizations who benefited from their votes.

The law -- approved by voters six years ago and being challenged by the council at the ballot box November 7 -- covers members of the Pier, Bayside and Convention and Visitors Bureau boards, all of which receive funding from the City. (see story)

Members of the School and College boards also are subject to the law's restrictions because both governing bodies receive funding from the City.

The mailer against O'Connor comes in the midst of an expensive, hard-hitting campaign against McKeown bankrolled by the Edward Thomas Management Company, which owns Hotel Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach. (see story)

A demonstration was held outside the hotels Sunday. (see story)





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