James Conn served on the Santa Monica City Council from 1981 to 1988 and was mayor from 1986 to 1988.
“I’m busy getting arrested,” jokes Jim Conn. “Somebody’s got to do it so it might as well be a former mayor of Santa Monica.”
He was referring to a civil disobedience action that took place in downtown Los Angeles on April 4th, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Conn joined with others to protest the working conditions of downtown security guards who earn $7.50 an hour “with no health care and no vacations.” Following the action, he notes that “there was an announcement by some of the major building owners that they would let these guards form their own union, which would dramatically change their lives.”
Currently, Conn works for the United Methodist Church for whom he is an ordained minister (he spent 22 years as minister of the Church In Ocean Park). He spent ten years working for the church’s annual conference as an urban strategist, helping churches reconnect to their neighborhoods and contribute to community development. Now he works as Director of New Ministries and is responsible for all new ministries and for regional revitalization projects.
Of his time as mayor Conn says, “I think it gave me an exposure to how institutions really function.” He adds that most people are only concerned with politics during times of election and don’t notice the day-to-day operations as one does if one becomes an elected official.
Conn also remembers that there was a “major seismic shift” in Santa Monica politics at the time that he and other members of SMRR (Santa Monicans For Renters Rights) were elected to the City Council. While their policies and ideas have become more accepted in urban politics, there were those who saw Conn’s positions as over-optimistic and anti-business.
“The business community in general was very suspicious about Jim,” the late Christine Reed told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, at the end of Conn’s tenure as mayor. Ironically, by the end of his term, Conn was also regarded as a sellout by some liberals for having supported developments such as Colorado Place and the Water Garden.
During his time as mayor Conn saw himself as someone who could unite people with disparate views. “When you’re an elected official, you have the opportunity to form relationships that you don’t when you’re not in that position.”
Local realtor Vince Muselli recalls, “I found Jim to be someone that I could talk to,” despite Conn’s SMRR affiliation. He notes that Conn voted in support of a Muselli project, a small office building on 7th St., because he had been able to sit down and talk with Conn about the project. However, he adds, in most cases, Conn and SMRR got developers to “make concessions” to the renters.
Conn continues to follow happenings in Santa Monica. “I think Santa Monica is an interesting city to watch. It’s a city that is watched a lot because it’s on the Westside and it’s in the vortex of media attention.”
John Maceri of OPCC, Conn’s longtime ally, observes, “I think Jim personifies all the best of Santa Monica. He has a heart for community service. We don’t have enough elected officials who are as interested in improving people’s lives as Jim has been.”