Though not quite the cliché smoke-filled room of Chicago Blackstone Hotel where nominations for public office were secretly made, Santa Monica’s most recognized political party will have to resort to a meeting of its steering committee to decide whoto endorse for the Nov. 4 City Council race.
An overflow crowd of about 500 people – unofficially estimated to be the largest attendance ever – filled the cafeteria and outdoor patio of John Adams Middle School (JAMS) on Sunday to participate in the Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) convention.
The SMRR membership hoped to endorse three candidates for City Council by late afternoon. However, after two rounds of voting and almost five hours of waiting it out in a stuffy cafeteria without air conditioning on a humid and sticky Sunday afternoon, none of the nine council candidates crossed the 55 percent vote threshold to gain SMRR’s endorsement.
Accordingly, the SMRR steering committee could now internally decide whom to endorse for the Nov. 4 election, opening the door for the selection of three candidates who might not have been among the top three vote getters.
In the first round of voting, five of the nine council candidates who courted SMRR’s members earned at least 20 percent of the vote, the minimum amount required to be at least be in the running for an endorsement. Those five were (in order of finish) Kevin McKeown (201 votes), Frank Gruber (188), Richard McKinnon (170), Sue Himmelrich (136), and Jennifer Kennedy (118).
Four council candidates failed to earn 20 percent of the vote: Pam O’Connor, Michael Feinstein, Phil Brock, and Ken Robin.
However, a SMRR policy requires candidates for any city office received at least 55 percent support from the voting membership in order to be endorsed.
In the first round of voting, SMRR officials announced the 55 percent threshold was 249 votes. The leading vote getter of that first round was 48 votes shy of the endorsement minimum.
As none of the five council candidates with at least 20 percent of the vote crossed the 55 percent threshold, a second ballot featuring McKeown, Gruber, McKinnon, Himmelrich, and Kennedy was required.
All five candidates finished in the same exact order and roughly the same number of votes in the second round of voting. McKeown remained first with 175 votes, followed by Gruber (166), McKinnon (155), Himmelrich (130), and Kennedy (110).
The 55 percent threshold in the second round was 196 votes, according to SMRR’s leadership.
When the second ballot results were announced, SMRR’s Patricia Hoffman announced since the voting remained relatively consistent for two rounds a third vote would not take place. In response, a motion was made and seconded to overrule the chair’s decision and have a third ballot.
According to SMRR rules, at least 66 percent of the voting membership present had to support the motion in order for the chair’s decision to be overturned.
The motion only received 53 percent support, however, keeping the chair’s decision to not have a third ballot in effect and opening the door for the steering committee to make the endorsements.
During candidate presentations, Robin announced his withdrawal from the council race and gave his support to Brock.
While no endorsements were made last Sunday in the City Council race, the SMRR membership did vote to endorse candidates in the other races and measure impacting Santa Monica residents and voters.
In the race for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board, SMRR’s membership endorsed Oscar de la Torre, Laurie Lieberman, Ralph Mechur, and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.
Rent Control Board candidates Steve Duron, Todd Flora, and Nichole Phillis were also endorsed by the SMRR membership.
Two candidates were endorsed in the Santa Monica College Board race: Nancy Greenstein and Barry Snell.
SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman said its Steering Committee would meet Saturday to discuss its next step.
“Those who are on leave are Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and Maria Loya because they are running for office and Genise Schnitman and Denny Zane because they are working on campaigns,” Hoffman said. “This has been our policy since at least 1990.”
In an email to The Mirror, Genise Schnitman identified herself as a “longtime member” of SMRR and one of those serving on the steering committee. She is also the wife of Council member Kevin McKeown.
Accordingly, Schnitman publicly stated she would “not participate in the SMRR steering committee process” in deciding who to endorse for City Council.