SMRR co-founder and candidate campaign manager Denny Zane stands in front of the crowd at John Adams Middle School Sunday.
SMRR co-founder Denny Zane stands in front of the crowd at John Adams Middle School Sunday.

For the first time in its nearly 40 year history, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights — the city’s single-most influential political organization — failed to endorse a single candidate for City Council at the organization’s endorsement convention Sunday.

About 450 members of the organization, which has enjoyed a majority on the City Council since 1988, packed the auditorium of John Adams Middle School for more than five hours Sunday afternoon, hoping to influence the outcome of SMRR’s endorsement convention.

A Stalemate

Through two rounds of voting, incumbent Councilmember Kevin McKeown and former Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber consistently got the top two vote counts among a field of eight candidates seeking SMRR’s backing for their run for three City Council seats.

Out of 452 votes cast in the first round, McKeown got 201 and Gruber got 188 followed by Planning Commissioners Richard McKinnon with 170 votes, Sue Himmelrich with 138 votes, and Jennifer Kennedy with 113. None managed to pass the 55 percent — 249 votes — needed to win an endorsement in the first round. (Full Disclosure: Both Richard McKinnon and Frank Gruber have volunteered time and donated money to Santa Monica Next.) 

Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor got 90 votes, falling one vote short of the 20 percent threshold needed to continue to the next round of voting. She was trailed by Parks and Recreation Chair Phil Brock, 76 votes, and former mayor Mike Feinstein, 60 votes.

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McKeown, McKinnon, and Himmelrich enjoyed an early endorsement by local anti-development group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, a number of whose members turned out Sunday to try to influence SMRR’s endorsement process.

From The Lookout News: “Slow growth advocates — who mounted a campaign to deny O’Connor the group’s backing — split their votes among McKeown (201 votes), McKinnon (170 votes) and Planning Commissioners Sue Himmerlich (138 votes) and Jennifer Kennedy (113 votes).”

McKeown and Gruber also both enjoyed the support of the regional hospitality workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 11.

The second round for City Council ended in a stalemate. With 356 votes cast, 196 were needed to get the group’s endorsement.

McKeown ended round two with 175 votes, Gruber with 166 votes, McKinnon with 155 votes, Himmelrich with 130 votes, and Kennedy with 110 votes. The SMRR Steering Committee is expected to meet this weekend to decide whether to make endorsements. Candidates endorsed by the organization not only benefit from SMRR’s credibility with voters but also enjoy both financial support and help from SMRR’s organization of volunteers.

The Other Races

While there was no consensus on City Council, the group’s members endorsed candidates for city’s other three races.

Barry Snell and Nancy Greenstein got the group’s backing for their reelection bids for Santa Monica College Board of Trustees. Incumbent Boardmembers Louise Jaffe and Andrew Walzer fell short of the threshold for endorsement, as did newcomer Maria Loya and Santa Monica College Professor Douglas Frisch.

For the School Board, SMRR members endorsed the three incumbents running: Laurie Lieberman, Ralph Mechur, and Oscar de la Torre. SMRR Co-Chair and SMC professor Richard Tahviladaran-Jesswein got members’ backing for the open seat on the School Board left by Nimish Patel, who is not seeking reelection.

SMRR’s members also voted to support incumbent Todd Flora, newcomer Nicole Phillis, and former Council candidate Steve Duron as a slate for Rent Control Board.