The LookOut columns

What I Say About Frank Gruber

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All Politics is (a) Local, (b) Not Local, (c) Important, (d) All of the Above

By Frank Gruber

As I write this Monday morning, nearly all the polls have converged on a tie between Bush and Kerry somewhere between 46 and 48 percent. Normally, knowing that incumbent presidents have never received more than three-quarters of a percent of the vote more than their last poll numbers, I would feel reasonably confident that Kerry will defeat the president with 50 or 51 percent of the vote, as I predicted a couple weeks ago.

Nonetheless, I am petrified. My prediction is based on history, a fickle predictor of the future (ask the New York Yankees), and what with the Osama tape, and ambiguous polling data, perhaps the undecideds will defy precedent and tip toward the incumbent.

But that's hard for me to believe -- at least in the analytic part of my brain and not the fear center in my amygdala -- because the polls in 2000 nearly all showed Bush ahead, and this year the Democratic get out the vote effort is operating at an energy level far in excess of what lifted Gore into what should have counted as victory.

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As I said in one of my columns last week, the most important local vote is for the Santa Monica College bond, Measure S. Because the bond is so important, I am going to respond to Richard Bloom's letter to the Lookout disputing how I characterized his position on it.

I don't see how I "incorrectly" stated Bloom's position. In his letter, Bloom says that he "will support the measure when the City and College agree that there is a partnership;" in my column, I said, Bloom "opposes the bond for now (as opposed to when?) because as yet the City and the College have not been able to agree on the terms of their 'partnership'."

Evidently Bloom doesn't like the idea that I say he "opposes," the bond, on the grounds that his position is that he would support it at some theoretical moment in the future when Bloom and his colleagues on the Council have blessed it.

But politics doesn't work in the theoretical; the bond is on the ballot now. Not only that, but under the provisions of Prop. 39, which allows for 55 percent approval, the next time the bond could be voted on would be the next general election in an even-numbered year; i.e., not until 2006.

I stand by my statement that Bloom's equivocating about the bond now equals opposition to it now, which is, of course, consistent with Bloom's express opposition to Prop. U in 2003, and his typically negative attitude toward the College.

What about Bloom's purported reasons for equivocating? He says that he doesn't know where the money will go and that "one cannot take a 'leap of faith' when it comes to committing public dollars."

But wait a minute? Didn't the City Council float a library bond to renovate the old main library, and then decide on the fly to tear down the old library and build a new one? Bloom didn't have a problem with the public taking a leap of faith on that, even though a $25 million bond for renovating the main library and branch libraries morphed into a more than $50 million project to build a parking structure with library attached.

As for Bloom's now worrying that the Madison site theater won't be self-supporting, and his objecting to using bond money to build it, the point is that from the College's perspective, the theater will be a classroom. I suppose the chemistry labs at the College aren't self-supporting either, but the College has them because for students to transfer to the University of California they have to take certain classes.

UC now requires classes in the arts, including theater, so it makes sense for the College to build the theater with bond money. The money the College Foundation has been raising for construction can now be kept in an endowment to subsidize operations. As a bonus, the community will get a gem of a little concert hall. Since many Santa Monicans now drive dozens of miles to hear music, their lives will be a little better and they will drive less.

In addition to Bloom's letter, I have also heard from readers who object to the bond because Denny Zane, Co-Chair of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, has been hired to run the campaign for it. First, let me say to these readers that I don't care where the money for the campaign comes from or who is running the campaign; it's the merits of the bond that are important.

As for Zane, my only problem with his involvement is that I wonder how persuasive he can be on the issue if he can't persuade two SMRR candidates, Bloom and Ken Genser, that they need to support the bond.

* * *

So the City Council election comes down to ... what? It looks like more than a million dollars is being spent to elect four members of the Santa Monica City Council.

The Santa Monica City Council? A million dollars? Our democracy must be a terrific product if people are willing to spend so much on it.

But these amounts are not unprecedented. Candidate, slate, and "independent" expenditures (mostly by businesses and city employee unions) have been in the hundreds of thousands for years, and the anti-living wage forces spent over a million on their effort to defeat the coastal district living wage.

It's not the money this year that has made the election different. The difference has been Bobby Shriver. Shriver is the first liberal, but non-SMRR candidate since Paul Rosenstein ran for reelection in 1994 whom SMRR has not been able to paint into a right-wing box.

This has changed the dynamic of the race. Without Shriver running, my guess is that with the benefit of three police union endorsements, and notwithstanding the homeless or hedges (remember the Homeowners' Freedom of Choice Initiative?), SMRR would reelect its two incumbents and replace Michael Feinstein with Patricia Hoffman or Maria Loya. Herb Katz would win the one seat the opposition usually ekes out. Ho-hum, business as usual.

But now, Shriver is poised to take the Feinstein seat, and Katz by all evidence (namely my gut feeling) looks likely to hold onto his seat. SMRR will retain two seats (either both incumbents, or one of them will be subbed for by Hoffman or, and it would be a long shot, Maria Loya), and the swing votes on the Council will be Shriver and Pam O'Connor, who is SMRR but unpredictable.

If the Shriver effect is huge, then Matt Dinolfo might sneak into the fourth spot.

How has Shriver changed the nature of the campaign? The SMRR opposition has linked their other candidates with him; witness the mailers from Santa Monicans for Change and other business-funded groups that sometimes push all four Chamber candidates, and sometimes just Shriver and Katz. Shriver has pointedly refused to endorse other candidates, but that hasn't stopped the linking: over the weekend I received a recorded phone call asking me to vote for Shriver and Kathryn Morea. Who paid for that?

(Speaking of recorded calls: Memo to SMRR, it was not helpful when Denny Zane by way of a recording called us at 6:30 Monday morning.)

It's got to the point that the biggest threat to Shriver is that liberals who would likely vote for him might not do so because of who has grabbed at his coattails.

SMRR, however, has not pressed this point. On their mailers they go negative by name only on Katz and Feinstein, no doubt expecting Shriver to win. They either don't want to be on his bad side, or they are simply reaching for the low hanging fruit. Or both.

* * *

One last word before my readers get either excited or depressed by my predictions; in my family, the word is that I'm always wrong.

Now, get out and vote.

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