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What I Say About Frank Gruber

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Write What You Know

By Frank Gruber

Believe me, I would have rather been wrong about the Santa Monica City Council election than about the big one, but it fits my job description better to be more right about the former than the latter.

But that was an exciting local election, wasn't it? The Chamber of Commerce got overtly political for the first time, and as far back as the summer, even before there were candidates to endorse, began the campaign with mailers that described downtown as smelling like urine. Great start!

Then there were hedges, and the emergence of our quasi-celebrity candidate.

Big, anonymous spenders spent hundreds of thousands of dollars sending voters heart-rending accounts of innocents caught up in the bureaucracy.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) dropped its endorsement of Michael Feinstein.

The police union endorsed the only candidate who said she would not have voted for the ban on sleeping in doorways, or the limitations on serving food in the parks.

Candidates advertised on cable TV, and you couldn't answer your phone without fearing the dreaded robo-call.

Non-uniformed City employees chose to make their first endorsements in a year when the political punching bag of choice was a bureaucrat mailing a threatening letter.

Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) endorsed eight candidates.

Candidates were linked with other candidates because they had breakfast together.

A trash-processing company trashed a candidate.

A million dollars were spent.

Wow. That was exciting. And what happened?

Oh, yeah, Bobby Shriver replaced Feinstein and otherwise three incumbents won.

Three incumbents won? I thought this was the year . . .

Before the next time we do this, can we now agree on a few points and not have to bang our heads about them again? Such as:

* Angry candidates lose big. Kathryn Morea, David Cole and Bill Bauer were all named on fewer than 25 percent of the ballots cast.

* The corollary of that is that Santa Monicans are not unhappy. Concerned, of course, but they know they have a good thing going and they don't like candidates who tell them they need to be grumpy and despise those who but for the grace of God go there, etc.

* There is logic in collective action, i.e., Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) is still the big dog in town no matter how tall the hedges grow and how long it takes to get your plans approved. How much is a SMRR endorsement worth? In 2000 Michael Feinstein running with SMRR support received about 21,000 votes; Tuesday without SMRR support he received about 7,000. Okay, he was also attacked by CEPS, and by the trash hauler, but so much for charisma and the Green Party. (Memo to Kevin McKeown, if you can persuade Pam O'Connor to vote for you for mayor, please don't go around the country calling yourself Santa Monica's "Green Party Mayor." It will annoy Denny Zane.)

* Politics is God's way of telling rich people that they have too much money, and Santa Monicans are sophisticated enough to disregard information they receive from anonymous sources, so if you're a hotel or other business, and you want to influence us, write us letters explaining who you are, what your concerns are, what you contribute to the community, and why you believe it's in our interest to vote for the candidates you support. Otherwise, find a better use for your money.

What else? I'm optimistic about the council the city will have for the next two years. One cannot predict for sure how Shriver will vote, but he campaigned from the center of Santa Monica politics and he impresses me as someone who likes to research and study issues before making up his mind; perhaps that trait comes from careers as a reporter and as a lawyer.

I'm hopeful Shriver and Pam O'Connor will provide not only swing votes, but also a bridge between the two extremes.

Without Feinstein, the bloc of Ken Genser, Richard Bloom and McKeown won't be able to run the bureaucracy ragged pursuing the crisis du jour, be it the latest emergency building moratorium or the latest task force to study whatever.

I doubt, for instance, whether there will be four votes, in the future, to do something like adopt code enforcement as the Planning Department's budget priority, as the gang of four did a few years ago. (As described in the Lookout's series on the origins of the City's crackdown on rampant lawlessness.)

For their part, however, Genser, Bloom and McKeown provide counterweights to Herb Katz and Bob Holbrook. Katz and Holbrook are strong on common sense, but often in the interest of being commonsensical, they express a view of Santa Monica that is simplistic; for instance, with regard to traffic and parking.

So congratulations, Santa Monicans, you did okay.

But also, congratulations to the candidates -- all of them, those who won and those who lost. You did okay, too.

* * *

As for the presidential election, the taste of crow is still too bitter in my mouth to write anything useful and, in any case, at the moment I'm consumed with tracking down the source of the polling shibboleth that undecided voters break against the incumbent.
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