By Jason Islas
September 13, 2012 -- Santa Monica's powerful public safety unions announced Wednesday that they would throw their considerable clout behind incumbents Terry O'Day and Gleam Davis, as well as two challengers, in the race for four open seats on the City Council.
The Firefighters' and Police Unions, considered to be two of the most influential interest groups in local politics, also put their money and reputation behind education activist Shari Davis and Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer.
Over the past ten years, the Santa Monica Police Officer's Association (SMPOA) has backed 17 winning council members, including Council member Bobby Shriver who won without the endorsement of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), another influential interest group.
Only two of the candidates the 209-member union has backed in the past decade -- Patricia Hoffman and Matt Dinolfo -- have failed to win a seat on the seven-member council
"As Californians enter an era of budget cuts and public safety being compromised, these candidates will prioritize public safety in order to provide the finest police and fire department services for our community," union officials wrote in a statement issued Wednesday.
O’Day and Davis "have consistent track records of voting for issues that favor community safety and ensure the highest quality of emergency services,” union officials wrote. “City Council candidates Shari Davis and Ted Winterer are also committed to keeping Santa Monica residents safe.”
The four candidates will benefit from the Police Association's war chest (as of June 30, it had collected $76,199 from membership dues) as well as volunteers from both the firefighters and the police, who will show up at events, send election mailers and walk precincts.
The police union endorsement endorsement, along with that of the firefighters, historically carries a lot of weight in Santa Monica elections.
“Public safety personnel are held in high esteem in this town,” said Council member Bob Holbrook, who has been on the council for a record 22 years.
“Firefighters will walk and hand out fliers,” Holbrook said. The police “will spend money.”
“In a close election, they can definitely influence the outcome,” he said.
The firefighters union has not raised money this year for the November 6 election.
O'Day, who received the groups' endorsements in 2010, was happy to get them again.
“As a council, we've prioritized public safety as we've dealt with an economic crunch,” he said. “We have not wavered on public safety.”
Gleam Davis, who also received the groups' endorsements in 2010, responded similarly.
One major issue facing the new Council will be rising pension costs for City employees, including those in public safety, who account for approximately half of the City's pension contributions.
Pension costs have risen from $10 million a decade ago to more than $40 million today, due to an increasingly poor invest environment and diminishing returns from the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS).
Earlier this year, public safety employees entered a good-faith agreement with the City that will raise the rate they pay into CalPERS from their salaries from zero to three percent over the next three years.
In the first year, City officials said, firefighters will pay a total of about $135,000, while police officers will pay $240,000 -- one percent of their combined salaries.
“I'm glad that the City and all its union employees have worked together to provide a solution without putting undue strain on the City budget,” Davis said.
The endorsements came after union officials interviewed the candidates on everything from development to budget priorities.
"With more and more habitual criminals being released from prison into our community due to the realignment of California’s prison system, both Shari Davis and Ted Winterer are devoted to providing SMPD the tools and resources necessary to protect the community," union officials said.
"Shari Davis and Ted Winterer are also dedicated to maintaining the level of service the Santa Monica Fire Department provides as it faces an increasing call volume and expanding scope of emergencies."