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Council Incumbents Split on Police Endorsement

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By Jorge Casuso

September 4, 2020 -- Two of the four City Council incumbents vying for four full-term seats have chosen not to seek the backing of the Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA), which has given candidates a powerful election boost for generations.

Councilmember Gleam Davis and Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day -- who were backed by the POA in their three previous Council bids -- said they did not seek the coveted endorsement, which comes as the City considers police reforms.

Councilmembers Ted Winterer and Ana Jara -- who were interviewed by union officials on Thursday -- said they believe it is important to continue engaging with the City's police force.

The four incumbents are among 15 candidates actively seeking four open four-year seats in the November 3 election. Newly appointed Councilmember Kristin McCowan is running uncontested for a two-year seat.

Both Davis and O'Day said they chose not to seek the endorsement because they wish to be viewed as impartial when the Council considers Police Department oversight and an assessment of the Department's response to the protests and looting on May 31.

"As we hear from our community and discuss all these matters, we must remain impartial and open-minded," Davis said in a statement to The Lookout.

"I elected to not seek the endorsement of the Police Officers Association so that there would be no doubt about my independence as we undertake this crucial and groundbreaking work," Davis wrote.

O'Day cited similar reasons -- as well as "the extreme politicization of police matters nationwide" -- for not seeking the endorsement usually given to incumbents.

"Providing steady, clear-eyed, and impartial guidance through these coming months is more important than endorsement for the election," O'Day wrote in a statement to the Lookout.

"The impacts to our community and the men and women in our department cannot appear to be influenced by election year politics," O'Day said.

"I told our police union that my commitment to stand for reelection is an expression of my abiding respect and concern for their service and well-being."

Councilmember Jara, who was appointed in Januray 2019 to fill the seat vacated by Tony Vazquez, and Winterer, who was backed by the POA in his two previous bids, both decided to seek the endorsement.

"I have agreed to take the interview," Jara told the Lookout after her session with the POA Thursday. "I have worked hard to establish good relations in the community and will continue to build on that.

"As noted in my decision from the dais, I am pro-labor and feel the best way to collaborate is to talk with one another," Jara said.

Winterer said it is important to acknowledge the department's role in reducing crime before questions were raised about the police response on May 31 and demands for reform grew.

"Residents were stepping outside their homes to applaud and cheer our local first responders for putting their lives at risk every day on our streets as COVID-19 caused most of us to shelter at home," Winterer said.

"Since I believe the surest path to constructive change always requires engaging all stakeholders, I interviewed with the Police Officers Association today," Winterer wrote in a statement sent to the Lookout Thursday.

"We engaged in a frank and productive dialogue about how we can address the public's concerns and assure the SMPD operates at the highest standard possible," he said.

"I have, however, pledged not to accept a campaign contribution from the POA should they choose to endorse me to allay any concerns that money might influence my votes."

Jara and Winterer will benefit from the Police Association's war chest funded with membership dues that bankrolls an independent campaign.

The POA's campaign takes out ads and sends mailers touting their slate as pro-public safety.

The police union endorsement, along with that of the firefighters, which always matches the POA slate, historically carries a lot of weight in Santa Monica elections.

It is unclear what impact recent events will have on the public's perception of police during this year's election campaign.

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