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By Jorge Casuso
October 20, 2022 -- Santa Monica voters are being inundated with a wave of mailers and electronic ads in a hotly contested City Council race that has unearthed old rivalries and realigned the city's political forces.
The hotel workers union's hard-hitting mailers targeting Councilmember Lana Negrete are being countered by the owners of Casa del Mar and Shutters, who have been engaged in a bitter battle with the union for two decades.
Negrete's campaign, which has become a lightening rod in the November race for three open Council seats, has also reinforced the bond between Unite HERE Local 11 and Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR).
And her candidacy has driven a wedge between the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), which backs the Councilmember, and the pro-housing development group Santa Monica Forward that is attempting to push her out.
The biggest showdown is the renewed rivalry between the hotel workers union and the Edward Thomas Management Co., which in 2002 thwarted the union's efforts to pass a controversial living wage measure for businesses in the coastal zone.
The two are going toe-to-toe again, with the hotel union spending $38,000 over the past two weeks -- evenly divided between Caroline Torosis, Ellis Raskin and Jesse Zwick.
In addition, the union has spent $61,033 targeting Negrete in what is the hardest hitting campaign since the police union helped oust Tony Vazquez from the Council in 1994 ("Councilmember Negrete Target of First Election Hit Piece," September 23, 2022).
The union has also spent $7,881 targeting slow-growth activist Armen Melkonians.
The owners of Casa and Shutters have fought back, spending $55,615 on each of the two candidates, with $33,725 of that spent over the past two weeks.
Some of the divisions and alliances that have surfaced during the Council race are reshuffling Santa Monica's political power structure.
SMRR -- which has traditionally counted on a hefty war chest that averaged more than $130,000 in each of the five elections before the coronavirus shutdown -- has little money to spend and is relying on the hotel union's cash and canvassing efforts to push their common slate.
This year, the little money SMRR has raised is coming not from the small contributions made by hundreds of its members but from parties involved in the November 8 election, according to the latest campaign finance disclosure statements.
Mayor Sue Hiimmelrich gave the group $20,000 this month, while Council candidates Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick contributed $3,553 and $2,500 respectively. Unite HERE has pitched in $2,400.
A major power flip has taken place between Forward and Santa Monicans for Change, which successfully ousted most of the rival group's candidates two years ago in a historic voter revolt.
Santa Monicans for Change, which raised a total of $37,000 for the 2020 Council race, has spent nearly as much over the past two weeks supporting Negrete and Melkonians with slate cards, lawn signs and mailers.
Meanwhile Forward -- which raised nearly $220,000 in the 2020 Council race during the coronavirus shutdown -- has received only $15,000 in October.
And that came from a single contribution, not from developers but from the regional carpenters union.
Over the past two weeks, Forward has spent $2,000 on a mailer and postage for each of its three candidates -- Torosis, Zwick and Natalya Zernitskaya.
Meanwhile CEPS, which broke with Forward after endorsing Negrete, spent about $5,000 on a mailer this month backing the incumbent. The group still has some $25,000 to spend on its slate, which includes Torosis and Zernitskaya.
The Police and Firefighters unions -- which have raised a combined total of $242,000 -- still have more than $200,000 to spend backing their slates, which both include Negrete and Melkonians.
Santa Monica Firefighters Political Activities has also endorsed Torosis, while the Santa Monica Police Officers Association for a Better Community has endorsed Albin Gielicz.
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