The political future of Santa Monica City Councilman Alan Katz, who has tried to forge a reputation as a peacemaker between the city's warring factions during his brief council tenure, could be dealt a serious blow today if tenant activists decide to oppose him in the November election.
Members of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights will decide whether to challenge Katz's candidacy when they hold their first convention this afternoon. Katz has been trying to rally support. But leaders of the tenant activist group said they cannot predict which way the membership will vote.
"People have made the argument that we should challenge Katz, and others have made the argument that we shouldn't," said Wayne Bauer, Rent Control Board commissioner. "And both sides have had excellent reasons."
Katz is one of four incumbent councilmen running in November. The three others--David G. Epstein, William H. Jennings and Christine E. Reed--are affiliated with the All Santa Monica Coalition, a moderate political organization that controls the majority of the seven council seats. Tenant activists Dennis Zane and James P. Conn hold two other seats and do not face reelection until 1988.
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and the All Santa Monica Coalition have been battling for control of City Hall for most of the 1980s. It was the coalition that appointed Katz to his council post last year, after the death of Ken Edwards. Despite Katz's ties to the coalition, the 33-year-old councilman has argued that he deserves renter consideration.
Independent Status Proclaimed
"My hope is that (tenant activists) will realize I have been a council member that has not been a factionalist for either side; that I have been independent and have approached issues directly, not politically," Katz said.
During his nine months on the council, Katz has been known to cross factional lines on major issues. He sided with the coalition on a decision to deny funding to neighborhood organizations. Earlier, he teamed with tenant activists who opposed construction of a controversial automobile dealership.
Despite his occasional forays into tenant activist territory, coalition members continue to support Katz. Katz said he hopes his popularity carries over to the leadership ranks of the tenant organization.
"The ideal thing would be to have all of my colleagues serve as honorary chairs of my campaign," Katz said. "In many ways the election for my seat is a test of the maturity of the political factions. Have they matured to the extent that you don't have to be one of them to be acceptable to them?"
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights has had mixed success at the polls since successfully campaigning for the city's strict rent control law in 1979, and hopes to gain strength this year. It can win the council majority by taking two of the four council seats. But some tenant activists have argued that the group should go for a larger victory by campaigning for all four seats.
If Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights supports four candidates, Katz could be seen as the easiest target. He is the least experienced of the four incumbents. And, because he is running to fill the remainder of Ken Edwards' term, Katz is the only councilman running independently from the pack. That gives tenant activists a chance to run their strongest candidate against him.
On the other hand, Katz has been seen as a better friend to tenant activists than the other three incumbents. If Katz is challenged, some people contend that Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights will appear to be power hungry.
"It would be clear to many people that (tenants) were over-reaching," said one observer. "It would weaken their ability to win the majority. And, if they lose, they would go from having a part-time ally to a full-time enemy."
Further complicating matters is Katz's ties to the coalition. Reed, Jennings and Epstein were largely responsible for Katz's council appointment. So he cannot be expected to oppose their reelection efforts. But Katz may not consider himself obligated to campaign for them either, sources said.
Assets vs. Drawbacks
Zane, a tenant activist leader, said Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights will be forced to decide whether Katz's assets outweigh his drawbacks.
"Alan Katz says he wants to be a bridge between the political factions in the city," Zane said. "He's trying to be politically neutral. A key question will be whether people, indeed, perceive him as neutral or independent."
The two most likely tenant activist council candidates are Santa Monica Rent Control Board Commissioner David Finkel and Dolores Press, a former councilwoman. Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights also will endorse candidates in school board and Rent Control Board races.
At the same time, the All Santa Monica Coalition will kick off the fall campaign with a barbecue and membership meeting this afternoon. Terry Pullan, a coalition leader, said the group will endorse candidates after the Aug. 8 filing deadline.