The balance of power in Santa Monica apparently shifted to independent City Councilman Alan Katz this week as the city's rival political factions came out of a heated and extremely close City Council election with three seats each.
The final results of the election will not be known until the city clerk's office gets a complete a count of absentee and defective ballots. But it is clear that Katz handily defeated neighborhood activist Zora Margolis in a race for a special two-year term.
If the final tally does not alter results in the other races, Katz, who received about 80% of the vote, will cast the deciding vote on issues that divide the city's political groups--Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and the All Santa Monica Coalition.
Evening the Scales
The coalition held the majority of the council seats until Tuesday. But David Finkel of the liberal Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights apparently evened the scales by defeating incumbent David Epstein of the All Santa Monica Coalition.
Epstein's allies, Mayor Christine E. Reed and Councilman William H. Jennings were victorious. In an extremely tight race, fewer than 1,200 votes separated the highest- and lowest-ranking candidates in the election.
The two political groups never have shared the reins of power before. People close to Santa Monica politics predicted that Katz would quickly emerge as the City Hall power broker if official returns confirm the even split on the council.
His first crucial vote would be in choosing the council member who would serve as mayor. Katz said he does not know whom he would support.
No Conjectures on Choice
"I'll talk to a lot of people," Katz said on Wednesday. "I may leave the country. What can I do? I'm not going to get into conjecture at this point."
Katz received 19,624 votes, based on unofficial and incomplete returns. Margolis, who ran a bare-bones campaign, received 4,632 votes.
There was no symbolic winner in the race between Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and the All Santa Monica Coalition for the remaining three at-large council seats. Both groups had hoped to emerge with a clear mandate from the city's voters.
Reed, who has served on the council since 1975, was the top vote-getter, based on the unofficial returns, with 15,904. Jennings came in second with 15,449 votes, and Finkel was third with 15,335.
Dolores Press, an ally of Finkel, was edged out of the winners column by just 46 votes in the early tabulations, receiving 15,289. Epstein came in fifth with 14,901, and Julie Lopez Dad, another ally of Finkel and Press, came in sixth with 14,763.
The race started quietly, with each group promoting a pro-rent control and anti-commercial development stance. But in the final days Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights accused the coalition of tricking the voters by distributing pro-tenant campaign mail that closely resembled its own.
Reed, in an interview Wednesday, called the charges ridiculous. She said the race was a victory for the individuals who won, but not for either group.
"People apparently made personal choices among us," Reed said. "I was surprised. Everyone in the room was surprised. . . . I won and Bill (Jennings) won and David (Finkel) won. And I guess the people in Santa Monica won."
Jennings said he was elated over his reelection but was puzzled as to why voters returned him and Reed to the council while failing to support fellow coalition member David Epstein.
Puzzled at Result
"I do not have a good feel of why Chris and I were elected and David was not," he said. "Especially since, when you look at the narrow vote spread, it is obvious that people were voting in slates."
Jennings said that the loss of Epstein's seat was more of a personal loss for Epstein than a defeat for the coalition of three incumbents running against the renters' rights candidates.
He added that he did not believe that Epstein's defeat was the result of voter confusion over which candidate belonged to which slate.
Jennings said that he did not know what the split on the council will mean for Santa Monica.
"I don't know whether the split will be hard or if there will be some real attempt to reach agreement between the parties," he said.
The key to reaching a majority on the new council could be the vote of Alan Katz, Jennings said. And that could make life difficult for Katz, he added.
"I would not want to be in his position," Jennings said. "At first you would see Alan as a kingmaker with all kinds of power. But whomever he doesn't go along with will run a candidate against him next time. He will always be in the spotlight and that is a lot of pressure."
As for who will become mayor, Jennings said that he does not know how the council will vote. But he made it clear that he is interested in the job.
Epstein, who was elected to the council in 1983 in an upset of liberal Mayor Ruth Yannatta Goldway, said he was disappointed but not totally surprised by his defeat.
'Two Drugged Spiders'