Santa Monica's rival political factions pledged to act in a spirit of cooperation in the wake of a City Council election that left them with three seats each, but the spirit may be soured by a battle over who becomes mayor.
Members of both political factions are already angling for the largely ceremonial post, which will be awarded at the Nov. 25. council meeting. Dennis Zane of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and Councilman William H. Jennings of the All Santa Monica Coalition have publicly expressed interest in the job.
And Herb Katz of the All Santa Monica Coalition and James Conn of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights have been called possible compromise choices.
"It's worth considering," Katz said in an interview. "I've never wanted to be mayor. But if we could work it out as a compromise I would do it."
The new council configuration was unofficially confirmed this week, as the county registrar's office completed a count of missing absentee ballots. The winners in last week's race were Jennings and Christine E. Reed of the All Santa Monica Coalition and David Finkel of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.
The final unofficial vote in the six-way race for the three at-large council seats was Reed, 16,471; Jennings, 16,013; Finkel 15,664; Dolores Press, 15,621; Councilman David Epstein, 15,428, and Julie Lopez Dad, 15,073.
Katz was not involved in this year's election. Neither were Zane and Conn of Santa Monica for Renters' Rights.
Councilman Alan Katz, an independent who is not related to Herb Katz, holds the seventh council seat. Alan Katz could cast the deciding vote on the new mayor if the two sides are unable to agree. Katz said he hopes instead to persuade the two sides to work together.
"I will encourage everyone to meet and talk it over," Alan Katz said. "I don't want to be in a position where there's a tug-of-war and I'm the rope."
However, Alan Katz's colleagues, who are often at odds over citywide issues, said they do not expect the mayoral selection to go smoothly. Jennings predicted that the council will publicly debate the issue because no one has the four votes needed to become mayor. Reed, who has served as mayor for the past two years, said the factions should try to find a mayoral candidate they can agree on.
"It won't work if the two sides don't compromise," Reed said. "That narrows the grounds for discussion. So it comes down to how much good will everyone on the council is willing to have toward the other council members."
Zane would say little about the mayoral vote except to confirm that he wants the office for himself. "My feeling is that the whole process will work out better if I don't say anything," he said. But he ruled out a possible compromise that would result in Herb Katz becoming mayor.
"I like Herb personally but I fail to see him as a compromise candidate," Zane said. "He is clearly aligned on one side of the council."
Members from the two political factions could share the mayor's job by serving one year each, according to Alan Katz. But that option was dismissed by other council members on grounds that a mayor needs two years to establish leadership.
And leadership may be sorely needed since the new mayor will be presiding over a council that lacks a clear majority. Among the major issues likely to be reviewed by the council during the next two years are the city's wide-ranging zoning ordinance, restoration plans for the Santa Monica Pier and the Third Street Mall and development of vacant land at Santa Monica Airport. The council will also be called on to determine the fate of the aging Civic Auditorium complex.
Traffic congestion and the constant pressure for private development are other problems that are likely to receive attention. Zane predicted that the new council's members will be able to work together despite the fact that the heated election campaign left some members of his renter faction with bitter feelings.
"I think everybody on the council is committed to a healthy future for the city. . . . The bitterness will be tempered by a recognition that we will get better decisions if we avoid bitterness," he said.
Zane added that during the last two years council members often formed majorities based on particular issues rather than slate positions. He said he expects the new council to continue to do so.
However, Zane said some issues involving philosophical differences between the two slates will be decided by Alan Katz.
"In some ways the guy in the middle has a determinate say on the issues that divide the others," Zane said. But, he added, "I think Alan shares personally a lot of (Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights) philosophy."