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Minister Becomes Santa Monica Mayor : Council Compromises--It's Conn

November 27, 1986|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

After 90 minutes of bickering, the Santa Monica City Council finally got religion Tuesday night and made the Rev. James Conn the city's new mayor.

Conn, a Methodist minister at the Church in Ocean Park, got the nod over several other council members. Conn also beat out a person who came to the meeting dressed as the cartoon character Bullwinkle. The visitor shook hands with each city official and waved a placard that read "Bullwinkle for Mayor."

The personable Conn was the compromise choice of a council that was hopelessly deadlocked until the final vote. At one point, the frustrated city officials even considered choosing the mayor by a coin toss.

The breakthrough came when outgoing Mayor Christine E. Reed, a member of the All Santa Monica Coalition, agreed to nominate and support Conn, who belongs to the rival Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. Conn, a council member since 1981, seemed genuinely moved when his colleagues approved Reed's motion.

"After all this process, through all this divisiveness has come a consensus," said Conn, a liberal Democrat. "It's humbling."

The mayoral selection was unusually difficult this year because the city's rival political factions came out of the Nov. 4 election with an equal number of council seats. The seventh council member is Alan Katz, an independent.

Members of the two factions had pressured Katz to choose the mayor. But Katz firmly resisted, saying the mayor should have the support of both groups. He held his ground through two rounds of votes Tuesday, generating laughter by abstaining each time the factions called on him to break the deadlock.

"We're here to build a future for Santa Monica and that will not be done if we can't work together," Katz said. "What we are talking about is the person who gets to swing this $5 piece of wood," he said, referring to the mayor's gavel. "We're talking about a ceremonial post."

Katz's colleagues were talking about political power, however. The two groups have been fierce political rivals for several years. And it became clear in the early going of the rancorous and often humorous meeting that neither faction liked the idea of making one of the enemy council members mayor.

Councilman David Finkel, the newest council member, was the first to suggest a compromise. He moved that each side choose a representative to serve one year of the traditional two-year mayoral term. Finkel said the two groups could flip a coin to determine which representative served first.

Councilman Herb Katz (no relation to Alan Katz) rejected Finkel's idea, saying the council should not restructure the mayor's job without a public hearing. "Who do we think we are?" Katz asked in an emotional speech.

Later, however, Herb Katz picked up on Finkel's coin toss idea and moved that the council choose a traditional two-year mayor by the flip of a coin. He seemed surprised when some of his colleagues took him seriously. "I know it's a silly idea," Reed said. "But this whole discussion has been silly."

After further debate, one visitor to the council chamber let his feelings be known by throwing a nickel up on the podium. But the council rejected the coin toss solution by one vote. Herb Katz, Conn and Reed voted for the plan. Finkel, William Jennings, Alan Katz and Zane were opposed. The council then accepted a motion by Reed giving conceptual approval to the idea of splitting the mayor's job into two one-year terms. But the two councilmen who were asked to share the mayor's post--Conn and Herb Katz--summarily rejected the plan.

Katz said he did not believe in the concept of a one-year mayor. Conn said he opposed the plan because it weakened the mayor's overall authority.

Exasperated, council members turned to City Atty. Robert M. Myers, asking if they were legally obligated to immediately choose a mayor. "The city Charter says that the mayor serves at the pleasure of the City Council," Myers said dryly. "But the absence of a choice indicates that no one has that pleasure." After several other options failed, Alan Katz again warned that he would not intervene. "My patience is getting weary," he said. "(But) I am willing to sit here until this council learns how to work together."

Finkel then called for a three-minute recess. But Reed objected, implying that he was attempting to hold a last-minute strategy session with his allies in Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. When Finkel indicated that he merely had to go to the bathroom, the council still refused to honor his request.

The discussion continued for several more minutes before Reed finally ended the deadlock by throwing her support to Conn. The council approved the motion 6 to 0, with Jennings abstaining. Herb Katz was unanimously named mayor pro tem. Conn and Reed hugged at the end of the meeting. Both received standing ovations. Then all seven council members went out for a drink.

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