Santa Monica Mayor James P. Conn, a liberal Democrat and longtime ally of Assemblyman Tom Hayden, has joined more than 80 people in signing a letter that sharply criticizes Hayden for supporting the death penalty in certain cases.
Conn said that he was angered by Hayden's stance and hoped that the letter would cause Hayden to regret his pro-death penalty position. But he added that his criticism does not signal a fundamental break with Hayden, who has been a driving force behind liberal Santa Monica politics for nearly a decade.
"This seems like an appropriate way to get his (Hayden's) attention," said Conn, a leader of the liberal political organization called Santa Monicans for Renter's Rights. "But I don't think it will affect our alliance with Tom. If any of us thought we were going to hurt Tom politically, we wouldn't do it."
Hayden (D-Santa Monica) has said that he supports the death penalty under "appropriate circumstances." The assemblyman has not fully explained what those circumstances are, but he was among 31 Democratic legislators who endorsed the death penalty in a letter circulated at the party's convention in January.
He was unavailable for comment on Conn's criticism. Bill Schulz, a spokesman, said Hayden "does not agree with purists who think there are no imaginable circumstances in which the dealth penalty should be applied.
"He is not willing to go that far."
The anti-death penalty letter signed by Conn was written by Santa Monica City Atty. Robert M. Myers. Myers, who also authored Santa Monica's rigid rent control law, said progressive Democrats such as Hayden should oppose the death penalty because it is a violation of "the most fundamental" of human rights.
Those who sign Myers' letter have been asked for a contribution of $5 to $25. The city attorney said that he hopes to raise enough money to publish the letter sometime next month in The Outlook in Santa Monica.
In his letter, Myers calls on Hayden to join forces with Amnesty International and other groups that oppose the death penalty. "Earlier this year you signed a letter supporting the death penalty in 'appropriate cases,' " the letter states. "You took this position without consulting with your friends and supporters. The undersigned strongly urge you to reconsider."
In an earlier response to Myers' letter, Hayden was quoted as saying that he had "no objections" to Myers expressing his opinion. Myers' public criticism of Hayden has caused some discomfort within liberal political circles in Santa Monica, since disagreements usually occur privately. But Myers said that it was important to go on the record.
"This letter lets Tom know we have disagreements with his position," Myers said. "This allows people to openly and constructively disagree with him."
Myers said that he has not spoken to Hayden about the death penalty, although the two have exchanged letters on the subject. But the city attorney has a reputation for being outspoken. Most recently, Myers found himself at odds with some City Council members over his refusal to prosecute non-violent vagrants.
Myers said that he was circulating the anti-death penalty letter as a private citizen, not as city attorney. Like Conn, he said that he did not expect the letter to cause any major problems for Hayden politically.
"Someone who opposes the death penalty is not likely to vote for Tom's Republican opponents because they most likely would support the death penalty too," Myers said, looking forward to Hayden's reelection campaign next year.
Myers and Hayden have been political allies for several years. Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy (now known as Campaign California) was one of the prime movers in the city's rent-control movement. As its author, Myers was a leading advocate of the law, which was approved by the voters in 1979.