After eight years on the City Council, Santa Monica Mayor James Conn has announced he will not run for reelection, a move expected to significantly widen the field in November's municipal race.
Conn, 43, a Methodist minister at the Church in Ocean Park, said he wants to dedicate more time to his 10-year-old son, Ethan, and to his congregation.
"I intend to be a full-time minister again . . . and a full-time father," Conn told The Times. "And there are a few aspects of personal growth I'd like to see to, like maybe reading a novel."
Conn also has been active in broader causes. He was repeatedly arrested while protesting at the Nevada nuclear test site and he visited Nicaragua and Honduras on a fact-finding mission in 1983.
Conn made his public announcement at the start of a City Council meeting Tuesday night, ending months of speculation over whether he was in or out of the race.
The silver-haired, bespectacled mayor said he felt gratified that many of his pet projects, including development of excess land at the Santa Monica Airport and city-wide downzoning, are well under way.
In the last two years, Conn has often described his role as mayor as being a builder of bridges. He is generally regarded as a council member willing to compromise and span the schism between the city's two rival political factions, which have held an equal number of seats since 1986. He has led the council during a time when it was solidifying its position as a less contentious, more professional body in search of consensus rather than conflict.
"Jim has done a phenomenal job as mayor," said Councilman Alan Katz.
"He has played a very important role in the community, bringing people together, finding common ground, while still advocating what he believes in," Katz said. "He has really made Santa Monica a much better place to live."
But that willingness to compromise has angered some members of the political organization he represents, who say Conn has betrayed some of the group's basic goals, especially in curbing development.
A member of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, Conn has often found himself on the opposite side of the organization's other two members on the council, Dennis Zane and David Finkel.
Conn voted with the political opposition in approving recent projects, such as the massive Colorado Place complex and the yet-to-be-built Water Garden complex.
But Conn defends the decisions as part of a measured plan of necessary growth. He says he has worked to ensure the community's quality of life while allowing controlled development that produces income to pay for the city's social service programs, such as care for the homeless.
Conn is the second incumbent to withdraw from November's election. Katz, an independent who is also chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, said earlier this year that he wanted to be able to give more time to McCarthy's Senate campaign.
2 Incumbents Left
With Conn and Katz out of the picture, only two incumbents will be in the running: Zane and Herb Katz (no relation to Alan Katz) of the rival All Santa Monica Coalition, a loose-knit faction considered to be politically more centrist.
Four seats on the seven-member council are up for election.
With the field opened up, there is some speculation that there will be an opportunity for new figures to join in the political fray.
Other community figures remain skeptical, however, saying that the electoral system in Santa Monica, which tends to favor slates, continues to limit any real chances for newcomers.
"It would probably be a lot healthier for the city if all hell broke loose and there really were debate," said Penny Perlman, a planning commissioner often mentioned as a possible candidate for the All Santa Monica Coalition.
"There are a lot of people who want to serve the community but won't come forward (because) the system shuts them out," she said. "In that sense, I don't know that it makes a difference if there are two or 20 undeclared seats."
At the same time, the election poses questions over what direction the council will take.
The two incumbents who are not running have often been seen as mediating forces. Who ends up replacing them could have a major influence on the course of city politics, fostering a continuation of the recent tradition of consensus-building, or forcing a return to more divisive days.
As tends to be its style, the All Santa Monica Coalition has said little about its election-year plans.
But within Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, a scramble for positioning on the electoral ticket already is under way. The organization will meet in a convention July 31 to choose its candidates, said co-chairman Ken Genser.
Sources say intense debates, the lining up of delegates and interviewing of potential candidates is the order of the day within the ranks of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR).