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Local Elections : Mailers Become New Issue in Santa Monica Council Race

November 03, 1988|TRACY WILKINSON | Times Staff Writer

In the waning days of any election campaign, things can get rough and rambunctious.

Although Santa Monica has not descended to the level of some state and national campaigns, the fur, as one observer put it, has begun to fly.

Opposing camps in the City Council race this week accused each other of using deceptive and perhaps dishonest campaign literature.

Blow to Faction

And, in a blow to one faction's campaign, a key endorsement mailer, linked to an influential Westside Democratic political machine, will not back all of the group's candidates.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, the city's dominant political faction, is running a slate of four candidates, led by incumbent Dennis Zane. On the other side, Councilman Herb Katz heads a field of largely independent candidates.

In all, 13 people are competing for four seats on the 7-member body. Santa Monica's estimated 59,000 registered voters can mark ballots for up to four candidates in the Nov. 8 election, a contest expected to shift the balance of power at City Hall.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) came under fire from opponents after mailing out a card that touted endorsements by the Santa Monica Police Officers' Assn.

On one side of the card, three of the tenant faction's candidates who received the Police Officers' endorsement are pictured and named in big blue letters with the label, "The Crime Fighting Team." The fourth recipient of the police endorsement, rival candidate Herb Katz, is not mentioned.

On the reverse side, the blue lettering is continued, along with pledges about what the "Crime Fighting Team" has done and will do to build up the police force and battle crime.

Along the foot of the card are the names of the three Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights candidates who received the endorsement--Zane, Judy Abdo and Paul Rosenstein--and the fourth member of the slate, Ken Genser, who did not receive an endorsement. Asterisks are placed by the three who received the police approval, with small lettering indicating that those with the asterisks received the endorsement. No asterisk appears by Genser's name.

Opponents of the tenant faction attacked the mailer as deceptive, saying it creates an impression that Genser, not Katz, received the fourth Police Officers' endorsement--an endorsement that politicos on all sides agreed is valuable.

Campaigners for Katz charged that the police had been used and that this type of mailer is the expected but undesirable product of slate politics.

Defends Mailer

But Genser and the campaign manager for Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, Thom Poffenberger, said the mailer was fair and clear in its message.

"If you read the piece, it's clear," Poffenberger said. "If you don't read it, then I don't see why there's any controversy or any question. If you read closely, it takes away the question.

"People in Santa Monica do take a look at campaign literature and aren't just bamboozled by a quick impression."

The Police Officers' Assn., however, was not pleased.

Officer Shane Talbot, vice chairman of the association's board, said the mailer was "unfortunate" and he had indicated to Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights "how unhappy I am." He said the piece created an incorrect impression about who had received the organization's endorsement.

Talbot said the association may publish an advertisement in a local newspaper this weekend, featuring Katz's picture as a way to clarify who was endorsed.

Talbot said the association picked its candidates based on experience and with an eye toward maintaining some balance of political viewpoints on the City Council.

The flap underscored what many see as the heart of this race: whether Katz can retain his seat or whether all four tenant-faction candidates will sweep the vote, giving them an overwhelming 5-member majority on the council.

Many see Genser as Santa Monicans for Renters Rights' weakest candidate, a perception that often pits him directly against Katz.

Campaign Letter

Meanwhile, supporters of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights criticized a campaign letter backing Katz, signed by Planning Commissioner Donald Nelson and mailed by Katz's campaign staff. Nelson is a member of the tenant faction, and his support for Katz was bound to create problems for Nelson.

However, at least two versions of the letter were circulated, including one that contained a second paragraph that Nelson said he never authorized.

The disputed passage says Nelson, despite being a member of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, refuses to endorse a SMRR candidate. The version Nelson said he authorized merely spoke of his support for Katz and did not mention whether he was endorsing other candidates.

Nelson says he in fact is supporting three of the tenant-faction candidates in addition to Katz. And although he has received a few irate calls about the letter, Nelson was being circumspect about the whole thing and chalking it up to an honest mistake.

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