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Olsen Campaign Loses Backing of Renters' Group

August 11, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Monica City Councilman Kelly Olsen has been bumped from the slate of the powerful renters' group that elected him four years ago--the first time the group has failed to endorse one of its own incumbents seeking reelection.

The surprising turn of events capped a spirited, well-attended Sunday convention of the coalition, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, which has long been the dominant political force in the city.

SMRR endorsed two women activists, Pam O'Connor and Bruria Finkel, to run on a three-person slate with incumbent Tony Vazquez. Two candidates failed to make the slate in the five-way race--Olsen and Mike Feinstein, a slow-growth activist.

O'Connor is a historic preservation expert who serves on the Planning Commission. Finkel, an artist, is a member and past chairwoman of the city's Arts Commission.

The two women were supported in their bid by a year-old SMRR women's caucus, formed to help women candidates. Despite its longstanding support for gender equity, a vast majority of council members belonging to SMRR have been men.

Olsen left the convention without comment, and is said to be considering running as an independent.

If all three SMRR-endorsed candidates win, the renters' groups would control six out of seven seats on the City Council. They control five seats now.

Their political opponents, who are trying to pick up a third seat in November, were pleased about the decision to drop Olsen, saying it showed that SMRR is out of touch with the concerns of Santa Monicans.

"They kicked off their only public safety candidate . . . the only candidate they could point to and say we are for safe streets and safe parks," said City Councilman Robert T. Holbrook, who is seeking reelection this year. "There's no question they shot themselves in the foot."

If Olsen's public safety stance gave him currency with voters, it worked against him among some factions of the renters' rights organization. Many of the group's stalwarts strongly opposed such Olsen measures as the youth curfew and closing down the parks at night.

Though other SMRR-backed council members--Ken Genser and Paul Rosenstein--also backed the public safety measures, Olsen often moved forward without conferring with the group's leaders.

Former Mayor Dennis Zane said Olsen was a risk-taker who would have had a stronger showing Sunday if he had worked to build a consensus within the group.

"In a democratic organization, even incumbents can't take the membership for granted," said Zane, who backed the SMRR-endorsed candidates.

While the convention was highly-charged, it was not nearly as contentious as it has been in the last several years. The biggest flap involved Zane's confrontation with Feinstein outside the room over "bullet voting," in which a candidate's supporters cast a single vote for that candidate and do not support anyone for the other two spots on the slate.

Bullet-voting made it difficult for any candidate except Vazquez to get the required 50%-plus-one vote needed for the group's endorsement.

Zane said Feinstein solicited new members beholden only to him, which skews the will of the group in favor of an individual's political career.

"Bullet-voting is having a pernicious, factionalizing effect on this organization," Zane said.

But other candidates employed the same tactic Sunday, as has been SMRR practice in the past, many said. Indeed, Olsen won an endorsement four years ago by recruiting members and bringing them out to support him at the convention.

If Olsen runs as an independent candidate, his presence would be felt based on name recognition, and all the more if he were to win the support of the Santa Monica Police Officers Assn.

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