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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : Crime Key Issue in Santa Monica : Three candidates endorsed by the police union lead in early returns. In other local races, Inglewood chooses among three candidates for mayor.


Early returns from Santa Monica showed three City Council candidates endorsed by the police union leading in a race in which public safety was the central issue.

Ahead in the early returns were incumbent Robert T. Holbrook, his slate mate, Deputy City Atty. Ruth Ebner and urban planner Pam O'Connor. O'Connor ran on a competing slate but, like Holbrook and Ebner, was backed by the police union.

However, with much of the vote yet to be counted, the election was too close to call.

Santa Monica's was one of a handful of local elections in Los Angeles County on Tuesday. Voters there chose between dueling visions of how their town should handle crime and homeless problems.

Three of seven City Council seats were up for grabs in the beach community. Elsewhere, three candidates vied for the mayor's office in Inglewood.

The Santa Monica race featured two three-person slates and five independent candidates. At issue was control of the city's political landscape, long dominated by a liberal, rent-control political organization, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights.

The group was viewed as vulnerable this fall, in large part because of public anger about crime and the city's past policies toward the homeless. Many citizens--and some candidates--linked those issues, complaining that a lenient official policy toward the homeless had attracted a transient population that has not only overtaxed Santa Monica's resources but also spurred lawlessness.

Within the last year, the city has enacted a series of get-tough policies concerning the homeless, such as closing parks overnight. Running on a platform that would continue that trend was a three-member slate headed by Holbrook and backed by a residents' group, Coalition for a Safe Santa Monica.

Holbrook and his slate-mates, Ebner and labor lawyer Matthew Kanny, promised a get-tough approach on crime and safety in public places.

The competing slate, backed by the renters rights group, also proclaimed itself the city's crime-fighting team. The leader of the slate, City Councilman Tony Vazquez, has stressed attention to underlying social problems that could lead to crime.

Also on his slate were O'Connor and artist Bruria Finkel. Chiming in with its opinion, the local police officers union targeted Vazquez as being anti-public safety.

The Vazquez slate was hoping that a last-minute surge of opposition to Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration measure, would energize its liberal voter constituency.

Both sides are hoping that a Santa Monica school bond measure will not be a casualty of voter discontent in a city that has never rejected such measures.

Amid the anti-politician fervor that has dominated much of this year's campaign rhetoric, Inglewood voters were picking from among three candidates for mayor--incumbent Edward Vincent and City Council members Judith Dunlap and Garland Hardeman.

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