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DECISION '94 : 3 Police-Backed Candidates Win Seats on Council

November 10, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three police union-backed candidates were elected to the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday in the wake of a campaign that centered on public safety and homeless-related problems.

Incumbent Robert T. Holbrook, with 16.3% of the vote, ran first among a field of 11 candidates competing for three seats. His slate-mate, Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Ruth Ebner, came in second with 15.8%.

The results made for a bad night for Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, whose candidates have long controlled the City Council. Only one of its candidates--urban planner Pam O'Connor--was elected, shaving the group's control of the council to one seat, 4 to 3.

Holbrook and Ebner were supported by Citizens for a Safe Santa Monica, which was outspent about 3 to 1 by the renters rights group.

"The election results point out we were in step with what Santa Monicans needed and wanted," Holbrook said. "We had the right issue."

O'Connor won the third council seat with 15.6% of the vote. Along with backing by the renters group, O'Connor was endorsed by the Santa Monica Police Officers Assn., as were Holbrook and Ebner.

The defeat of incumbent Tony Vazquez, the first Latino elected to the Santa Monica City Council four years ago, was especially painful for the renters group. Vazquez was considered a rising political star and his backers predicted last summer that he would become the first Latino mayor of the city.

Vazquez blamed his loss on "the racism that still exists in our city. . . . The racism that came out in this campaign was just unbelievable," he said.

Vazquez was targeted for defeat by the police officers association, which attacked his public safety record with repeated campaign mailers.

The association also took out ads reminding voters that in 1991, Vazquez proposed allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections. Although the ads said Vazquez proposed letting illegal immigrants vote, he said that he had sought voting rights for legal immigrants who were not U.S. citizens.

Still, the cornerstone of the police attack revolved around public safety. Bucking the recent tide in Santa Monica on crime and homeless issues, Vazquez voted against nearly all enforcement measures brought to the council, such as closing the parks at night. As alternatives, he favored crime prevention programs.

That placed him in the minority even among the council members elected with the backing of the renters group.

On Tuesday, Vazquez came in fourth place with 14.4% of the vote, despite a hard-fought campaign during which he took a month off work to walk precincts.

Artist Bruria Finkel, another candidate backed by the renters group, finished fifth with 14.2% of the vote. The third member of the Holbrook slate, Matthew Kanny, was sixth with 11% of the vote.

In other Santa Monica results, voters passed a school bond issue and a cost-cutting measure that will allow a summary of proposed ordinances to be published instead of the entire text.

Holbrook predicted that the reconfigured council will ensure that the recently enacted public safety measures will be enforced and will demonstrate more concern for the needs of the business community.

The election represents the first time in almost a decade that the renters group couldn't pull a last-minute victory out of the fire.

Holbrook and Ebner's one-two finish also reversed another trend. Council candidates that have not had the renters group's support haven't been the top two vote-getters since the mid-1980s.

Leaders of the renters group blamed their setback on rental units lost in the Jan. 17 earthquake and on further loss of units from a program allowing apartment buildings to be converted to condominiums. Nancy Greenstein, co-chairwoman of the group, said Vazquez was engulfed by a wave of statewide anti-crime sentiment and suffered by being "villainized" by the police union. "I just didn't see him as anti-public safety," Greenstein said.

Although he usually votes against Vazquez on public safety and homeless issues, Councilman Paul Rosenstein expressed regret about his colleague's defeat, saying: "It's unfortunate there's little tolerance for a councilman who voted his conscience."

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