On the campaign trail

I must confess. I just talked to my son Tony, who’s in Michigan covering the McCain/Bush race for, the online magazine, while I’m here in Malibu covering Keller and Van Horn. Just where did I go wrong?

It’s Tuesday, 2 p.m. our time, 5 p.m. on the East Coast. Based on early exit polls, it’s tight. It looks like McCain is ahead by 4 points.

Both campaigns are already spinning the results. The McCain mantra is: Maybe Bush can take a few Southern states where the religious right is strong, but when it gets to the industrial Midwest and swing states like Michigan, McCain can do it, and Bush can’t, therefore McCain is the most electible.

I haven’t yet heard the Bush mantra, but rest assured, they’re working on it.

Anyway, look for the excitement express to be headed to California for the March 7 Republican primary, which could be a biggie. Fourteen other states hold a primary that day, including other biggies like New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Ohio, etc.

Things are beginning to happen in Malibu also, but they may be hard to hear over the din of a real presidential primary headed our way. So far, the City Council races are still very low key, but the first forum last week showed some early signs of life and laid out some of the issues (see forum story A1). All the candidates tipped their hand a little to their strategy.

Here’s my handicapping, in alphabetical order:

Joan House, incumbent councilwoman:

This long-term incumbent long since parted ways with her old allies Keller and Van Horn. Although typically a cautious council member not given to striking out on her own, she showed some gumption in agreeing to join the Ad Hoc Committee in negotiations with the Malibu Bay Company. The deal she and Hasse negotiated seems to have been well-received, and even some of the most diehard “No Growthers” have had difficulty attacking it because it limits growth, delays development in the Civic Center for 10 years and meets our community needs for ballfields and a community center. Generally moderate, nonconfrontational and the top vote-getter last time out.

Ken Kearsley, planning commissioner:

A longtime activist in the “Slow Growth” movement, he split with the Keller/Van Horn group and, although running independently, is closely allied with Joan House. He is very unhappy with the Planning Commission and what he perceives as major overreaching, rampant cronyism and the undue influence of the politically connected, issues that are major planks in his campaign. Also strongly for changing the zoning ordinance and lighting code enforcement policies.

Jeff Jennings, former councilman:

Defeated two years ago by 29 votes, his principal position is that he is the candidate for change. Unlike much of the “No Growth/Slow Growth” movement, no one else from the group that supported him in the past is running. So, unlike the others, his vote will probably not be split up. He strongly leans to reforming the Zoning Ordinance and quickly fixing the grandfathering problems, turning it from a threatening code enforcement philosophy to a more consensual policy. A strong supporter of education and city assistance to education.

Walt Keller, incumbent councilman:

He is the leader of the Slow Growth/No Growth movement and a strong advocate for keeping Malibu as it was. He has pushed for a weaker city manager and stronger council system of government. He is very much a hands-on council member, which often puts him in conflict with the staff and brings accusations he is unduly trying to protect his friends. The political question is whether or not the shift in demographics — younger families with children, the need for ballfields and the exodus of some of his supporters — has shifted the balance. Few are indifferent about Keller. He causes significant loyalties and significant opposition.

Carolyn Van Horn, incumbent mayor:

She is the longest continuously serving member of the City Council, elected to the first council, in 1990, and serving ever since. She is a strong ally of Walt Keller, although their relationship has not always been smooth. A strong “No Growther” who, like Keller, believes in keeping Malibu as it was and turning the Civic Center into a wetland, she is closely allied with the Wetlands Activists. Some of her previous supporters, like Kearsley and Wall, are now running against her for council. At issue is how much of her old base she can retain and whether she can bridge the gap to new families.

John Wall, community activist:

A longtime supporter and stalwart member of the Walt Keller/Carolyn Van Horn group, and a member of their inner circle, he has split off to run independently, with the support of some others from that group, like Frank Basso and Efrom Fader. He also articulates the need for change, and for amenities like playing fields, a community center and additional office space, and chides the past councils for not moving fast enough or hard enough to adapt to the new demographics and the community needs.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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