Political group backs 2 for 4-seat school board race

Laurie Lieberman

Two of the three candidates could still get SMRR’s backing if the 12-member Steering Committee decides to give it to them.

By Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

There are four seats up for grabs in this year’s Board of Education election, but the powerful political group Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, or SMRR, at its convention on Sunday only endorsed two candidates.

The nods went to incumbent Barry Snell and education activist Laurie Lieberman. Incumbents Oscar de la Torre and Ralph Mechur, as well as challenger Nimish Patel, unsuccessfully lobbied for SMRR’s backing. Other potential candidates did not seek the endorsement, including Malibu resident Patrick Cady.

To receive a SMRR endorsement, candidates must receive at least 55 percent support from the members attending the convention. In the first round of voting, Snell and Lieberman met this threshold from the 234 members in attendance. Two additional rounds of voting took place, but did not lead to any further endorsements.

De la Torre received SMRR’s backing during his successful campaigns in 2002 and 2006. Mechur received a SMRR endorsement two years ago in a special election to complete Emily Bloomfield’s term, although he did not need it since he was the only candidate. This is Patel’s first bid for a school board seat. He impressed many political observers for his strong showing despite being a political newcomer. This included placing first in the second round of balloting.

Two of the three candidates could still get SMRR backing if the 12-member Steering Committee decides to give it to them. A candidate who receives this nod will appear on SMRR campaign literature as a supported candidate, but cannot claim a SMRR endorsement in his personal campaign. The committee is expected to meet later this month.

De la Torre said after the convention that he was somewhat surprised not to receive a SMMR nod.

“Both Ralph Mechur and I have committed a lot of hours and a lot of our time to bettering our public schools,” de la Torre said. “So it is a little surprising. But I don’t think that the traditional sort of SMRR base had a lot to do with the vote today. It seems like a different type of crowd.”

De la Torre said he heard “a certain constituency that doesn’t share SMRR’s values came out today.” Anybody who joined SMRR by May 3 and paid the $25 annual membership fee could vote at the convention. There is no membership screening process.

Lieberman in an interview on Tuesday said she was surprised only two endorsements were made, but declined to respond when asked if she had any theories on why this happened. She called the endorsement “significant.”

“It’s the most significant or well-known political organization in town, so I’m honored and thrilled that the people who attended the convention recognized my qualifications and supported me like they did,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman is a former employee of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office and a longtime education activist. Three years ago, she co-chaired a group called Coalition for an Excellent Samohi Campus that advocated that more Measure BB construction bond money should go to Santa Monica High than the district staff had recommended.

The Board of Education eventually approved more money for Santa Monica High than staff had recommended and decreased the amount of money for Malibu High. This infuriated residents of Malibu. The board eventually granted the staff-recommended funding to Malibu High after a series of contentious meetings at which the sentiment of “Malibu versus Santa Monica” was strong.

“I feel that was an unfortunate misunderstanding of the people who were advocating for Samohi,” Lieberman said of this period. “And I really, really hope to sit down with people in Malibu who were around and aware at that time and talk about what was really the intent of people with Samohi, which was not at all in any way meant to disparage Malibu or take away anything from Malibu.”

When asked if the wounds had healed from that period, she said, “I can’t say how deep the wounds are because there is not enough constant communication between people involved in both cities except at the PTA level.”

Lieberman said as a school board member, she wants to “bolster the communication.” Snell, who could not be reached for comment this week, made a similar comment in a June interview.

“I’m trying as much as possible to spend time in Malibu and make relationships there,” he said. “I think it’s a constant thing that board members need to do.”

Those intending to run for a seat on the board have until Friday to submit their paperwork to Santa Monica City Hall.