The Divided Greens

For two years, Green Party members in Santa Monica have wanted to know exactly what Michael Feinstein, a former mayor and a mainstay of the largest Green constituency in the nation, did with a $10,000 check.

Feinstein told party members to take his word that he deposited the check, written out to the county party — as well as another $20,000 he raised — into a Green Party account he opened at his credit union with the blessing of state party officials. The money, Feinstein told the Green County Council in August 2001, was used with the state party’s go-ahead to open and run a storefront office in Santa Monica that would help propel the fledgling third party to mainstream legitimacy.

Feinstein has refused to show the county Green Party his bank statements, saying it has “no jurisdiction” over the account and that a rival faction is out to get him.

The allegations — which had been reported in the Santa Monica press — are the result of a “misunderstanding” being used by “a handful of people” engaged in a political power struggle who have appointed themselves “judge and jury,” Feinstein said. “My core objection is that I am being denied due process by being unnecessarily tried in the press, as a result of a few reckless insinuations and innuendoes. There are rules for filing fund-raising reports, and I have followed them. I am doing my own filing, and that’s all that’s happening, and I guess people aren’t willing for that to happen on its own timeline. There is no case. That’s the thing.”

The dispute has thrust the maturing party, which bills itself as the uncorrupted alternative to its mainstream counterparts, into its first real crisis and engaged its top two local leaders, Feinstein and Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown, in a power struggle.

McKeown — who routinely wears green and drives a green hybrid vehicle with a “GRN VOTER” license plate — says he found himself in a tight spot between upholding the values of a party and undermining the career of his friend, council colleague and political benefactor.

Letters the state party began sending out in January 2003, one authored by McKeown, distancing itself from the Santa Monica office and seeking to disassociate Feinstein from the entire party, drove the wedge deeper between the former mayor and the party he helped build.

“He thought that he was slick enough to get away with it,” said state party treasurer Mike Wyman. “He always had gotten away with it, and he’s not going to stop.”

Longtime Green loyalists rallied to Feinstein’s defense. Until Feinstein opened the Pico office in 1999, the state Green Party was a P.O. box and an answering machine in Sacramento that forwarded messages to Feinstein’s rent-controlled house in Ocean Park. For almost a decade, the wood-frame house was the party’s informal headquarters and served as a media center, a meeting room for the L.A. County Greens, and a lodge for international Green delegates crashing on couches and in guestrooms.

“Eighty percent of the house was used, except for maybe the kitchen and his bedroom,” said 13-year Green veteran Genevieve Marcus. “There were always two or three people there from all over the world. All the meetings were held at his house. It went on for years. His life has been the party. There really is nothing else, except maybe Santa Monica.”

“If you woke him up from a dream, he’d say ‘Green Party,’” said Bob Smith, an 18-year veteran and co-founder of the state party. “The party is his life.”

While McKeown moved up to become a state representative for the County Council, Feinstein resigned from some of his key party posts at the local, state and national levels in 2002, when he was still mayor of Santa Monica.

“The dysfunctional mishandling of the Santa Monica office told me that my time with the Green Party would be better spent not working within the bureaucracy that just betrayed me,” Feinstein said. Instead, the former mayor would “apply my scarce time to building the party that I had founded.”

While Feinstein stepped behind the scenes, Bill Pietz, a 10-year party veteran who donated the $10,000 by saving 20 percent of his income, quit the loose network of aging hippies he hoped his money would help organize into a “real” political contender.

The decision by the county party’s treasurer, Bob Morris, to get the cops involved was just the last in a series of acts of self-righteousness by Green Party members that led Pietz to conclude there was no use trying to organize a party of “lone rangers.”

“Mike [Feinstein] thought he was the party, [and that] he was just doing the best for the party, however warped that is,” Pietz said. “Mike disregarded and effectively sabotaged the respect needed for decision-making bodies, doing the lone-ranger bit, exactly what Bob [Morris] did.”

Pietz e-mailed Morris a final message before quitting the party: “Drop dead.”


Lukacs has covered the Green Party’s problems for the Santa Monica–based Web site


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