Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa incumbent faces fewer challengers after offering one opponent an empty seat

By Gary Walker

Sunday’s Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa elections will have one less candidate vying for a heavily contested seat following his appointment to a different seat on the board through a vote initiated by one of his ballot-box rivals.

On May 6, council President Cyndi Hench moved to appoint Gregg Aniolek to a recently vacated seat not up for election this year, a move that was supported unanimously by the council.

Aniolek, who was narrowly defeated in a bid for that same seat in 2012, had been running this year for one of two at-large seats in a crowded race that included Hench and five other candidates.

Westchester – Playa council member Scott Carni said he didn’t object to Aniolek joining the board but took issue with the timing of the appointment.

“The optics of having someone appointed to an at large seat who was running against the president — where for the first time the president has competition —  was of great concern to me,” Carni said. “What bothers me is that there seems to be more concern about control of the board than the health of the board.”

Carni offered a friendly amendment to Hench’s motion that would have delayed Aniolek’s appointment until after the election, but the idea failed to garner majority support.

Hench said she embraced competition in the upcoming elections and that Aniolek had stated a preference to serve in the seat he was appointed to, which represents a specific residential district, rather than the at large seat he had sought in this year’s election.

“Gregg Aniolek has expressed his interest in serving the board in the [residential district] seat.  Since he ran for that seat two years ago, he has attended more meetings than a few of the board members. When I learned that his predecessor was to resign, I told Mr. Aniolek about the upcoming vacancy so that he could decide what he wanted to do as it pertained to the upcoming election. Because it is his preference to serve in the residential district seat, he opted to drop out of the election,” Hench wrote in an email to The Argonaut.

“The [residential district] seat is in Group A and not on the current ballot, so an appointment was necessary. It is the duty of the president to make an appointment when a qualified replacement is identified,” Hench continued. “There are a couple of other seats that have been vacant for a bit longer but they are in the Group B election cycle and are on the ballot on May 18. It seemed unfair to appoint someone to one of those seats with an election on the horizon.”

Westchester – Playa council member Craig Eggers, who is seeking reelection to an unrelated seat, said he thinks very highly of Aniolek but worries the timing of his appointment would leave constituents with a negative impression of the council.

“When in doubt, if it doesn’t feel right, seem right or look right, don’t do it,” Eggers said. “We had a choice, and we chose to further the perception that once again we did not take the high road.”

Only 214 voters  turned out for the 2012 Westchester – Playa election, but Hench said increased interest in this year’s races shows that community members have become more willing to get involved

“I think it is great that we have more competitive races,” she wrote. “What is surprising is that several of the candidates have not been to more than one or two meetings. I wonder if they fully understand what they have signed up for.”

Sunday’s Neighborhood Council Elections

Del Rey: noon to 4 p.m., Del Rey Square, 11976 Culver Blvd.

Mar Vista: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mar Vista Farmers Market, 3865 Grand View Blvd.

Westchester-Playa: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Westchester Municipal Building, 7166 W. Manchester Ave.

Venice Neighborhood Council: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Westminster Avenue Elementary School, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd.