Los Angeles County supervisorial candidate Sheila Kuehl is taking aim at rival Bobby Shriver's absences on the Santa Monica City Council, saying the former local elected official should have made it to more meetings instead of "spending so much time in Hyannis Port."
Shriver, who last week announced his candidacy for the west county seat being vacated by longtime Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, missed nearly one out of five meetings during his eight years on the council, a Times review found.
Shriver is the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, whose large family, including Shriver's mother, the late Eunice Shriver, and sister Maria Shriver, has famously gathered over the years at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. A Shriver spokesman, who called Kuehl's remarks "silly," said the former Santa Monica mayor spent time in Hyannis Port in 2009 to attend the funerals of his mother and uncle, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Kuehl's comment, made in a Times interview, highlighted what she is seeking to make a theme of her campaign: the differing styles and governing experience of two top liberal contenders in a heavily Democratic district.
Kuehl said her 14 years in the state Assembly and Senate helped develop skills important for a county supervisor, including dealing with social services, juvenile justice, foster children and healthcare issues.
"County supervisor is not an entry-level job," Kuehl said. "You really need some understanding, knowledge and experience.... It's much more complicated than being a part-time city council member."
She claims to have one of the better attendance records in the Legislature. A review of 262 Senate sessions during her last two years in Sacramento showed she was present 96% of the time.
The Times review found Shriver missed 46 out of 244 meetings while on the Santa Monica council. Shriver campaign advisor Bill Carrick defended Shriver's record, noting that the City Council is a part-time job. Shriver was busy running two global enterprises — Red and Product One — aimed at reducing poverty and increasing access to AIDS medications in African nations, he said.
As cofounder of the charities with his friend, U2 frontman Bono, Shriver frequently traveled, he said. "He was there for the overwhelming number of meetings," Carrick said.
He added that Shriver has been attending Board of Supervisors meetings for the last six months and conferring with county government staff to learn more about county issues. Kuehl has made other negative comments in recent days, including calling Shriver an "amateur" in a radio interview, Carrick said.
"I hope she can try to elevate the level of this beyond these spitballs," Carrick said.
Kuehl said she has no issue with Shriver's international philanthropy. But Shriver missed public testimony on city issues, as well as debate and discussion among his council colleagues. Absences are like voting no, she said.
"If you're off raising money for Red and you're off with Bono jetting the world, why would you want this workman job?" she said. "This is a very local, detail-oriented systems job of trying to make things work better for people."
Robert Holbrook, who served with Shriver on the Santa Monica council, said he admired Shriver's willingness to help the disadvantaged around the world through his philanthropy and business endeavors. He's a "very busy man," Holbrook said.
"I don't recall him ever missing a life-and-death meeting, like a big budget meeting, or a big project in front of the council," he said. "So many of our meetings are routine."
How much significance voters will place on attendance records depends on other factors in the race, said political analyst Raphael Sonenshein.
On its own, missing some meetings may not resonate. But if it were to play into a broader, unflattering portrait of a candidate, it might prove important, said Sonenshein, who heads the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
"It's one thing to miss votes because you are pulling people out of burning vehicles," he said. "But missing votes so you can go to Davos and party is another."
Also running for Yaroslavsky’s seat in the June 3 primary are West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran and Pamela Conley Ulich, former mayor of Malibu.
Times staff writer Garrett Therolf contributed to this article.