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Elections in West Hollywood give victories to progressives and moderates


In famed liberal West Hollywood, the city council election was, in many ways, a generational battle.

There were the young, progressive candidates: newer residents backed by left-wing unions and police defunding activists.

And then there was the more moderate political old guard, including a sitting mayor and two former longtime West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce-approved councilors and sheriff’s deputies.

Voters chose both.

In the heated general election, 12 candidates competed for three seats. The first three voters will join the five-member council.

Mayor Lauren Meister, a 62-year-old moderate Democrat who has served on the council since 2015, came out on top by a wide margin, with 6,070 votes.

In second place, with 3,960 votes, was Chelsea Byers, a social services commissioner from West Hollywood who moved to the city two years ago. Byers, 33, was backed by the Unite Here Local 11 union, which represents hospitality workers.

John Heilman, who served 36 years on city council before being elected in 2020, came third with 3,917 votes.

He won the third and final seat with just 13 votes, ahead of Zekiah Wright, a 36-year-old progressive lawyer also backed by Unite Here Local 11.

Heilman, who served on West Hollywood’s first council when it was incorporated in 1984, is one of the nation’s oldest openly gay politicians.

“I’m so excited to be back working for the community,” Heilman, 65, wrote in a text message. “It was obviously a close election, but now it’s time to come together and make West Hollywood the best city for everyone.”

Meister – who, like Heilman, will be in her last stint on the board before term limits go into effect – said she hopes “all of my colleagues on the board, old and new, will make an effort to work together for the benefit of our residents. ”

“While there are differences in ideologies, as council members we must remember that we represent all residents of the city, not just those who voted for us,” she said in an email.

Byers and Heilman will fill the seats vacated by John D’Amico, who is retiring, and Lindsey Horvath, who was just elected to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

For two years, the municipal council has moved more to the left.

This summer, in the wake of the national defunding of the police movement, he voted to modestly cut the number of West Hollywood sheriff’s deputies while hiring 30 additional unarmed security guards from Block by Block.

And last year, the council voted unanimously to implement what was then the highest minimum wage in the country – $17.64 an hour – and require full-time workers to benefit from at least 96 hours of paid annual sick, vacation or personal leave, with part-time employees getting a proportional amount of paid leave.

The rulings drew anger from the Chamber of Commerce and residents concerned about crime — and praise from progressive unions and activists who flocked to town hall meetings.

In campaign mail funded by Unite Here, Meister and former longtime adviser John Duran, who also ran and came sixth, reportedly represented “Republican business interests”.

Meister voted against the sheriff’s deputy cuts. Heilman called these cuts “dumb”.

Byers said that while she was campaigning, residents repeatedly told her they were happy to see more security guards block by block on the streets and that “the fact that they didn’t have firearm was an advantage”.

Byers, originally from Arizona, moved to California eight years ago and to West Hollywood in 2020.

She said her youth – and the fact that she wanted to move to the city years ago but was barred, like many people, by a lack of affordable housing – gives her valuable perspective as a elected in a city where the median age is 38.

“We have a moral responsibility to house people in West Hollywood, a city that embraces such a wide range of progressive values,” said Byers, director of programs and partnerships at nonprofit Women’s Voices Now.

Housing affordability is a priority for her and, she said, a personal issue as “a young person whose generation has been deeply challenged by our housing crisis.”

Councilman John Erickson called the election a “victory for progressive values ​​at the ballot box”, with the victory of Byers and Wright – who would have been the first non-binary black person on the council – lagging so closely behind Heilman .

“What that tells me is that voters want change,” said Erickson, who defeated Heilman in 2020 and named Byers to the Commission on Human Services the following year.

“Voters want to look and are looking to the future, and the future of West Hollywood is very bright.”


California Daily Newspapers

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