California News

Moderate incumbents beat young progressives in WeHo election

In November 1984, the new town of West Hollywood caught the world’s attention when it sat on the nation’s first city council with an openly gay majority.

During that first meeting – with an overflowing crowd and national news media on hand – the council passed a series of progressive policies: a law that reduced soaring rents to a previous level, a cap on evictions, a housing ban and job discrimination against gay people.

“The city council is one of the most liberal in the state,” The Times reported.

Among those early board members was John Heilman, a 27-year-old gay civil rights lawyer. He served for 36 years before he and another longtime incumbent lost their general seats in 2020 to two younger, more liberal candidates.

Now it looks like Heilman could return. But this time, it will be within the framework of the city council’s moderate political old guard, supported by the most established institutions: the sheriff’s department and the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

“When I was first elected in 1984, I never imagined that I would still have the opportunity to serve the community today,” Heilman, 65, wrote in a text message. He said constituents he spoke to “want council members to focus on public safety, homelessness and basic services” and “to see the city working together with the business community.”

The results of the West Hollywood election — a generational battle pitting young progressives against older, more moderate candidates, including a sitting mayor and three longtime former councilors — are still up in the air.

West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, right, speaks during a reproductive rights press conference at City Hall on May 3. Meister was leading his bid for re-election.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Twelve candidates competed for three seats at large.

On Friday afternoon, preliminary results showed Mayor Lauren Meister — a moderate Democrat also backed by law enforcement and the Chamber of Commerce — with a comfortable lead and a virtually guaranteed seat, with 5,770 votes.

Heilman retained a second seat with 3,718 votes.

On November 11, he tweeted a declaration of victory thanking voters who he said called for “experienced and practical leaders.” But in recent days his lead has narrowed.

The third-place contender, who would fill the last open seat, wobbled throughout the week.

On Friday, Chelsea Byers trailed Heilman by 22 votes. She is a 33-year-old West Hollywood social services commissioner, supported by the progressive union Unite Here Local 11, which represents hospitality workers.

In fourth place was Zekiah Wright, who had just 54 votes behind Byers. Wright, a 36-year-old lawyer also supported by Unite Here Local 11, would be the first non-binary black person on the board.

Byers and Wright could not be reached for comment.

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

This summer, in the wake of national funding for the police movement, he voted to modestly reduce the number of West Hollywood sheriff’s deputies while hiring 30 additional unarmed security officers.

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.

A deputy drives past West Hollywood City Hall in a Sheriff's Department SUV on October 28, 2021.

A sheriff’s deputy walks past West Hollywood City Hall in 2021. Public safety was a key issue in the November election.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

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.

With the apparent victory of Meister, who voted against the sheriff’s deputies cuts, and the potential return of Heilman, who called those cuts “stupid”, voters seem to have tipped somewhat towards the middle in the middle of growing concern about crime.

“In West Hollywood, yes, it’s always been considered very progressive, but a lot of residents are aging into more moderate positions as well,” said Jessica Levinson, professor of election law at Loyola Law School.

“Progressive and non-progressive don’t always cut cleanly on criminal justice issues,” Levinson said. “When people feel their security is threatened in any way, they tend not to vote as liberal as they otherwise would.”

Meister, 62, said in an email that “those who voted for me want council to focus on local residents and issues: public safety, homelessness, protecting our rent-stabilized housing, preserving our neighborhoods and maintaining a healthy environment for our small business community.”

In campaign mail funded by Unite Here, Meister and former councilman John Duran, who also ran for re-election, reportedly represented “Republican business interests”.

A spokeswoman for the union’s local could not be reached for comment.

In a statement last week, Meister said voters clearly did not want council members to serve “outside interest groups.”

She told The Times that these groups include “fundraising groups trying to influence council members and public safety commissioners to remove the police”; Unite Here Local 11, “which has pushed policies that negatively impact our long-standing businesses and, ultimately, our residents”; and great developers.

Before joining the board in 2015, Meister led a successful campaign in 2013 to limit terms on the board, at a time when all but one member had spent more than a decade in office.

This will be his last term. If Heilman is elected, it will also be his last term.

John Heilman speaking at a 2019 West Hollywood City Council meeting.

John Heilman served 36 years on the West Hollywood City Council before losing his seat in 2020. If Heilman wins the Nov. 8 election, it will be his last term.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Genevieve Morrill, president and CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said she was thrilled with the early leads from Meister and Heilman. The House Political Action Committee endorsed them and three other nominees.

For most of her 13 years in the chamber, she said, the organization had good communication. But over the past two years, the relationship has soured and communication has stalled.

The results of the snap election, she said, “show that there will be a return to democracy for the city of West Hollywood, to the right to have its voice heard, to its safety and to the right to exploit a enterprise in a fair economic climate”. without government excess.

California Daily Newspapers

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button