Opinion: Let’s Make It Harder to Run for WeHo’s City Council

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The West Hollywood City Council debate
Four of 12 participants in the West Hollywood City Council debate

Twelve candidates for three City Council seats. Pretty much anyone in West Hollywood can run for City Council. All it takes is getting 20 registered voters to sign a petition supporting your candidacy.

That may seem like a wonderful example of democracy at work. But in practice it means a diffusion of the already small number of votes cast in City Council elections — 5,303 in the 2013 City Council election —  only 20 percent of registered voters. And it makes it difficult for voters to focus on the candidates that really matter.

Nowhere was that clearer than in Saturday’s City Council “debate” sponsored by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the L.A. League of Women Voters. Twelve candidates had a total of 120 minutes — that’s no more than 10 minutes each — to introduce themselves and address several questions raised by the moderator, a well-groomed television personality with little connection to West Hollywood and its issues, and also questions solicited from the audience. Time and again, as a candidate began to offer a substantive answer, he or she was cut off. It was more like a TV game show than a real debate.

But the problem was more than the qualifications of the moderator. The problem was the number of candidates, and that anyone can run for City Council. A city with a little more than 34,000 residents and 26,000 registered voters should raise the bar for Council candidates. A requirement that a prospective candidate present at least 500 signatures of registered voters supporting his or her candidacy would be a great way to start. A candidate who is able to garner that many signatures is likely to be a candidate who is engaged in the community, not simply someone able to ask two or three friends to ask neighbors or roommates to sign a supporting petition.

On a national level, the qualification is the ability to raise lots of money. In a city as small in population and as geographically compact as West Hollywood that also matters. But if the City Council ever summons up the courage to enact campaign finance reform, money may well diminish as a qualification (although it never will disappear). It would be great if voter support replaces it.

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sheilalightfoot
9 years ago

Hey, Scott Imler, it’s really good to hear your voice again. You’ve played such an important role in the community, I hate that we’re losing so much of what West Hollywood stood for. You’re an original rebel and part of this city’s history. One of the questions in the debate should have been “Who is Scott Imler?” Hope you’re well and happy.

Scott T Imler
Scott T Imler
9 years ago

My greatest concern about the number of candidates isn’t so much the qualification threshold (though 100 signatures seems more authentic) or poor planning by forum sponsors (why the arbitrary two hour limit), but rather the stupefying effect it has on voter turnout as the campaign debate turns into a thrilling game of lawn darts. Cheaper by the Dozen, indeed. The greater travesty is the resulting super-minority victories, which ultimately represent single digit percentages among all eligible voters and make it tough to claim a mandate for change – or the status quo. Perhaps we need to deal with political reform… Read more »

Randy Matthews
9 years ago

I agree that more than 20 signatures should be required. Reese Witherspoon needed 100 to run for student body President in “Election.” And that was high school. I could go to Gym Bar for happy hour and acquire 20 signatures.

Having these extra candidates is a waste of time for everyone, with more responses to sift through, and a “debate” such as this one turning into a rather silly exercise.

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
9 years ago

@Yola, Rob, Thank you. I too fully support your views and factual statements. People check for yourself. Shelialightfoot give a lot of bull for you to step through.

Shawn Thompson
Shawn Thompson
9 years ago

Really that’s not how democracy works in my book

luca d
luca d
9 years ago

there is so much wrong about what this opinion offers, let alone some of the comments. i for one support anyone’s right to run for office, and more often than not, the serious candidates become apparent. and by the way, if someone ‘slips through’ and is elected, then there’s sure to be another election soon after to rectify the mistake. i am offended by the idea that some people think they know better than others, in so much as they would restrict a citizen’s right to participate in the process. this city is filed with gladys kravitz-types who always know… Read more »

ChadMichael Morrisette

I love you Sheila!

sheilalightfoot
9 years ago

Sorry – off topic, but I have to respond to Rob Bergstein’s first comment. I’m big on facts, so when someone states something as fact rather than opinion, it should be scrutinized. I agree that one’s credibility should be questioned if they have presented something as “fact” that proves otherwise. Presenting something to the public, using the word, “fact,” carries a responsibility. Therefore, I must question your credibility re: stating things as factual. To that end, I’d like to quote part of your comment on the story, National Young Women’s PAC Endorses Lindsey Horvath for WeHo City Council Seat: Rob… Read more »

sheilalightfoot
9 years ago

Running for City Council should be a serious minded endeavor. No one should have to raise money to qualify, but expending the time and effort to talk to, maybe, 75 – 100 residents to get signatures shouldn’t be considered an obstacle to running. If anything, it would be a test for the candidates themselves to find out if their views were actually shared by at least that many fellow residents. If they’re not willing to spend that minimum amount of time and energy to qualify, do they really deserve our serious consideration for Council? Thanks, Henry, this is a good… Read more »

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

Campaign Finance Reform, here here!

1-Only a VOTER can donate to a campaign. No pac groups. No businesses. No non-profits. No unions.

2-Each voter is limited to a reasonable amount per candidate. Meaning the rich do not get an advantage over the poor. Let’s say $500 per voter ONLY.

The end.

Back to VOTER targeted campaigns and fundraisers! No more backroom deals.

West Hollywood – Be the City to set the example of true democracy by the PEOPLE.

Rob Bergstein
Rob Bergstein
9 years ago

Hey Tom Smart, the seating order was based upon how the names will be listed on the ballot, which was determined by the Secretary of State of California–totally random that Lindsey & Heilman ended up seated next to each other.

Yola Dore'
Yola Dore'
9 years ago

This forum was designed to give the voters a sampling of the candidates views in a systematic timely fashion. Each person had adequate time under the rules of engagement, to express their ideas. After each set the moderator went back to allow the candidates time for an additional comment. It was an excellent forum if you took time to listen, and watch both the comments and body language. Robert Kovacs is an award -winning Journalist, President of The Los Angeles Press Assn, and an experienced moderator. He was given the task of gathering information, presenting your questions and concerns to… Read more »

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