Last Tuesday, for the fourth time since moving to West Hollywood in 2000, I voted for John Heilman for City Council. I am likely (after seeing the final list of candidates) to do so again in June. Some of the reasons I would do so are the same as in the past – my high level of satisfaction with this progressive, efficiently run city government, the ease of access to key people when I’ve had issues and their responsiveness, and my understanding that this comes from the top, which includes Heilman and other veteran Council members. A more important reason I will support Heilman is that West Hollywood would risk too much if we were to lose his experience along with that of Jeffrey Prang and Abbe Land — three long-serving members on a five-member Council. That’s a risk not worth taking, particularly when there is no need for radical change when what now is working well is much, much more important than the issues Heilman’s opponents raise.
For the record, no one solicited me to write this. I’ve never met with or spoken to or written to Heilman and have never done business with the city. I am a citizen proud of West Hollywood who is aware that we have many positive things going for us that some people don’t appreciate, things that some are willing to risk to push their own narrow agendas).
While I support Heilman because of what he has done for West Hollywood, I do believe that in the campaign for the June 2 election he should do things differently that in previous elections. Our residents do have legitimate concerns, and campaigning mainly on one’s length of experience, list of accomplishments and high-end endorsements sounds somewhat tone-deaf when an active, albeit minority, group of residents has banded together to upend the current Council. There is an impression, whether fair or not, that Councilmember Heilman exists inside a bubble of insiders and power brokers. This time around, Mr. Heilman, you need to break out of that perceived bubble.
Here are my suggestions:
1) Focus on the future along with citing major past accomplishments
The city’s 30-year history is incredible, and any fair-minded voter should credit you in part for that. But remember that Winston Churchill was defeated in the first election after WW II, People are forward looking, and you need a couple of fresh ideas to present. Your opponents are doing that. You are more knowledgeable about what the city can do than they are. We are the Creative City – show them that creativity includes ideas about governing.
2) Emphasize the importance of experience
As I mentioned, if you are not elected, we will have lost 60 percent of the Council in under six months. That’s a huge loss of expertise that could threaten the future of a well-run city like ours. You face an extra burden because, like it or not, term limits (which don’t force an incumbent from office for another decade) were approved by the voters in 2013. It’s an elephant in the room that you should deal with. You can do so by noting that your loss showed that term limits really aren’t needed – the voters already have the power to term limit officials by just voting them out.
3) Highlight your commitment to rent control
Eighty percent of our residents are renters – that’s where the votes are. There’s nothing wrong with being a homeowner – I’m a proud one myself. But the Council used to be made up mostly or entirely of renters. That is changing. Both John D’Amico and Lauren Meister are homeowners living in the most upscale part of the city, an area dominated by single-family houses. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But you should stress your length of service and your commitment to renters’ rights — reasons why your voice is needed on the Council and why your voice separates you from other Council members.
4) Find common purpose with other members
Emphasize the number of bills you and John D’Amico co-sponsored recently. Meet with Lauren Meister, discuss her concerns and see if you can find common ground. Convey to voters your desire to return the council (now under more difficult circumstances) to consensus style that produced results in the past. It will hurt West Hollywood if the Council becomes, as seems possible, a battleground between two sides at loggerheads with each other. You have 30 years of working well with others on the Council – argue that you are and can be conciliatory.
5) Defend your history on development
I follow Council meetings and have seen how many proposals are modified or rejected, despite the impression conveyed by some that anything goes as long as a campaign contribution is behind it. Explain how the city has benefited from carefully managed construction and what has been (and will be rejected). The proposed MTA/Sheriff’s Station redevelopment at the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards is a big issue ahead of us. Get out in front of it and explain how you took the lead in opposing an extension of the Cohen Brothers’ interests in the site. Mention what other projects have been blocked because of your opposition. Admit some mistakes – the hotbed of anger seems to be in the Melrose/Beverly/Robertson neighborhood. Let people know you’ve heard their voices and will take their concerns to heart.
6) Don’t rely so much on top name endorsements, and rely more on average citizens
Everyone gets that you’re the establishment choice. Flyers with loads of top names and groups at some point make you seem too much of an insider. Find people in each of our local communities who support you, who are grateful for the positive impact you have had on the city, and target those communities with that local support.
A neighbor coming to my door or sending me a letter counts much more than hearing that Sheila Kuehl, as much as I respect her, has endorsed you. And get out more and make people think you need and want your vote. I was visited by four candidates this year at my door. I based my vote on part on how willing they were to listen to my questions, not just state their case. Lindsay Horvath’s surprise showing came in substantial part because she reached out to people and had supporters follow up. She didn’t assume anyone would vote for her – she made her case one on one. That made a difference. Learn from her success. That said, there is nothing wrong with using any support two popular West Hollywood politicians – Abbe Land and Jeffrey Prang – can offer about how valuable you were as their colleague.
7) Distance yourself from John Duran
He’s becoming toxic and could be a negative for you. You have been allies much of the time, but make sure you are not seen as being in lockstep with him. Emphasize your recent efforts, ahead of recent events, in ethics reform. Meet with Joe Guadarrama and, irrespective of whether he endorses you, adapt some of his platform and credit him for that. If you win in June, and if you both run two years from now, you are going to be competing with each other as well as a fellow incumbent. You need to set yourself apart from that fellow incumbent.
8) Anticipate a very nasty campaign
Like it or not, this is going to be a referendum on you. The hit pieces send to voters about you in the final weeks are nothing compared to what is coming your way. Your opponents smell blood, and whoever this is coming from, they are going to be more intense this time. Identify the sources and counter them.
9) Run a positive campaign
That was the tone of your campaign this time, despite some problems I’ve cited. You have a legacy to be proud of. Win or lose, campaign in a way that your opponents can’t criticize as divisive or negative. It will serve the city and your possible future service better all around. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention your opponents or disagreements with them – just don’t get personal as has been done to you in the past and was done to Lauren Meister this time. When your opponents go negative, let them be seen for what they are.
Tom Brueggemann is a 15-year resident of West Hollywood who lives in the Norma Triangle. A film industry veteran (movie theater side), he currently writes for the blog Thompson on Hollywood/Indiewire and is a consultant for multiple film festivals.
As a resident since 1978 (before WeHo became a separately incorporated city), John D’Amico, as far as I can recall, was the very FIRST to provide his cell phone number for any resident to call. D’Amico also took the time to meet with me personally to discuss a matter of concern on TWO different occasions. And he has responded my communications (either verbal or written). Further, a few weeks ago, Heidi Shink and I had about a 90 minute one-on-one (in person) conversation. Subsequently, I learned about her visit to the Beverly Hills Hotel. I asked her about this unfortunate… Read more »
As to the ‘boycott’ this is a good read. If we were boycotting we would have pickets outside the hotel. The City should hire some of the unemployed in town with some of the surplus, the $100 million dollars. And if people respect the boycott more rooms rented (and bed tax, WEHO’s #1 dollar generator) here. Win/Win/Win. http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2014/9/30/125928/971/hotels/So%2C_How_is_That_Boycott_of_The_Beverly_Hills_Hotel_Going%3F_
We live in the Eastend. The two biggest apartment buildings are still holes in the ground. One will tower with two towers seven stories. If you want more vote to return John.
We’ve been HEILMANIZED!
Mr. Heilman TOTALLY opposed term limits because he said that elections are term limits. Well, the voters decided that his “term” was over YET he wants to run. yet again ! Explanation, please !! While he has contributed much to WeHo (both Positive and Negative), why, oh why, is he determined to reclaim a seat on the City Council? To me, it smacks of a HUGE inflated EGO which rejects the will of the voters. Why did he not “bow out” gracefully and rest on his fragmented laurels ? NO, it can NOT be the same old, same old again.… Read more »
Simply put, Heilman’s word doesn’t mean much and his integrity is compromised for so many reasons. Going out on his own terms? How bout show up for the debates and don’t take us all for granted.
Simply put, that John Heilman needs advice on how to win an election after 30 years in office, speaks for itself – loud & clear.
Simply put, Heilman deserves credit for a lot of good work in the past, but he has lost his way.
Right on, Paul!
The voters who threw out Heilman for ignoring community concerns about overdevelopment that has left the City hopelessly congested disagree that his relevant decision-making is adept. They think his decision-making has been tone-deaf and geared towards money at expense of quality-of-life, and they are correct. A thousand rookies who listen to the people are preferable to any career politician who does not. Good government is not rocket science, and it always starts with representing constituents faithfully and defending their well-being. Heilman does not seem to understand that his constituents are those who live in West Hollywood — not developers and… Read more »
Heidi Shine isn’t terrific. She is anything but. She misses way too many commission meetings, and was a complete failure at Stonewall. Why would anyone trust her on a city council?
Heilman has adeptly guided city policies and decisions with each term. Being good at your job and serving at that job for many years is not grounds for dismissal. It means that you are stable, steadfast and hardworking. We would be wise to consider the implications of a wholesale turnover of virtually all City Council seats. No stability. No institutional history. A supermajority of rookie Councilmembers. Plus, this strategic alliance that has been forged with D’Amico, Meister and Heidi Shink sounds reckless and unseemly. When Heilman is returned to Council it will break this alignment up. We already know that… Read more »
This gave me heartburn