John Heilman won re-election to the West Hollywood City Council in a race that devolved into one of the most acrimonious in the city’s recent history.
According to City Clerk Yvonne Quarker, as of 10 p.m. tonight Heilman had 2,026 (47 percent) of the votes cast in the special election to fill the Council seat vacated by Jeffrey Prang, who was elected L.A. County Assessor last year. Heilman’s nearest competitor, Heidi Shink, got 1,185 votes (28 percent). Larry Block got 637 votes (15 percent), and Cole Ettman got 385 votes (nine percent of the total). Quarker said roughly 600 votes — mail in ballots and ballots cast at the wrong precincts whose signatures must be verified — remain to be counted. A final total will be announced on Monday afternoon. Still, Heilman’s margin assures he will remain the winner.
Heilman’s victory returns him to the Council where he served for 30 years, beginning with the city’s founding in 1984. Heilman left the Council briefly when he lost in the March 3 general election that saw newcomers Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister join the Council. Re-elected in that race was John D’Amico, who has had a fraught relationship with Heilman since D’Amico was first elected to the Council in 2011.
With Heilman’s election, the Council will have a three/two split on many significant issues that likely will include approval of new residential and commercial development and changes to the city’s parking policies. D’Amico endorsed Lauren Meister in her election campaign and also endorsed Heidi Shink, both of whom have complained that the city is too densely developed. Meister, with D’Amico’s support, has led an effort to roll back enforcement hours for parking meters in business areas, a move that city staffers, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and a prominent local residents association have said will make parking more difficult in this densely populated city. Councilmembers John Duran and Lindsey Horvath have opposed Meister’s efforts to change the city’s parking meter rules, which Heilman supported when they were enacted in 2013.
Heilman also is a strong supporter of the city’s requirement that at least 20 percent of new housing developments of 10 or more units be set aside for low- and moderate-income people. A number of neighborhood activists have campaigned against Heilman on that matter, with some arguing that the city should not accomodate more low- and moderate-income people. D’Amico has advocated that developers instead by required to give money to the city that it can use to build separate housing for low-income people, an approach that is criticized by some as an effort to isolate them from the more affluent.
Another major issue likely to be addressed by Heilman’s election is the City Council deputy system, in which each Council member has a highly paid staffer who essentially reports only to the Council member. Heilman has said the system needs to be radically reformed. Horvath and Duran also have expressed publicly and privately their support for major changes. A number of scandals involving Council deputies were revealed during the March election campaign, leading local residents to refer to the system as “Deputygate.” While D’Amico hasn’t taken a strong stand in favor of reform, he has continued to support his deputy, Michelle Rex, a political operative who is his former campaign manager. Rex is widely viewed as a major factor in the personal animosity among the five Council deputies. After her election, Meister named her campaign manager, Scott Schmidt, as her interim deputy and it is expected that he will assume that permanent role.
Heilman’s supporters have included the business community (including major residential and commercial developers), advocates for more affordable housing in West Hollywood and the political establishment. Among those endorsing him were the West Hollywood / Beverly Hills Democratic Club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, the California National Organization for Women, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee and the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES). CES, the renters-rights group, organized the campaign that led to West Hollywood residents to vote to incorporate the city 30 years ago to protect renters from erosion of rent control laws by the then-conservative L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Heilman also has been endorsed by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Among Heilman’s more controversial backers are major developers including Townscape Management, BMB Property Management and Excel Property Management. An independent expenditure committee, financed largely by real estate interests, raised nearly $100,000 to promote Heilman’s candidacy.
As this election campaign progressed it came to be viewed largely as a campaign by Block, Ettman and Shink against Heilman. Heilman’s opponents fell into several overlapping camps. Those camps included homeowners, who make up a small but more politically active percentage of the city, where about 80 percent of residents are renters. Homeowner groups have blamed Heilman for supporting new development in the city, which they have claimed has become overcrowded. Shink and Ettman have allied themselves with that camp. Another camp is preservationists, a number of whom were incensed by Heilman’s support for a plan, now unlikely to move forward, to demolish Great Hall / Long Hall, the historically designated building in Plummer Park. The preservationists have largely backed Shink. Block’s supporters have been a more eclectic crowd attracted to him by his unofficial role as the city’s “rabblerouser.” Block has become known for his outspoken and successful campaign for improved pedestrian safety measures in West Hollywood and for his campaign to have the iconic LGBT rainbow flag image integrated into the city’s official flag.
The anti-Heilman bloc encountered problems in the election with revelations about possibly illegal campaign finance activities by Shink and a series of lawsuits by the N. Y.. State Board of Elections against Cole Ettman for campaign finance violations in his home state and a lawsuit alleging financial improprieties by a business he owned.. Shink also has been criticized for making untrue claims, including that she was a member of the L.A. Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women and that was instrumental in launching the city’s popular New Year’s Eve and Gay Pride events for sober people. Shink, a lesbian, also has been criticized for stating that she supported the boycott by LGBT activists of the Beverly Hills Hotel, whose owner has imposed homophobic sharia laws in Brunei, while also attending an event there.