It was 38 years ago when the former town of Sherman, an unincorporated village became the City of West Hollywood. Valerie Terigno was elected to the first city council and became the first out lesbian mayor in the United States. One year later she was convicted of embezzlement and misappropriating $9,000 of federal grant funds. A new city stumbling out of the womb selected a young John Heilman as its second mayor in 1986. Over the next 30+ years John Heilman would steer West Hollywood toward becoming the thriving urban village it is today. The Camelot years.
West Hollywood was a small part of a tract map where the bureaucrats in Los Angeles would “look the other way,” and the counter-culture thrived along the Sunset Strip and in the Rainbow District.
Our City Council represented those “queers,” “hippies,” and “non-conformists.” In the early years West Hollywood was primarily a male-oriented gay city with residents anchored to each other in the face of HIV/AIDS. Our local government never let go of those afflicted. Small town politics, by the people, for the people.
The invisible bubble around West Hollywood covered the Sunset Strip from Crescent Heights to Doheny, and Route 66 along Santa Monica Blvd. from La Brea to Doheny, with selected parts along Melrose and Beverly. Inside the bubble we created a new city and a culture and an economy that would attract visitors from all over the world.
Abbe Land joined John Heilman on the West Hollywood City Council in 1986. Land was a straight woman but she brought a feminist voice to the council. While the men were more visible on many fronts, it was Abbe Land who brought forward the motion to make West Hollywood the nation’s first pro-choice city in 1993.
While John Heilman drove policy uninterrupted from 1984 through 2015, Abbe Land was on and off the city council dais. Between terms Land held jobs at non-profits which paid well, very well. Land’s, ‘requests’ for funds from the City of West Hollywood, or its affiliated partners were rarely denied until the public starting shining light on inside-dealing. The West Hollywood City Council eventually took action to require behest payments to be reported, and they lowered those payments allowable from $5,000 to $1,000.
Abbe Land and John Heilman were linked in a personal friendship and always remained closely aligned. The two would pull the levers that controlled the politics of WeHo for decades, and they continue to do so.
The death of Sal Guarriello in 2009 left an empty seat on the city council dais. Rather than conduct a special election, the city council opted to appoint a city councilmember to serve the remainder of Guarriello’s term. The process narrowed the candidates down to two persons — a young newcomer to West Hollywood, Lindsey Horvath, and then-Planning Commissioner Joe Guadarrama. Land wanted to place another woman on the dais and voted with Heilman for Horvath. Council members Jeffrey Prang and John Duran supported Joe Guadarrama in the first round. The vote was split 2-2. Then Prang changed his vote to Horvath and she was appointed to the City Council.
It was sometime in 2010 when a young man came to my year-old shop BlockParty and introduced himself. His name was John D’Amico and he was telling me something about a local election. Local politics was not something I had paid any attention to. My first reply was, “I don’t want to get involved.”
Lindsey Horvath had poked her head into the shop as we were just getting opened the year prior. I didn’t know anything about city politics, or structure. But then I learned about “the Slate” — the teaming up of Heilman, Land and Horvath, against this guy D’Amico. I had to stick up against that kind of power trip so I took the side of the underdog: John D’Amico’s side. I went to Koontz Hardware and purchased yellow paint and a thick brush and blasted VOTE D’AMICO across my store windows. It went viral. D’Amico crushed it in that 2011 election and joined Heilman, Land, Prang and Duran on the dais. Horvath was defeated.
John Heilman would not shake John D’Amico’s hand for the first two years in office. The power structure in the city was a clique. It was 2012 when I knocked on Steve Martin’s door to ask him to write the language for term limits. Something had to be done to stop the clique from controlling the city. We gathered signatures, I wrote the ‘FOR” on the ballot and Measure C – Term limits was passed by the voters in 2013. There was hope that we could keep our city ‘independent’. How naive I was, how naive I am.
I would dream of the possibilities for a city where the voices of the people would rise above the political parties, the developers, the unions, or special interests. That was the dream when we worked to pass term limits. The dream that a rotation in government would get rid of the entrenched interests. But they moved our city council election to the November ballot, alongside the Presidential and mid-terms which caused a greater concentration of power among the big-money special interests.
When Abbe Land stepped down from City Council in 2015 she used her influence to support Lindsey Horvath. In that election Lindsey Horvath came back to win a seat on the City Council. John Heilman was defeated by Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister. and John D’Amico— but Jeffrey Prang had won his bid for the Los Angeles County Assessor. Prang’s open seat would cause a June runoff, and Heilman came back to win the open seat three months later.
Horvath had developed very thick skin after her loss in 2011 to John D’Amico. Abbe Land moved on to work with high paying nonprofits and then with County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Land promoted Horvath to Keuhl, paving the way for the retiring supervisor to endorse her in the race to fill her seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Abbe Land was given the honor of swearing in Lindsey Horvath this past week as County Supervisor. It was a incredible moment to watch. The protoge’ and the mentor. No matter who you supported in the election this moment in history was magnificent to behold. West Hollywood and West Hollywood was marrying the County.
Before the official swearing-in by Abbe Land inside the Halls of Administration there was another private swearing-in for family and friends. In that ceremony Austin Cyr held the bible while Abbe Land administered the oath to Horvath. Austin Cyr was the center of Horvath’s campaign team, former campaign manager for her city council campaign, and boy-friend to Council member-elect Chelsea Byers. (Byers has previously identified as bi-sexual)
During the campaign former Council member John Duran referred to Byers as the mini-me version of Horvath. Byers was a newcomer to WeHo, a white girl like Horvath with little experience in the city. Chelsea Byers was quickly appointed to the Human Services Commission by Council member John Erickson. Byers landed a job with a non-profit, Women’s Voices Now as the Director of Programs and Partnerships.
The clique and their nexus of data helped propel Byers to a City Council win without her ever having lived or voted in a West Hollywood City Council election prior to 2020. Austin Cyr, with Horvath’s and Land’s and Erickson’s support was able to target endorsements, fundraising and voters to push Byers over the finish line. In Horvath’s last campaign for WeHo City Council she received 3,948 votes. Byers won her city council seat with 3,960 votes.
Land also mentored a young gender studies major named John Erickson. John served part time as Abbe Land’s deputy until the deputy system was eliminated. Abbe Land supported John Erickson’s transition from her deputy office into an administrative position at City Hall. She endorsed his campaign for City Council. Abbe Land was the ‘queen bee’ of Lindsey Horvath and John Erickson and Chelsea Byers. A tight clique controlling policies, agendas, and commission appointments within the City.
The influence and the power of the clique is stronger today than every before. The great disrupter Council member John D’Amico leaves office after 12 years with the clique firmly in power and with John Heilman returning to the dais.
The election of Horvath to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heralds a brand new day for the City of West Hollywood. The invisible lines between Los Angeles policy and West Hollywood policy are blurred.
After just two full terms on the WeHo council, Lindsey Horvath is the youngest person ever elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and one of the most powerful persons in California politics. For years to come Lindsey Horvath will have an oversized influence over West Hollywood. That was my fear.
Lindsey Horvath was a good friend. In her 2015 election I would call her late at night to pop question before the debate, even though I was on the ballot too. We went to movies. We kicked off the Hillary Clinton campaign in WeHo in my backyard. She was always kind and considerate of my visual impairment. I was all-in for her County Supervisor race until she voted against Lauren Meister and West Hollywood’s seat on the Southern California Organization of Governments. West Hollywood Council member John Erickson joined her to vote against Meister too. It confused me, they were elected to represent West Hollywood. The clique was voting for their own self-interests.
From Lindsey’s first appointment and defeat, to her come back and just six years later she announced a campaign for the Los Angeles County Supervisor. It is really amazing. The former Notre Dame graduate has some luck of the Irish — from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade to Prop 1, the first time ever a woman’s right to choose was on the California ballot. But Lindsey Horvath also made her own breaks and worked hard.
Horvath was able to run on the “West Hollywood brand” at the same time she was running away from it. Scrubbing West Hollywood from her bio attracted even more attention to her West Hollywood connection. She was able to run as a good Catholic, former Bush supporter, and as a progressive Democrat. Lindsey was able to gather the endorsements and capital to compete and win with much less money than her opponent. And more than anything, she was able to garner the support of Sheila Kuehl, the outgoing County Supervisor, a relationship that was promoted and pushed by Abbe Land.
This past week John Leonard, the director of Economic Development for the City of West Hollywood, announced his departure from WeHo City Hall to join Horvath in her County Supervisor’s office. Leonard also served West Hollywood as the head of Community and Legislative Affairs. A valuable asset inside the City of West Hollywood’s management team, he will be an important part of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor’s office.
My naive dream of a local government where residents are the voices seems to have been lost to election cycles, politics, big money and unions, vote harvesting and special interests. My heart told me that too much power in one person, in one clique would not be healthy for the long term independence and future of West Hollywood. In this past election I chose my city over a friendship. I chose WeHo over WeLA.
I chose independence over the idea that a clique gets to decide who gets on all the commissions, or who gets the endorsements. My dream of a West Hollywood that was not controlled by the special interests was a storybook fantasy. I can only hope that those in public service will serve for the public good and not for their own self-interests.
The bubble that secluded and protected West Hollywood for so long has, for better or worse, finally burst open. WeHo is no longer an isolated island within L.A. County. Los Angeles now lies within WeHo’s sphere of influence, not the other way around. With WeHo voices occupying two of the eight elected seats in L.A. County (Horvath and County Assessor Jeffrey Prang), West Hollywood’s impact on the county is wide reaching and impossible to overlook.
Today, WeHo is the pulse of Los Angeles County. Pop goes the invisible bubble!