Tuesday, March 8, was Fat Tuesday and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood was filled with young LGBTs and allies bedecked in colorful beaded necklaces. At campaign night headquarters for John D'Amico near the city's Mardi Gras revelers - the mood was festive as the gay challenger to the three city council incumbents racked up more and more precinct wins. Meanwhile, inside the famed Factory - once the site of Studio One, the West Coast's answer to disco haven Studio 54 and host to the incumbents' election night party - the mood grew more somber as the evening wore on.
WeHo City Clerk Tom West with Election Night worker (Photo Karen Ocamb)
As midnight approached, the unofficial tally of results in the city's nastiest election in memory were announced. The deceptive Measure A "Tax Billboard Act" - was resoundingly defeated, 3865 to 983. Two of the three incumbents were re-elected: Councilmember Abbe Land got 2548 votes, Mayor John Heilman got 2359. But Councilmember Lindsey Horvath only received 1902 votes - putting her behind former Planning Commissioner D'Amico, who secured 2471 votes, and former Councilmember Steve Martin, who came in fourth with 2026 votes.
City Clerk Tom West said the percentage of voter turnout was roughly 25% – minus the approximately 930 Provisional and/or Permanent Vote-by-Mail ballots that still have to be certified. The turnout in 2009 was 18%. West would not characterize the turnout as "historic," however, reserving that designation for past elections involving city incorporation, deciding to keep the LA Sheriff's contract or start a city police department, and a measure to allow card clubs on Sunset Boulevard.
West said that he hopes to start counting the 930 outstanding ballots on Monday. But first the voters' signatures must be certified by the Los Angeles County Recorder's office to ensure against voter fraud. He guestimated that about half were Provisional ballots and the other half Permanent Vote-by-Mail.
The outstanding ballots matter a great deal: there is only a 333-vote difference between John Heilman and Steve.
Martin, for instance, and if Martin overtakes the 26 year veteran, the perceived balance of power on the city council would change considerably. If the votes remains relatively the same, longtime Councilmember Jeffrey Prang, who is seeking election to the state Assembly, becomes the critical swing voted on the bitterly divided council since Heilman and Land often vote together and D'Amico is expected to vote with his friend and campaign supporter Mayor Pro Tem John Duran. Both Duran and Prang (if he also seeks re-election) are expected to defend their seats in two years. During this election, Prang sided with the incumbents.
As for the other challengers: gay Republican Scott Schmidt - who refreshingly was not attacked for being a Republican in the heavily Democratic city - won 1226 votes; Mito Aviles got 919; Mark Gonzaga (who barely campaigned) - 474; Lucas John - 469; and Martin Topp - who withdrew from the race - 140.
After his victory seemed secure, D'Amico's party trooped over the West Hollywood Park Auditorium where City Channel 10 was broadcasting live. West Hollywood Patch was there and conducted video interviews with D'Amico and Duran.
John D'Amico talks to West Hollywood Patch (Photo screen capture for Patch video)
D'Amico told West Hollywood Patch:
I genuinely think that this is about all the people in West Hollywood who wanted this to happen. And the city clearly came together around this set of ideas that myself and the other four non-incumbents put together and brought this new narrative to the city of West Hollywood. And I also want to say that the incumbents - that won and the one who didn't - as I said during our debate - they have a formidable record, they're certainly important to the city and we'll work together to figure out what the new West Hollywood will look like. It's changed.
Duran told West Hollywood Patch:
John D'Amico and John Duran (right) celebrate win (Photo screen capture from West Hollywood Patch video)
I'm very happy that [D'Amico] won and it appears that in 7 out of 11 precincts, he was the number one vote getter - which is extraordinary. When you look at it that way - over half the precincts went to the challenger and I think this is what I've been trying to tell my colleagues is that, ' You're not listening to the dissention out there. You're not hearing what people are saying.' I'm hearing it. And I'm just so glad that he won because I think it will bring some balance back to the council and that's important.
On his Facebook page, Duran added:
Dearest Munchkins: Thank you for electing my friend John D’Amico to West Hollywood City Council last night. BOYSTOWN turned out in major numbers and gave us the winning edge. But he also won 7 out of 11 precincts! That means seniors, Russians, women, trannies, straight rock dudes and dudettes, tenants, landlords – all voted for him. Thank you one and all. Tis a beautiful morning in the Emerald City.
In their victory speeches at the Factory, Heilman and Land thanked their supporters in the labor, Russian, transgender communities and talked about the need to "heal" the city after the election - but acknowledged it will be difficult.
John Heilman, Lindsey Horvath, Abbe Land (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
It was a really divisive election and you all hung in there with us and I just can't thank you enough....However the results turn out, we can be really proud of the campaign we ran because we ran a great campaign....We had a positive campaign and we talked about the things we really care about. And that's what's important and I think, at the end of the day, that the things that we talked about are still the things people care about - and this community - we are still going to go on and be the best damn city anywhere.
Land thanked Heilman, joking about how he has "been around." But, she said, "the city is in the shape it is so much because of John Heilman's leadership.
Land said she was "honored" to share the slate with Horvath, who
is one of the most magnificent people who showed what this city is about and who worked so hard and has been an extraordinary councilmember and it has been an honor to serve with her and I know that Lindsey's going to be involved with our community for a long, long time.
Heilman noted the nastiness of the campaign:
I would rather lose with all you people than win with people who are negative and nasty. I'm so proud of the campaign we ran. We didn't describe other people or compare them to dead dictators. We didn't falsely tell people we were against recovery. We didn't try to scare people into voting a certain way. We ran a positive campaign about our record, about what we had accomplished, and about what we wanted to accomplish in the future. And we did that because that's who you are and I think that's who we are, too. You're the people in the community who've made the community so successful, so wonderful - through your service, through your hard work - I really appreciate all of the effort you've put on our behalf....
John Heilman hugging a supporter (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
[The last year of pots shots has] been relentless and it has been ugly and it has been nasty and it has been personal. But I can overlook all of that. What I can't overlook are people who've attacked our dear city. - who've accused our city of being antigay or of being unfriendly - who have tried to divide us. That has got to stop.
And we need all of you to be active and to remain active because the tone that has occurred during this election has been very negative and it's going to take a long time for our community to heal. I know we can. But we need you to be vigilant. We need you to be active. We need you to be present and involved. And that's how that's going to change because I know you as people - you're not going to put up with that kind of behavior. Nor should any of us put up with that kind of behavior. I want to thank the people of West Hollywood for returning me yet again to the City Council. It's been an incredible honor and a pleasure and I know we're going to continue to move this city forward.
Heilman, too, praised Horvath: "I think we all know she has a very, very bright future in this city and I am going to be on her side forever."
Horvath took the loss with grace in a room full of sad and disappointed supporters who enthusiastically applauded her throughout the speeches:
We were attacked for the support that we got and I can't tell you how proud and honored I am to have the support of all of you in this room. You make West Hollywood a city to believe in. You make West Hollywood that city that we all want to believe in - that represent the values that we all hold, the values that bring us together, the values that we want to see more of - not just here in our city, but throughout our state and our country. And it starts right here. We are that progressive city on the hill.
Lindsey Horvath addressess supporters (Photo Karen Ocamb)
I never would have imagined that I would have had the opportunity - growing up in a small town on the East side of Cleveland, Ohio - to come to West Hollywood and be of service to this incredible community. And there's nothing I want more than to continue to be of service to this community. I share the values of this community - and I will continue to represent them and uphold them. There's nothing I have enjoyed more than having the opportunity to be of service to this community. I have been so honored and it is through your support and so many in the community that that was possible.
Now there was an appointment process that brought me to this opportunity and some people didn't like that. But the truth is - it was a really hard decision and I want to thank all of my colleagues for having made that decision - for having given me the opportunity to serve with you because there has been so much that I have learned, so many ways that I have grown. This opportunity has encouraged me to be an even better citizen.
Horvath noted that age - she's 28 - shouldn't be a barrier to public service. "It doesn't matter how many years you have - it takes along time to learn and I'm going to continue learning and growing with this community, she said. "The most important thing is - there's a lot of work to do. There's a lot of work out there waiting for us."
Horvath also acknowledged International Women's Day and thanked Land for mentoring her. "Abbe supports women coming into leadership and coming into our own."
Horvath also thanked Prang: "You supported us through some really difficult attacks. And your consistent and steadfast support of me and of all of us in this campaign has meant so much. Thank you does not say enough."
Councilmember Jeffrey Prang Election Night March 8, 2011 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Prang said he was “horrified” to receive a campaign mailer comparing Heilman to Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Kim Jong-il, and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. "I've known John Heilman for 20 years and worked with him for almost 14 and he's nothing like Pinochet. Maybe the hair - but," Prang joked, before getting very serious:
We all know elections can be brutal and this one was probably one of the most brutal in West Hollywood history. We all agree it's OK to take fair shots at policy where we have disagreements. But when we lie, when we dissemble, and give wrong information and just the scurrilous things that were said - it's just so unfortunate. And it would be really horrible if the results here - particularly for Lindsey - were a result of that misinformation and lies.
But I'm really pleased that John and Abbe are going to be back. They've given the better part of their lives to the city of West Hollywood - West Hollywood's a very, very special place and due in no small measure to the work they've provided over the years. I've worked every closely with my colleagues over the years and as I think West Hollywood has demonstrated, we can all get along, we can do great things when we work together, when we work maturely and we have a common goals for the people of West Hollywood.
Prang also honored Horvath, calling her "a dynamic young women. She's bright and she has such an incredible career ahead of her."
He then returned to the negativity in the campaign: "We've got a lot of work to do over the next weeks and months - we've got a lot of healing and we've got a big vision we need to implement, including, if the election holds, with a new colleague."
West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman's deputy Fran Solomon (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
That prompted Heilman to add a few more words about the allegations of credit cared abuse leveled at his longtime deputy Fran Solomon the day before the election: In their story, the LA Weekly included a statement from the city's Financial Department:
The credit card expenditures for 2010 incurred by City employee, Fran Solomon, totaled less than $2,000 for the entire year. According to our records, these expenditures were for official City business meetings with various community stakeholders. Additional expenditures on the credit card were incurred by other staff persons in the furtherance of municipal business and there are no violations of any City policies in the use of the City's official credit card. Additionally, no public funds have been expended for any private club membership and the pens and gift cards were in recognition of employee milestones.
It's fair game when we as candidates get attacked but I think it's beyond the pale when city employees get attacked - and Fran, I'm sorry you got dragged into this but you've got a Teflon suit. You're tough and thank you for all the service that you performed on behalf of the city.
Other council candidates posted responses on their Facebook pages or websites:
Steve Martin for WeHo 2011
Thank you everyone for your support throughout this campaign. I believe that we have sent a clear message to City Council that we will fight to protect our home, our government, and the ideals that West Hollywood embodies.
Mito Aviles For West Hollywood City Council 2011
G’Monrnig! Once again, thank you all for your support! This is not the end of my political journey. This is just the beginning. You have not seen the last of me! Here’s to the beginning of progress and change in West Hollywood! #mito4weho
Lucas John on WeHo Confidential:
Good bye Lindsey & hello John!
Much love & congratulations to John D’Amico!
We hope that John will stand up for the arts & ultimately utilize his seat to steer Weho in the right direction.
One step forward… Prang, Duran & D’Amico!
xoxo Soju B
PS – We have lot’s of progressive ideas Mr. D’Amico!
Mark Gonzaga posted a comment on the West Hollywood Patch page:
Very sad for The City Of West Hollywood, that such a small percentage of the residents vote and have voted in a new council person wreaking of insincerity, gliding on HUGE donations from developers who do NOT even live in West Hollywood nor care this city. If the 80% majority of intelligent, aware and educated West Hollywood residents, had voted D’Amico would NOT have won the election which was no more than a three-ring circus. I had not been to a circus since I was a child back in the 1960′s and I must admit, tonight I enjoyed watching the clowns(!)"
Martin, John, and Schmidt all held court at O'Bar.
Scott Schmidt told me:
Candidate Scott Schmidt, president of Log Cabin Republicans/LA (Photo Karen Ocamb)I had fun learning about the city. I don't have all the answers - but I don't even know the right questions.
They're talking past each other - their visions of this city - clearly need to bridge the gap between the perceptions of reality. Otherwise, it's going to be difficult to move forward."
Noting that he travelled nationwide to raise political funds, Schmidt said: "I'm so reminded what a special place West Hollywood holds in the hearts of all gay and lesbian people across the country.
He said he was "shocked" by Heilman's statement to the New York Times that the West Hollywood of 24 years ago is just not that gay anymore. "We have to preserve what makes us special," Schmidt said.
What Heilman said in The Times is:
We still have the same number of gay people, but straight people now feel comfortable going into a gay area and socializing," said Mr. Heilman, who is gay. "A lot of people are proud of their identity, but they're not going out to bars all the time anymore. Their priorities have shifted as they've gotten older.
It was actually someone else who said the city isn't what it used to be:
Wendy Goldman, 58, who is straight and has lived in West Hollywood since its founding, said she was pleased with how the city had changed and was supporting the incumbents.
The city's not what it used to be, it's not as rough," she said. "But thank God for that."
Schmidt's right: people are talking past each other and there are two idealistic visions of West Hollywood, both centered around the city's "founding principles" of welcoming people who are different.
Matt Palazzolo and transgender activist Karina Samala (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Matt Palazzolo, who gained national prominence as a young activist politically awakened by the passage of Prop 8, noted that today in West Hollywood, some gays perceive straights as the people who are "different."
"This is not just about the candidates but really it's about the principles of what the city is," Palazzolo said, adding that he was "taken aback" and "horrified" by the Boystown Fights Back campaign launched by D'Amico, Duran and their supporters.
The Boystown Fights Back campaign said that gay men needed to keep straight men out of their space. When I was growing up, I dreamt of living in a city where I could be myself and all were welcome. West Hollywood is that city. But in the Boystown Fights Back city pushes out people who are not wanted and who are different. In this case, it's straight people.
Boystown Fights Back says there are "too many strollers." But isn't this what we've been fighting for - acceptance - where gays and straights can have families and raise children side by side?
Boystown Fights Back is doing to others what we've had done to us our whole lives and that's not what this city is about. It makes me feel slimy.
A lot of healing work to do, indeed. In addition to the gay versus straight aspect of this election and the sense of sexism felt by a lot of women - there is the personal aspect that will also be difficult to overcome. For instance, it will be interesting to watch the interaction between Mayor John Heilman and his friend and colleague, Mayor Pro Tem John Duran who checked "likes" regarding a Facebook comment using a Nazi term to reference Heilman:
crossposted at LGBT POV