More than 14 months ago, West Hollywood chose its first City Council in a tumultuous, free-spending election campaign that pitted 40 politically inexperienced candidates against each other. Five emerged as winners.
This April, three of those winners are up for reelection in a race expected to test voters' approval of the council's controversial first year and its positions on rent control, civil rights and development.
But West Hollywood's political landscape has shifted markedly since the November, 1984, free-for-all. This time around, there will be fewer candidates, less campaign money and new power blocs to contend with.
The most significant change, though, is the simple fact that the three candidates facing reelection--Mayor John Heilman and council members Helen Albert and Stephen Schulte--have had 18 months in office to solidify their political base, meet with voters and repay old campaign debts.
'Tough to Beat'
"The incumbents are going to be tough to beat," Councilman Alan Viterbi said. "When you think about it, the council has been the only political game in town since the last election. We've done some controversial things, but we're also the only ones who have been out there talking to people and dealing with issues every day."
Heilman, Albert and Schulte had the three lowest vote totals of the five winning council members in 1984. In order to stagger elections in newly incorporated cities, state election laws mandate that the three lowest vote-getters seek reelection after 18 months. The winners of those elections will then serve two-year terms.
Council members Viterbi and Valerie Terrigno, who won the two highest totals, do not face reelection for another two years.
The three incumbents have their work cut out for them. Besides facing as many as 12 potential challengers (the election filing period opened Jan. 9 and will close Jan. 30), the incumbents may be opposed by a new coalition of self-styled moderates and conservatives who plan to sponsor their own slate of candidates.
Heilman and Albert have been portrayed by political observers as the most formidable candidates because of their unwavering support from the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants rights and rent control advocacy group that emerged from the 1984 election as the most powerful political bloc in the city.
Larry Gross, the coalition's coordinator, said that Heilman and Albert can depend on the votes of at least 2,000 tenants. "We're even stronger than we were in the last election," he said. "Our membership is up and many of our members are more actively involved now than they were then."
In the 1984 race, Heilman, Albert and Douglas Routh, a third coalition-backed candidate who came in sixth just behind Schulte, each received more than 3,000 votes. "It's pretty obvious that anyone who has CES support starts off with a pretty sizable cushion of votes," said Parke Skelton, who is campaign manager for both Heilman and Albert.
Heilman said he and Albert will stress affordable housing and urge tenants to retain a strong rent control law by voting for the coalition's slate. The two council members are also in good financial shape, having eliminated their 1984 campaign debts.
"Helen and I will be depending on small contributors," said Heilman. "We're aiming at raising (a total of) $45,000 to cover all of our expenses.
Schulte hopes to raise a similar amount by himself. Having spent more than $65,000 on his 1984 race--and still burdened by a campaign debt of $12,000--he insists he will have little trouble raising about $45,000. He has scheduled a $175-a-plate fund-raising dinner next week when he hopes to bring in at least $30,000.
But Schulte is having more difficulty persuading the Coalition for Economic Survival's steering committee to install him as the third member of its campaign slate.
Some members of the coalition have become disillusioned with council members Viterbi and Terrigno, who were members of the 1984 slate. And there are fears among some coalition members that backing Schulte now could be cause for regret later.
Feeling of 'Betrayal'
"The feeling is that Alan and Valerie betrayed us on key rent control and development votes," said one steering committee member, who declined to be identified. Some steering committee members criticized Schulte for not supporting the coalition's agenda and important council votes over the past year. Schulte has defended himself as an independent council member who tries to appeal to a broad-based constituency.
Heilman and Schulte also have reportedly clashed with each other. And coalition members say they were dissatisfied with some of Schulte's choices for city committees. "He went with a few too many big-money choices," said another coalition source.
Schulte said he considers the coalition endorsement "important," but insisted he could win "with it or without it."