Strong showings by the three incumbents in West Hollywood's election Tuesday maintained the City Council's homosexual majority and indicated broadened support for the Coalition for Economic Survival tenant activist group.
With all 23 precincts reporting, unofficial tallies placed Mayor John Heilman and Councilwoman Helen Albert significantly ahead of their rivals in the at-large elections, winning 5,057 (23%) and 4,947 (22.5%) votes respectively.
Councilman Stephen Schulte, who is expected to succeed Heilman as mayor in coming months, won 3,342 votes (15.5%). The incumbents will serve four-year terms.
"The voters have said that in the past 16 months, they think we've done solid jobs," Schulte said after proclaiming victory.
Although homosexual representation on the council rarely surfaced as an issue in the three-month campaign, the victories of Schulte and Heilman, both acknowledged homosexuals, retained the gay majority on the council.
The council's third homosexual member, Valerie Terrigno, was convicted last month of embezzling $9,000 in federal funds while running a now-defunct Hollywood counseling agency. After her resignation, which may come when she is sentenced in U.S. District Court on April 30, council members will have to decide whether to appoint a replacement or approve a special election for her seat.
Based on Tuesday's results, any special-election candidate backed by the Coalition for Economic survival would appear to go into that race with a strong edge. The coalition proved that its grass-roots approach to politics appealed not only to senior citizens and renters, who had previously shown strong support for coalition candidates, but also to homeowners and other voting blocs.
"Even in the precincts where we expected to do poorly, John and Helen ran as well as any of the other candidates," said Larry Gross, the coalition's coordinator. "Those were votes from homeowners, from condominium owners--people who didn't support us last time (in the November, 1984, election)."
"We broadened our base in this election," Heilman said. "This shows that we have the interests of this community at heart, not the Good Government people."
Heilman was referring to West Hollywood for Good Government, a coalition of businessmen and political moderates who supported Schulte and challengers Ruth Williams, a city rent stabilization commissioner, and Tom Larkin, a real estate agent. Williams came in fourth, with 2,410 votes (11%) and Larkin placed sixth, with 1,739 votes (8%).
Peter Freed, a leader of the Good Government group, made the best of his candidates' showing. "One of our people--Steve--won," he said. "And Ruth and Tom did well. I think that means we're going to be a force to reckon with in the coming months. Three months ago, nobody knew who we were."
But tenant coalition leaders said Heilman's and Albert's vote totals show that the Good Government group had limited appeal among voters. Gross and others in the coalition have accused Good Government of being a front for landlords trying to weaken the city's strict rent control law.
"They were playing politics as usual," Gross said. "They spent plenty of money, but that doesn't hold water in West Hollywood elections."
The Good Government group also was embarrassed in the campaign's final days by Schulte's decision to renounce its endorsement. Although Schulte had been unable to obtain the tenant coalition's endorsement, he had struck an agreement with Heilman and Albert that the three would not participate in personal attacks.
Schulte said he was angered last week when he learned that the Good Government group had distributed political mail attacking Heilman and Albert for their handling of a 10-kilometer charity race to raise funds for AIDS research. "It wasn't an appropriate issue and I viewed it as a personal attack," Schulte said, "so I disassociated myself from the campaign they were running."
In a a move that outraged Good Government leaders, Schulte sent out a mailing renouncing their campaign. "Steve's timing was terrible," Freed said. "It was an empty gesture and it made a lot of enemies for him."
According to Freed, some Good Government members made last-minute calls to friends, urging them to vote against Schulte. "That shows how suicidal those people were," one tenant coalition supporter said. "They were out trying to kill their own best candidate."
Schulte survived, saying he hoped to heal the rift with the Good Government faction. "I think they're still an effective voice and I plan to listen to them," he said.
But Freed said Good Government members will remain suspicious of Schulte. "Our people will remember this," Freed said. "When you lie down with dogs, you end up with fleas. And I've been scratching all day."
Freed said Williams and Larkin's strong showings could aid them if they run in a special election for Terrigno's seat. "They are both credible candidates," he said.