The West Hollywood City Council has scheduled a special election for Nov. 4 to fill the vacated seat of Councilwoman Valerie Terrigno, who left office last month after being sentenced on a federal embezzlement conviction.
The council's decision was unanimous, with Mayor John Heilman and council members Stephen Schulte and Helen Albert agreeing on the date. Councilman Alan Viterbi was absent.
Acting on a request by Schulte, the council also agreed last week to consider the option of appointing a temporary council member to replace Terrigno until the November election. But Schulte admitted that the idea has little support among his colleagues.
Question of Credibility
"I don't sense much interest in it," he said. "But I still think it's a real solid idea. Five months is a long time to go with only four council members."
Mayor Heilman, who opposes the appointment idea, said that even if the council could agree on an interim candidate, the credibility of any vote could ultimately be questioned. "No matter whom we pick, someone in the community is bound to be displeased," he said. "That means that every time we vote, some segment of the community will criticize the motives of the interim council member. Why set ourselves up for that kind of trouble?"
The council was reduced to four members on April 30 when Terrigno was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Laughlin Waters to 60 days in jail or a halfway house, five years' probation, restitution of $7,000 and 1,000 hours of community service. Terrigno was convicted in March of embezzling $7,000 in federal funds while running a now-defunct Hollywood counseling agency.
Terrigno was elected in 1984, and her elected replacement would fill the remainder of her four-year term, until 1988.
Major Votes Coming
Schulte has proposed the interim appointment because of his doubts that the council can govern effectively with only four members. "We're going to have some important votes in the next few months and I don't want to see us stalled because of splits on the council," he said.
Among those votes are decisions on the city's 1986 budget and on social service programs, Schulte said.
But political observers suggest that if the council is unable to come up with voting majorities on those issues, it would have as difficult a time agreeing on an acceptable interim nominee for the vacant council seat.
"I don't see how the four of them could agree," said Peter Freed, one of two chairmen of West Hollywood for Good Government, a political organization backed by moderate businessmen and landlords.
Larry Gross, director of the competing tenant activist Coalition for Economic Survival, said his group would back an interim appointment if "it's someone who would have acceptable views on the issues." But Gross, too, said he expects the seat to be filled only after the special election.
The fortunes of the tenant coalition and the Good Government group may well rest on the November election.
Strong on Rent Control
Although the coalition has yet to endorse a candidate, it considers itself to be in a position of strength, since most of its candidates have won in the last two city elections. If one of the coalition's candidates were to win in November, the city's tough rent control law would be more protected and coalition-backed programs would stand a better chance of council approval. "We've proved that we're no fluke," Gross said.
Only one of Good Government's candidates, Schulte, won in the last election, and by the end of the campaign, he had disavowed the group's endorsement. But Freed insists that if Good Government can limit the field of candidates, one backed by Good Government would have a strong chance of winning.
"If it's just one of our people against a CES (coalition) candidate, I think we can win," Freed said.
Limiting the November race to two candidates would seem unlikely, as the last two West Hollywood elections show. In 1984, 40 candidates ran; in the most recent election last month, 10 candidates ran. Already, five potential candidates--including at least one who ran well but lost in last month's election--have been talking about filing for the November election.
City elections supervisor Ray A. Villareal said the filing period for the election will open July 14 and close Aug. 8.