A veteran tenant organizer and a well-financed gay businessman will oppose each other in West Hollywood's third City Council election since the city incorporated 2 1/2 years ago.
Three candidates filed last week for the Nov. 4 special election to fill the vacated council seat of Valerie Terrigno, who left her post in May after she was convicted and sentenced on federal embezzlement charges.
The candidates make up the smallest field to run in a West Hollywood election. In the 1984 incorporation campaign, 40 candidates were on the ballot. Last April, when the city reelected three council incumbents, 10 candidates ran.
For the first time, political observers said, West Hollywood voters will have a distinct choice between two formidable candidates, Abbe Land and Gene La Pietra. A third candidate, Stephen D. Michael, also filed.
The outcome will determine whether the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), an influential tenant organization, will win a third seat on the council, or a candidate more predisposed to the city's business community will be elected.
"In order to make this a meaningful race, it was in everyone's interest to have only two major candidates," said Peter Freed, the chairman of West Hollywood for Good Government, a pro-business political group that has opposed the tenant coalition in the past.
Land, 30, an artist's representative with a personal management firm, is a co-chairwoman of the tenant coalition and heads West Hollywood's Planning Commission. She has been a highly visible figure in the community since the city's formation in November, 1984.
La Pietra, 38, is a millionaire who owns the Circus Disco, a gay-oriented dance club in Hollywood, and several residential properties in Los Angeles. He has been deeply involved in gay rights causes and has acquired a reputation as an effective fund-raiser for Democratic Party politicians.
Michael, 30, the third candidate who filed last week, is a wholesale furniture dealer and Republican who ran unsuccessfully in last April's council race, winning 1.5% of the total vote. Although Michael might play a role if the race between Land and La Pietra is close, he is not expected to figure prominently in the campaign.
Although only three people filed, three other strong candidates had considered entering the race, bowing out only after some tense, last-minute machinations.
At least four potential foes of the tenant organization attempted to build a political base for this election. They included La Pietra; Ruth Williams, a city rent stabilization commissioner who won 11% of the vote in the last council race; J. J. Kaplan, an aide to state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), and Anthony Melia, the president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
The four and their allies met repeatedly over the summer, trying to hammer out an agreement that would ensure that only one candidate would file against the tenant coalition's candidate. "We came to the realization that if we all ran, we would divide up the vote too many ways and the CES candidate would win easily," Kaplan said.
Melia bowed out early, but the other three all took out nominating papers and were still considering entering the race as late as last week. But by that point, according to Williams, it had become apparent that La Pietra was the "consensus candidate."
"It was loud and clear," said Williams, who is now working with La Pietra's campaign effort. "He had enough financial resources on his own, plus most of the rest of the (city's) financial community was behind him. And he has tremendous political connections, not only in West Hollywood but also in the city and the state."
La Pietra said he has now unified all of the anti-CES elements in the city. "This is going to be a broad-based campaign with every part of the community represented," he said.
'No Other Choice'
La Pietra said he had even hoped to win a tenant coalition endorsement but was prohibited by its director, Larry Gross, from appearing before the organization's steering committee. "It shows the lack of democracy in CES," he said.
But Gross said the steering committee, which endorsed Land on Monday, three days after she filed, had no other choice. "Abbe is the co-chair of this organization," he said. "The steering committee is not going to turn away from one of our own leaders."
Land was not the only coalition leader considering the race. Douglas S. Routh, the other CES co-chair in West Hollywood, also took out papers late last week but did not file. Routh ran in the city's first election in 1984 and almost won a seat, trailing now-Mayor Stephen Schulte by 708 votes.
Routh said that, although it appeared obvious to him that Land was going to run, he wanted to play it safe. "I just wanted to have the papers in the event that Abbe might not file," he said. "I'm just a cautious person."