In their first public meeting since the start of West Hollywood's third election campaign, City Council candidates Abbe Land and Gene La Pietra offered similar views on gay rights and city problems, while a third candidate, Stephen Michael, proposed legalized bingo and poker to boost the city's revenues and spur economic revitalization.
The three candidates spoke at a forum last week sponsored by the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles, a gay-oriented political action committee. They are vying for the council seat left vacant by former Councilwoman Valerie Terrigno, who was convicted on federal embezzlement charges. The special election will be held Nov. 4.
The candidates forum touched on key West Hollywood matters ranging from parking to development issues. But many questions from the audience stressed gay and lesbian concerns, particularly relations between the gay community and the tenant-activist Coalition for Economic Survival.
Land, who is co-chairwoman of the group's West Hollywood chapter, defended the coalition's decision not to endorse Councilman Stephen Schulte in the last council race and its failure to have a representative march in this year's Gay Pride Parade.
In the last council race, three incumbents--Schulte, John Heilman and Helen Albert--were reelected. The coalition, which was a powerful force in West Hollywood's first two elections, endorsed Heilman and Albert, who are active members of the group, but declined to endorse a third council candidate.
"Steve was not endorsed by (our) steering committee because they felt he wasn't strong enough on issues we cared about," Land said. Later, when asked if the decision not to endorse had anything to do with the fact that Schulte is an acknowledged gay politician, Land added, "That decision was not based on his being gay. The fact of his gayness doesn't enter our endorsements."
And when asked why the coalition had no members marching in this year's gay parade, Land replied, "It came at a time when many steering committee members were ill. Our seniors couldn't participate."
After the forum, several Land campaign workers angrily claimed that Land was peppered with tough questions, while La Pietra, one of the gay community's most influential fund-raisers and a board member of the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles, fielded softer remarks. But La Pietra backers said they saw no such disparity.
Despite those moments of tension, Land and La Pietra made similar commitments to gay rights issues, as did Michael, who brought groans from Municipal Elections Committee members by labeling them "outside power brokers."
Michael also criticized the two other candidates for representing outside interests. And he claimed that La Pietra had changed his residence from Silver Lake to West Hollywood "at the last minute."
Echoing Michael's claims, one audience member asked Land about fears that she would only do the tenant coalition's bidding if she won a council seat. "I'm a proven community leader and not a puppet of anyone," she replied.
All three candidates said they would work to defeat Proposition 64, the Lyndon LaRouche-backed state initiative that would allow the quarantine of AIDS victims.
And the three were asked how they would deal with repeated reports of tensions between sheriff's deputies and some of the city's homosexual residents. All favor the creation of a police review board. The Sheriff's Department has claimed that a clause in its contract with the city prohibits review boards.
Land and La Pietra, who have won the most broad-based endorsements in the early weeks of the campaign, also agreed on several key West Hollywood issues. They both support West Hollywood's strong rent control law and back the city's attempts to develop a general plan. La Pietra went one step further on development, calling for the city to stop issuing any more building permits until the plan is unveiled.
But although Land said she was satisfied with the City Council's last two budgets, La Pietra went on the offensive against the council's financial choices. He criticized what he contended was a $2.5-million deficit in this year's budget--even though city officials say the current budget shows a $700,000 surplus.
But the most startling position taken during the forum was Michael's call for legalized poker and bingo on the city's east side.
Michael, who has been unable to keep pace with the endorsements that Land and La Pietra have won, has based his campaign on a series of surprising issues.
He has called for a rent control law more amenable to landlords, a position that would not seem to play well in a city where more than 85% of the population are renters. And he supports council elections by district, a proposition that was soundly defeated during the city's first election in 1984.
Michael's support of a poker and bingo parlor seems, at first glance, even less popular. During the debate, it was greeted by a half-minute of derisive laughter.
Until now, the only West Hollywood faction that has supported such a move has been a group of Sunset Strip club owners who are hoping to build a poker club on Sunset Boulevard.
The two other candidates had no immediate reaction to Michael's proposal.