West Hollywood's third City Council race in two years entered its final week as candidates Gene La Pietra, Abbe Land and Stephen Michael debated and their supporters flooded city mailboxes with last-minute political literature.
Bolstered by a surprise endorsement from West Hollywood Mayor Stephen Schulte, millionaire discotheque owner La Pietra is pinning his hopes on the final flurry of political mailings.
"We have a good direct-mail campaign this week that, I think, will put us over the top," said Rick Taylor, La Pietra's campaign manager. "I don't think we'll blow them out of the water, but we've got the momentum now."
Tenant activist Land and her backers also predicted victory, insisting that her margin over La Pietra would be substantial. Land's campaign staffers said her name will appear on a political mailer sent out by Michael Berman and Carl D'Agostino, professional campaign managers whose election-year Democratic slates carry weight in some Westside communities.
"Our polling tells us that more and more people who were undecided are switching to Abbe," said Barbara Grover, one of Land's campaign managers. "Gene has had to scramble to hold the small base he has."
Even furniture dealer Stephen Michael, who is expected to finish third, pulled off a surprise in the final week, distributing a slick political mailer despite being handicapped by meager fund-raising. "Steve's going to surprise people," said his campaign manager, Paul Frederix. "The mailer we have going out this week will turn a few heads."
The three candidates are vying for the council seat held until last May by Valerie Terrigno, who was forced to resign after she was convicted on federal embezzlement charges. The winner will serve the remaining 18 months of Terrigno's four-year term and will then face reelection.
While the political mail churned on, the candidates appeared at a forum sponsored by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
La Pietra called for immediate work on new parking structures in the city and said he would best represent the business community.
Rent Control Issue
Land insisted that she is the strongest rent control backer among the three and said she would support parking and development strategies pursued by the present council.
In contrast, Michael called for a softer rent control law and reaffirmed an interest in using poker and bingo clubs to help revitalize the city's east end.
For once, none of the candidates brought up La Pietra's past state and federal pornography convictions, which are expected to play a large role in West Hollywood voters' Election Day decisions.
"Gene's character, and how people react to it, is still the overriding factor in the race," said Larry Gross, director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, the strongest and most controversial political organization in the city.
Indeed, Land has used La Pietra's past as the central element in a mail campaign intended to cast doubt on his credibility and honesty. In addition to making repeated references to La Pietra's 1971 state and 1974 federal obscenity convictions, Land has also criticized his role as a discotheque owner.
In one circular, Land quoted old letters written by neighbors of La Pietra's Hollywood nightclub, Circus Discotheque, to suggest that he had poor relations with the community surrounding the club. Such an issue might prove effective among West Hollywood neighborhood activists concerned about the effects of nightclubs near their homes. La Pietra has responded that his troubles with neighbors have long since abated.
Land has not been alone in raising questions about character. La Pietra's supporters have questioned Land's acceptance of a $200 check in 1985 from an AIDS benefit marathon race. La Pietra supporters Gerda Spiegler and Budd Kops have repeatedly suggested that Land was paid for her work as "celebrity hostess" while many other race workers performed duties as volunteers. Land has replied that she also was a volunteer and that the money paid to her was for expenses incurred before the race.
Both Land and La Pietra have said that their campaigns are broad-based and will attract votes from all segments of the community. Yet Land seems strongest among those renters who are elderly and heavily Jewish, while La Pietra's campaign plays well in the gay community. Each group is estimated to make up about 30% of West Hollywood's 37,000 population.
Parke Skelton, one of Land's campaign managers, said Land will be able to depend on a solid base of at least 5,000 voters. "There are at least 3,500 people who would vote for a mosquito abatement initiative if we asked them," Skelton said, adding that the figure usually swells to 5,000 after heavy precinct walking and telephone work.