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'Grinch' Who Tried to Ban Yule in West Hollywood to Become Mayor

May 31, 1987|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Juggling his appointment calendar, a pen and the mobile telephone in his silver-gray Saab that bears a license plate reading W HLYWD, City Councilman Alan Viterbi finally acknowledged that he could not take notes and drive at the same time. "Let me pull over so I don't kill a constituent," Viterbi said during a telephone conversation. "This is the only time I have to return calls."

Viterbi's juggling act also includes holding down a full-time job and membership on the boards of a synagogue and two groups devoted to providing housing for the elderly. And on Monday, Viterbi will become the city's new mayor.

Viterbi, 25, is "one of the youngest public officials in the state of California and no doubt one of the busiest," as his resume puts it.

He found enough support among senior citizens, gays, Russian immigrants, Orthodox Jews, aspiring young professionals and other groups to win the second highest number of votes in the city's first election 2 1/2 years ago.

When he takes up the gavel, Viterbi will become the city's fourth mayor and the first who is not a homosexual. The mayor's post is rotated among council members.

He said the issue of sexual orientation is not significant today in the city that was once called "gay Camelot."

Citing the establishment of tough rent control, strict rules against discrimination in hiring practices and a drop in crime statistics, Viterbi said "what we've accomplished in West Hollywood so far has made (homosexuality) a non-issue."

Although much of the city's initial fame two years ago focused on the political strength of its gay community, which makes up an estimated 25% to 40% of the population, the major issue since incorporation has been rent control.

And with the completion of a draft of the city's first blueprint for future development, planning issues are expected to take the spotlight, elected officials and community activists agreed.

"This is far from being a gay Camelot," said Bob Craig, publisher of Frontiers, a biweekly publication based in West Hollywood that appeals largely to the homosexual community.

He said the dream of a model city run by gays was tarnished by the conviction of West Hollywood's first mayor, Valerie Terrigno, on charges of misusing government funds in an earlier job.

Since then, the election of Abbe Land as Terrigno's replacement on the council put gays in the minority on the five-member council, but Craig said "there is still more opportunity in the city of West Hollywood for gays to become involved in the municipal process than anyplace I can think of."

He said Viterbi "has always been very much a friend of the gay community."

Less Notoriety

According to Stephen Schulte, the city's outgoing mayor and Viterbi's closest ally on the council, West Hollywood is "distinctive and something of a curiosity from time to time, but most of the time you're seeing a typical American city in a highly urbanized setting."

Schulte also said that agreement can be expected "99% out of 100% of the time" on major issues facing the council.

All this means less notoriety for the city. But the job of mayor is still expected to give Viterbi, who was once branded a "grinch" for trying to have Christmas dropped from the list of city holidays, a good deal of useful publicity for his expected reelection bid in November, 1988.

"I would expect that he's going to be a very active mayor," said Alan Katz, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy and a Santa Monica city councilman who has worked with Viterbi in Jewish organizations.

"He has the ability to reach out beyond the boundaries of West Hollywood to a variety of sources on the state and federal level," Katz said. "To the extent that the city needs help from Congress, the Legislature and county government, he's respected by important players at all three of those levels."

The prospect of being mayor has forced Viterbi to drop at least one ball from his juggling act. In June he will resign as executive director of Women's American ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training), a Jewish group that supports vocational schools around the world.

Busy Schedule

Viterbi said he is mulling over job offers from two other Jewish organizations but won't accept new employment until the fall.

The ORT job, which paid between $30,000 and $40,000, kept him busy with frequent trips to Arizona, Nevada and around Southern California. City Council business took up at least 30 hours a week, Viterbi estimated.

At a recent council meeting, Viterbi had flown in hours earlier from Phoenix. He said he copes with the demands of work and politics by starting his day at 6 a.m. and using breakfasts, lunches and sometimes dinner for meetings.

"He's extremely well organized in terms of life and life style and what he's done for us in the last two years," said Lucille Brotman of San Diego, chairwoman of ORT's district executive committee.

"We're really sorry to see him go," she said. "He is compassionate but efficient, which I think is a nice combination."

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