City cable TV watchers in West Hollywood are getting a taste of a new morsel wedged between the usual video fare of city meetings and public service spots, but not everyone is a fan of the programming.
A 15-minute video profile of Mayor Abbe Land, funded by the city and titled "Know Your Mayor," has been running on the channel six to eight times a week since September. Narrated by Land's close companion, Jim Malinda, the show includes extensive footage of Land's lavish April inauguration party, interviews with her family and City Council colleagues, and photographs of her early life.
Critics of "Know Your Mayor" say the program violates the spirit of the city-owned cable station, using taxpayer money to take a partisan approach to city government.
"This is a little style piece on Abbe. One of the bylaws of the channel is that it is not to be used for partisan issues. But this is just a 15-minute political commercial for her," said West Hollywood resident Ed Riney. Riney recently launched a campaign to gain better public access to the city cable channel.
The video opens with Malinda's narration: "She came to California with hopes and dreams of being an actress." It continues with smoothly edited vignettes of Land's early development and education on the East Coast, and eventually details her career in West Hollywood.
Between interviews, Malinda praises the mayor: "She is described as a woman of sensitivity, intelligence and compassion. As a council member, she is applauded for her ability to balance social concerns with a nurturing and supportive attitude towards business."
Land, who is not up for reelection next year, defends the video. She said because the mayor in West Hollywood is a focal point for complaints, "Know Your Mayor" will improve resident access to government.
"I think all cities should do it, especially those with revolving mayors. I think it is also important for people to know who the City Council is. This is definitely an informational spot," Land said.
In West Hollywood, the mayor is appointed to the largely ceremonial post by the City Council. As mayor, Land wields the gavel at council meetings and attends city ceremonies but has little real power beyond her single council vote.
City Manager Paul Brotzman, who directed cable workers to put the film together, said the Land video has a dual purpose.
"The mayor is called upon to put out a lot of effort and take a lot of abuse. This is an opportunity to give somebody some positive strokes," Brotzman said. "The money is well spent if . . . it creates the perception that the mayor is more accessible."
Ian Tanza, director of the city's cable division, estimated the cost of producing the video at $1,200.
Tanza said narrator Malinda, referred to by Land as her "boyfriend," volunteered his time. He also said no travel expenses were paid to Land's out-of-state relatives, including her mother and father, who appear in the video.
Land said the idea for the video came from part-time actor Malinda, but that she immediately embraced it.
"It was an idea that came to me. As a matter of fact, Jim suggested it," Land said. "I said let me talk to Ian Tanza. Then we all sat down, Ian, and Paul Brotzman, and decided to do it for all (future) mayors."
Councilman Paul Koretz, who as mayor pro tem would traditionally succeed Land as mayor, said he would be unlikely to support spending city money on a video biography of himself.
"This certainly was not discussed with the council members as an ongoing program previous to its being done," Koretz said. "If I become mayor next year, I don't expect to ask for a similar program."
Koretz and others said that when city cable workers were filming residents' reactions to the selection of Land as mayor at the April inauguration, they were unaware of the reason. Many thought the film would be used on the city's weekly news show.
Of the five City Council members, only member Steve Schulte, who is often at odds with Land politically, was not given a speaking part in the video. However, a preliminary script contained a segment in which Malinda says: "Friend and colleague, Councilman Steve Schulte, disagrees with her stand on the development of a civic center in West Hollywood park but praises her determination and sincerity," followed by a parenthetic direction for Schulte to comment on "how Abbe has matured in four years, i.e. gay issues, etc."
Schulte's absence is the only significant deviation from the original script. In place of the Schulte segment, producers plugged in a comment from Councilwoman Helen Albert.
Schulte said he was never specifically asked to do the spot and said he had not yet seen the finished video.
Beyond complaints that the city is using taxpayer money to support a single elected official, some critics say "Know Your Mayor" points out the tight reins the city keeps on its cable access.
"What I want to know is, why haven't they done a 15-minute spot on anybody else?" said cable access advocate Ed Riney. "If they are going to do it just for one person, then why not do it on anybody who has an effect on the city?"