The Coalition for Economic Survival, the architect of West Hollywood's rent control ordinance, once again showed its political dominance Tuesday as candidates endorsed by the group captured all three seats up for grabs in the City Council election.
The election gives CES an even stronger hold on city politics than previously. All five members of the new City Council were elected with the support of the rent control group. Outgoing Councilman Steve Schulte was the only member of the council who was not endorsed by CES.
With all but a handful of ballots counted, Sal Guarriello finished first in the field of nine candidates; incumbent John Heilman came in a close second and Babette Lang took the third seat.
Candidate Stephen Martin, an attorney who was seeking to replace Schulte, came in fourth. Robert K. Davis, a swimming pool contractor with strong support on the city's east end, came in fifth. Other candidates, in order of their finish, were John O'Brien, Jack Reilly, Jim Sorkin and the Rev. John W. VonDouris.
The turnout in Tuesday's election was light. Of the city's 20,000 registered voters, 5,423 voters went to the polls.
Many observers thought this would be the year that CES would lose its dominance over the council. Some said rent control was not the burning issue it had been immediately after the city's incorporation in 1984. And opponents of the CES-backed slate hit hard on crime, the city's growing bureaucracy, development and the city's failed attempt to build a civic center in West Hollywood Park.
Even the CES-backed candidates went separate ways, with Heilman and Lang running joint campaigns, and Guarriello deciding to go it alone. Guarriello made frequent attacks on Heilman's record on development.
The fear that CES could suffer an upset at the polls Tuesday was expressed by Parke Skelton, a longtime CES advocate who ran Lang and Heilman's campaigns. "You just don't know, CES has been in power a long time. The Sandinistas were in power a long time too, and look what happened to them," he said.
But after the votes were counted, the results showed a clear victory for the CES slate.
"It means that people still have a lot of respect for CES, and people are still very concerned about the basic economic survival issues of rent control, descent housing and their overall quality of life," said Mayor Abbe Land.
Heilman took the victory as evidence that the city was on the right course.
"Who says rent control and affordable housing are dead issues," he said. "Many people have been saying that CES is dead, but this shows that it is alive."
Lang said she was looking forward to joining the council and working on improving housing, decreasing crime and slowing growth.
Lang said she was ready to look past the campaign and charges by one opponent who said she was a slumlord. Lang acknowledged having owned apartment buildings in Los Angeles, but she denied accusations that the buildings were run-down.
"It was a sleazy campaign, to stoop to that level," she said. "But that is behind me now, and I'm looking forward to being on the council."
Guarriello said the victories by CES should not be taken as a sign that the organization has become too strong in the city.
"It is a good organization and it always has done a good job," he said. "I don't think it has too much power."
Guarriello, who underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery earlier this year, thanked all those who worked in his campaign, relieving him of many of the heavy campaign duties.
"My doctors said I'm in great shape" since the operation, he said, adding that the issues of parking and overdevelopment in the city will be his first areas of concern.
Planning to remain active despite his defeat, Martin said he is looking forward to working with Guarriello, whose views, he said, were most like his own. "He represents many of the things I stand for," said Martin, who received strong backing from Schulte and homeowners groups on the west and east end of the city.
Martin said the sweep will make it "a little more difficult for CES to avoid responsibility for issues like crime, development and city spending."
The only glitch in the election came about 10 p.m. in the West Hollywood Auditorium, when the vote-counting machine broke down, forcing a delay for several hours in issuing a final count.
After several delays, another machine was brought in from a nearby city, and the whole count had to be restarted because state law requires that the count be conducted on the same machine. Results came in after 1 a.m.
"It's beginning to feel like this election will never end," said one frustrated worker. "It's like a bad episode of 'The Twilight Zone.' "
17 of 20 Precincts
Candidate: Vote Sal Guarriello 3,173 John Heilman* 3,172 Babette Lang 2,921 Stephen Martin 2,643 Robert K. Davis 1,158 John O'Brien 592 Jack Reilly 408 Jim Sorkin 321 Rev. John W. VonDouris 189