Backers of a campaign to recall West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman have failed to collect the required 4,202 signatures to qualify their petition for a special recall election this fall.
Organizers of the Committee to Recall John Heilman needed the signatures of 20% of the city's 21,012 registered voters for a special election to be called. Although they were able to collect 4,435 signatures, only 3,572 qualified, the city clerk reported Monday.
The failed effort brings to a close an acrimonious six-month recall campaign during which Heilman's opponents and supporters repeatedly accused each other of harassment and of giving out false information. Recent City Council meetings had taken on a contentious tone as recall organizers frequently voiced their opposition to the mayor.
"This is a victory for the council, the staff and the community," Heilman, 33, declared. "But I'm disappointed to some extent. I was geared up for a vote and confident that I would prevail. I've never been afraid to face the voters of this city."
Recall leaders say their petition failed primarily because of inflated voter registration rolls. They contend that the actual number of registered voters in the city is somewhere between 14,000 and 16,000, and that the rolls have not been updated by the county to reflect the numbers of duplicate registrations and residents who have moved or died.
About 400 signatures were disqualified, for example, because they belonged to residents who had moved within the city without updating their voter information. Another 117 were removed from the petition at the request of residents who responded to a mailing by pro-Heilman forces, according to the city clerk.
"We would have qualified easily had the voter lists been purged before the campaign," said Rachelle Sommers Smith, a recall spokesperson.
Marcia Ventura, a spokeswoman for the county registrar of voters, said that the city's registration figures are accurate. West Hollywood's voter rolls are updated annually, she said, most recently in January.
Recall organizers have asked that the registrar take a new count of the city's voters, but the request has been declined. They said they are discussing the possibilities of initiating a new recall campaign or of running candidates for two council seats that will be open in the municipal election next April.
"We are proud of our effort," said Bob Davis, a recall supporter. "We got more signatures on this recall than John Heilman received votes in the last election. The numbers show that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way this city is being run."
Heilman's opponents have long accused him of contributing to many of the city's ills, contending that he has allowed overdevelopment in the western portion of the city, ignored crime on the troubled east end and failed to protect the city's tough rent-control ordinance.
Recall leaders called attention during the campaign to the city's losing battle over a noted rent-control case with which Heilman's name has become almost synonymous. The case stemmed from a request in 1986 by apartment owner Mary Simonson to raise rents in her Hancock Avenue building. After being rebuffed by the city, Simonson sued for the right to raise her rents, and won. She became an overnight symbol of landlords' struggle against rent control.
Heilman's critics contend that the city erred in fighting the case and allowing a legal precedent to be established that paved the way for additional rent-control challenges.
In spite of the criticism, Heilman, the only council member to serve continuously since the city's incorporation in 1984, retains the strong support of a powerful tenants' rights group, the Coalition for Economic Survival.
"The voters decided on John in the last election," said Larry Gross, CES executive director, referring to Heilman's 1990 reelection. "He has done everything he could to protect rent control. The recall has tried to create issues where there are none."
Heilman's supporters charged that recall leaders have based much of their criticism on misinformation while failing to raise substantive issues. Recall members, for example, circulated a flyer suggesting that rents in the city will rise by 200% as a result of the Simonson decision. So far, however, no rents except those in Simonson's building have gone up in the aftermath of the court's decision, city housing officials say. They note that the Simonson ruling was a narrow one, applying specifically to the circumstances of that case.
"The recall people have failed to offer any constructive outlook for the city" Heilman said. "There are a lot of people who are supportive of the direction the city is headed in, even if they don't agree with every decision of the council."
Heilman and other city officials hope to finally put the recall effort, and the ill will it has generated throughout the community, behind them.
"The (recall) people have a choice at this point," said Councilwoman Abbe Land, a Heilman ally. "They can continue to point out all that's wrong, or they can offer solutions that the city can work with. It's time to work together rather than bash one another around."