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Election 2013

West Hollywood City Council and Term Limits Races Turn Political Scene Upside Down But Voters Get Last Word on Election Day

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Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM
click to enlarge Steve Martin - MARTIN CAMPAIGN
  • Martin campaign
  • Steve Martin

After months of political contention, West Hollywood voters will decide today if term limits for City Council members should be approved and if incumbents Jeff Prang and John Duran should be re-elected. Former Councilman Steve Martin, a front-running challenger, wants to replace either Duran or Prang.

From the start, this year's campaign season in West Hollywood has been heated, with the battle over Measure C -- the term limits initiative -- adding extra sparks. In one anti-term limits mailer, voters were warned, "What are the Orange County Republicans planning for West Hollywood? ... Stop the takeover of West Hollywood. Protect your right to vote fo the candidates of your choice."

In a city that's run by five Democratic council members and with a population that's nearly 40 percent gay or lesbian, a "takeover" by Orange County Republicans some 30 miles away seems laughingly implausible. But it sure makes for an interesting scare tactic.

In reality, the West Hollywood term limits push has come from neighborhood activists such as Sheila Lightfoot and Elyse Eisenberg and one-time City Council candidate Scott Schmidt, a member of the city's transportation commission who has lived in West Hollywood for 12 years.

During its petition drive to place terms limits on the March 5 ballot, the pro-term limit campaign got support to collect signatures from California Term Limits, whose leader is Jon Fleischman, a Republican who lives in Orange County.

"Truth is, thousands of West Hollywood residents signed the petition," says Scott Schmidt, campaign manager of West Hollywood Term Limits. "If you look at the campaign contributions, West Hollywood residents have been giving to the campaign in small donations."

Schmidt adds that a Republican takeover of West Hollywood is "absurd on its face." He notes that the "people who put terms limits on the ballot are by and large Democrats."

In West Hollywood, incumbent City Council members have been voted out only twice in the city's 28-year history. Usually, council members have to either die in office or retire on their own before leaving City Hall.

Longtime politician John Heilman, for example, has been sitting in office since 1985. As a West Hollywood councilman, he has seen four U.S. presidents as well as four California governors leave office.

In the West Hollywood City Council races, incumbents Jeff Prang and John Duran seek to serve residents for another four years. Prang has been a councilman since 1997. Duran was first elected in 2001. Voters will pick two people to represent them on the council.

Challengers Steve Martin, Sam Borelli, Christopher Landavazo, Tom Demille, Nick Garzilli, Tristan Schukraft, and Rusty Wiggs are looking to defeat either Prang or Duran. Judging from campaign mailers, Martin appears to be the strongest threat to incumbent Duran.

In a John Duran mailer sent to voters, Duran singles out Martin for criticism with a quote from neighborhood activist Ed Buck, who once worked with Martin on community issues. "Steve does not recognize the truth," Buck says, "and has a history of taking advantage of us with lies and deceit."

In another mailer sent out by Friends of West Hollywood, a political action committee that supports John Duran, it tells voters that Martin "has a consistent problem telling the truth!" The mailer also shows a picture of Martin holding up a blue parrot on his arm, trying to make him look ridiculous.

On March 1, Martin responded with a mass email sent to supporters titled "Steve Martin Fights Back," which featured a 12-minute video.

In it, Martin says his campaign is "poised for victory" and has been "attacked by virtually every angle by the incumbents." He says those attacks have been "complete fabrications" or "complete distortions," and the incumbents are "very concerned" that the people of West Hollywood will soon take over City Hall.

There have been a number of controversies over the course of the 2013 race, including news that Pacific Design Center owner Charles Cohen is looking to build a huge mall with the help of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority at the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards.

City Council members said they had no idea about the massive project. Challengers loudly questioned that excuse as well as the project itself -- community activists for years have complained about overdevelopment in West Hollywood, where traffic on Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards regularly screech to a halt during rush hours.

In late 2012, candidate Landavazo also claimed that Prang and Duran were harassing voters who supported his candidacy.

Never a boring a moment in West Hollywood.

After wiping away the muck and mud, voters will have to decide if term limits -- three, four-year terms maximum -- are needed to ensure that new blood and new ideas are injected into City Hall.

Voters will also need to figure out which two candidates will best act on the behalf of West Hollywood residents and not deep-pocketed special interests who usually don't live in the city.

Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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