West Hollywood 2011 City Council Election: Challenging Candidates Cast Ballots, Urge Voters To Do Same

UPDATE: Voter turnout may be much higher than in 2009. Polls in WeHo are closed. More after jump.

UPDATE: Steady flow of voters at WeHo polling stations, with turnout expected to pick up after 5:30 p.m. More after jump.

West Hollywood City Council candidates Mito Aviles and Scott Schmidt have cast their ballots this morning, urging voters to do the same.

"Go out to vote," says Aviles, after he voted with his partner, ChadMichael Morrisette, at Plummer Park's Fiesta Hall this morning. "Vote for three people, starting with me and two others. We need new blood to shift the balance of power at City Hall."

Schmidt, who also voted this morning, says, "All the Facebook shares and tweets are nice, but now you've got to vote." He adds, "Now it's in the voters' hands to determine the future of this city."

For years, West Hollywood has been plagued by low voter turnout. In 2009, only 18 percent of the electorate showed up at the polls.

But six challenging candidates are looking to change that and unseat longtime incumbents John Heilman and Abbe Land and appointed council member Lindsey Horvath.

Challengers Mito Aviles, John D'Amico, Lucas John, Steve Martin and Scott Schmidt have undertaken aggressive grassroots campaigns, trying to reach out to new and likely voters. Candidate Mark Gonzaga has run a more low profile campaign.

The incumbents have relied heavily on more traditional campaign tactics, such as sending out glossy mailers to voters who are likely to vote.

In the final days of the campaign, West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman has been at the center of a brewing scandal, in which his longtime deputy, Fran Solomon, was found to be charging lavish lunches and dinners on the taxpayers' dime.

L.A. Weekly's Simone Wilson broke that story last Friday, with more coverage yesterday that reported how city manager Paul Arevalo also appears to be charging expensive dinners and lunches to a city credit card.

After the Weekly published a recent cover story titled "Dethroning West Hollywood's Martinets," the WeHo election has received wide media attention from such major news outlets as public radio powerhouse KCRW and the New York Times.

The West Hollywood election has even gone international, with the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, running a story titled, "Is West Hollywood Losing Its 'Gay City' Title? Fears as Rising Rents Force Young and Trendy East."

Challengers hope this attention will generate voter interest and get them out to the polls.

The Weekly will be live blogging from West Hollywood throughout the day, with updates to come.

UPDATE, 1:25 p.m.: As of 12:30 p.m., it appears West Hollywood voters are not sitting out this year's election.

A volunteer at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium at 647 N. San Vicente Boulevard tells the Weekly that about 120 people have cast ballots -- a number that almost equals the total number of voters (151) at that polling station in 2009, according to City Council candidate Scott Schmidt.

Another volunteer at West Hollywood Elementary School at 970 Hammond Street tells the Weekly the flow of voters has been "constant," with less than 200 voters. That volunteer expects turnout to pick up at 5:30 p.m. when people get out of work.

At the William S. Hart Park at 8341 De Longpre Avenue, a volunteer told City Council candidate Scott Schmidt that approximately 100 ballots have been cast. In the 2009 WeHo city election, Schmidt points out, a total of 237 voters showed up at Hart Park.

At Kings Road Park at 1000 N. Kings Road, Schmidt says, about 115 people have voted so far compared to a total of 264 in 2009.

At Temple Beth El at 1317 N. Crescent Heights Boulevard around 120 ballots have been cast by mid-day compared to a total of 154 in 2009.

Schmidt and other City Council candidates received an informational sheet from the City Clerk's Office that breaks downs the total number of votes at each polling station for the 2009 election. Schmidt bases the 2009 numbers at Kings Park, West Hollywood Park, Temple Beth El, and Hart Park on that sheet.

UPDATE, 8:11 p.m.: West Hollywood polling stations are now closed. City Council Scott Schmidt, who has been tracking voter numbers all day, says he expects a higher voter turnout compared to 2009.

Schmidt estimates the total ballot count may be between 5,000 and 6,000 -- a major increase compared to the city election two years ago. In 2009, 4,136 voters out of WeHo's 23,131 registered voters showed up at the polls.

Schmidt says whether or not he wins one of the three, open seats this election year, he's "proud" of his campaign as well as the campaigns of his fellow challengers. "We got the incumbents to say what they believe," Schmidt says.

Candidate Mito Aviles, who's been walking the streets of WeHo all day with a group of volunteers, believes Schmidt's numbers are accurate. "I feel the turnout has been amazing," he says. Aviles says he's been constantly stopped by voters, saying they have either voted or voted for him.

The final tally is not expected to be completed until after 10 p.m. tonight.

First posted at 10:00 a.m.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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