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West Hollywood 2011 City Council Election: Vote Not Completed, Abbe Land, John D'Amico and John Heilman in Lead

Update: New figures and analysis on WeHo City Council race.

Since approximately 930 provisional ballots still need to be verified and counted, the hotly contested West Hollywood City Council race cannot be called tonight.

So far, 522 votes separate first place Councilwoman Abbe Land from fourth place challenger Steve Martin in a very tight election -- possibly one of the closest elections in the history of West Hollywood.

West Hollywood Assistant City Clerk Corey Schaffer says the provisional ballots will not be counted until Thursday at the earliest.

Schaffers also says a "significantly higher amount" of provisional ballots have been cast compared to previous years. Those ballots will be sent to the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for signature verification and returned to West Hollywood to be counted probably sometime on Thursday.

There are three seats open in the nine-person West Hollywood City Council race. Right now, a total of 5,346 ballots have been counted. It appears that more than 6,200 ballots have been cast in all, showing there was keen interest in the race.

As L.A. Weekly reported earlier in the day, the estimated total was expected to be somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 voters.

In fact, if that number holds, it may be the most ballots cast since the city was first incorporated in 1984, when the total was 17,022. (West Hollywood City Clerk records are incomplete for 1986 and 1990 and don't clearly show total number of ballots cast.)

Asked if it's unusual for incumbents to win in an election with higher voter turnout than previous years, Los Angeles-based Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick says, "In local elections, the more active campaigns and candidates there are, the higher the turnout.

"In this case, the incumbents knew they were being seriously challenged and ran aggressive campaigns. It is very hard to beat well-known incumbents in local elections, and West Hollywood has almost always re-elected incumbents."

As of now, longtime incumbent Abbe Land leads with 2,548 votes. Challenger John D'Amico, who's considered the front-runner among the non-incumbent candidates, stands in second place with 2,471 votes.

26-year incumbent John Heilman is in third with 2,359 votes.

If those positions hold, incumbents Land and Heilman will win re-election, and Heilman will probably end up serving at least 30 consecutive years on the West Hollywood City Council -- Land will serve a total of over 20 years. D'Amico will unseat Councilwoman Lindsey Horvath, who was appointed to her seat under much controversy in 2009.

Behind Heilman, former City Councilman and challenger Steve Martin has 2,026 votes. In fifth place, Horvath has 1,902 votes.

Gay Republican Scott Schmidt follows the appointee with 1,226 votes, and challenger Mito Aviles has 919 votes. Another challenger, Mark Gonzaga, comes behind them with 474 votes.

Candidate Lucas John received 469 votes, and Martin Topp, a challenger who dropped out of the race but whose name remained on the ballot, got 140 votes.

At West Hollywood Park Auditorium, where the ballots were counted, supporters for all the candidates watched the results for three hours. A little after 11 p.m., the race was deemed too close to call by West Hollywood officials.

That didn't stop challenger John D'Amico from walking down Santa Monica Boulevard with a large group of supporters, victoriously chanting, "D'Amico! D'Amico! D'Amico!"

D'Amico and his backers then headed into the auditorium, where the election-watch crowd had already thinned out. The challenger, with current Councilman John Duran near his side, looked confident that his lead would hold, and he would soon unseat Lindsey Horvath.

If D'Amico holds on, political strategist Carrick calls it a "very impressive" win.

After L.A. Weekly published a recent cover story titled "Dethroning West Hollywood's Martinets," the WeHo City Council race received wide media attention from public radio powerhouse KCRW, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail -- a British newspaper -- among many other news outlets.

That media attention, which was often shared by the challengers and their supporters through social media, may have contributed to the larger than usual voter turnout -- West Hollywood has historically been plagued by low turnout.

In 2009, only 18 percent of West Hollywood's 23,131 registered voters showed up at the polls. It appears that over 25 percent of WeHo voters cast ballots in 2011.

First posted at 12 a.m.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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