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West Hollywood City Council Awash in Controversy and Protest

The West Hollywood City Council was awash in controversy and protest at its annual "reorganization" ceremony on Monday, where longtime Councilman John Heilman became West Hollywood's newest mayor -- for the seventh time.

Heilman, who's sat on the City Council since 1984 and, because of a rotating mayoralty, will now serve his seventh, one-year term as mayor, was probably expecting a congratulatory, uneventful evening of back-slaps and smiling faces from happy constituents.

He didn't completely get it.

Instead, Heilman, who was the focus of a recent L.A. Weekly cover story, titled "West Follywood: How a progressive town founded on renters' rights and diversity ended up gridlocked, angry and elitist," faced a group of some 20 protesters who wore masks of him and Councilwoman Abbe Land, stood in silent protest, and held signs that suggested Heilman and Land needed to be voted out of office.

Heilman and Land will be up for re-election in 2011.

Additionally, earlier in the day, WeHo News, a local, online newspaper, reported that Sharon Sandow, now former CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, was fired possibly due to her opposition to an outdoor smoking ban at the city's nightclubs, restaurants, and bars ... and Heilman and Land may have been the forces behind the controversial shake up.

Heilman, who's considered a wily and powerful politician, and Land introduced and support the smoking ban, which many bar and nightclub owners vigorously oppose.

In the WeHo News article, a City Hall insider, who would only speak anonymously, said, "[City Manager Paul Arevalo]

asked the Chamber to tone down their opposition to the smoking ban, and

[Ms. Land and Mayor Heilman] felt that [Ms. Sandow] was hurting them

with the business community, that that was unacceptable, and they even

went to certain Board members to threaten them they would pull the money

the City gives the Chamber."

WeHo News notes that the city gives "the Chamber of

Commerce $35,000 each year as a grant for infrastructure support and

services rendered as a civic booster and partner in developing the

city's economy."

City Councilman John Duran, who opposes the smoking ban, told WeHo News that he was disturbed by the firing and would look into what caused it.

At the reorganization ceremony on Monday, Duran became mayor pro tempore, a kind of second-in-charge position.

During a West Hollywood City Council meeting in March, Duran promised Heilman, only half-kiddingly, that he would not be the new mayor's "bitch."

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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