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West Hollywood Term Limits: Community Activists Kick Off Campaign to Break Up 'Entrenched Oligarchy'

Last night, in the dimly lit back room of a gay bar in West Hollywood, community activists kicked off a campaign to pass a term limit ballot measure in March 2013 -- and to brace themselves for the blowback that will inevitably come from the city's powerful political players.

"We know that taking on City Hall can be a dangerous thing," Scott Schmidt, campaign manager for the West Hollywood Term Limits Committee 2013, told a number of neighborhood leaders, who laughed knowingly.

The scene felt as if an underground resistance was readying itself to do battle against an omnipresent despot -- the event was already moved from one gay bar to another because of political skulduggery. But so it goes in West Hollywood, where, Schmidt told L.A. Weekly, City Hall "rarely encourages dissenting voices."

"That alone is reason enough to have term limits," Schmidt said.

Over a recent 40-day period, community activists gathered several thousand signatures to place a term limit initiative on the March 5, 2013 ballot. On that day, West Hollywood voters will also select two City Council members -- incumbents Jeff Prang and John Duran are up for re-election.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm for the issue on the streets," said Schmidt, who, along with 65 volunteers, helped to collect the signatures.

The initiative proposes to limit City Council members to three, four-year terms. Right now, council members can only be voted out of office, which has happened only twice in the 27-year history of West Hollywood.

City Council members John Heilman, Abbe Land, Jeff Prang, and John Duran have all served more than 10 years, with Heilman sitting on the council since West Hollywood first became a city in 1984. As a councilman, Heilman has seen Barack Obama elected and re-elected as president and watched U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush come and go.

Now one-time City Council candidate Schmidt and community activists Lauren Meister, Sheila Lightfoot, Elyse Eisenberg, and Allegra Allison, among others, want to change that. City Council candidate and former West Hollywood council member Steve Martin also supports the ballot measure.

"There's nothing more progressive than people voting to break up an entrenched oligarchy," said Schmidt.

The term limits committee wants to raise $100,000 -- the kind of money that's needed to win a City Council election. It has already registered 400 voters, and plans to continue that effort.

But Schmidt and crew expect an organized effort to rise up to try to defeat term limits, whether it comes from a political action committee or local Democratic clubs.

"We have such a depth of talent and resources in this community," Schmidt told us, "and we're really selling ourselves short by just keeping in the same people."

In 106 days, the voters will have their say.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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