A few minutes past 8, Sharon Jimenez, press secretary of the Hollywood Independence Committee, took the podium in the small auditorium of the movement‘s Santa Monica Boulevard headquarters. ”With 1,800 precincts reporting,“ she announced, ”the Los Angeles Times has a Web page up saying the vote is 55 percent yes on H, 45 percent no.“ A cheer went up among the modest crowd, which settled into an exuberant chant: ”Set Hollywood Free!“

Not everyone in the room, however, was so convinced of victory. ”I don’t know where she‘s getting those numbers,“ said a man hovering over the food table, filling his plate with tabbouleh and dolmades. ”I think it’s bad information. There‘s only something like 1,823 precincts.“

In fact, even an hour later, only a tiny fraction of precincts had been counted, and the earliest numbers showed H and also F, the San Fernando Valley secession measure, to be headed for a 2-1 defeat. But you couldn’t tell that to Hollywood Independence Committee president Gene La Pietra. ”Next time you talk to me,“ he told a television news reporter who confronted him with the numbers, ”you‘ll be asking me what victory feels like.“

This was, to the dismay of many a news-gatherer in the room, to be the evening’s persistent refrain. ”We‘re just where we want to be,“ La Pietra would say, smiling, as one interviewer after another confronted him with the next round of results. ”The absentee ballots are conservative, and this is a progressive movement.“ At 9:35 p.m., with numbers showing 63 percent of Hollywood residents and 71 percent of Los Angeles opposed to secession, Patricia Del Rio of KTLA tried to buttonhole the secessionist leader once and for all. But La Pietra would not concede.

Del Rio was flummoxed. ”He’s not being realistic,“ she complained to me, evidently mistaking me for someone from La Pietra‘s campaign. ”You guys are losing big, and he won’t admit it, and now there‘s nothing I can do about it except wait, because I can’t lie to a viewing audience. So in 10 minutes I have to scramble to get him again. It messes everything up.“

Del Rio should not have been surprised; the quixotic campaign to ”free Hollywood“ has been fueled all along by mistrust of media numbers. ”What the Los Angeles Times did was get the results they wanted first,“ said volunteer Larry Pines of the newspaper‘s polls. ”Then they called people back who were on the fence and restated the question in a way that would sound undesirable. But through our phone banks we found out the support is there.

“Also,” he continued, “being an astrologer, I’ve been watching the aspects of the two cities, which relate to the planet Neptune‘s relationship to the city of Los Angeles. There’s a separation aspect operating now that‘s 150 degrees different from what happened in 1913, when the cities consolidated. So the time is right.”

“Hello, supporters!” Jimenez said, returning to the stage with the latest news. “Here’s what I want to tell you about the numbers right now. What they show is zero percent of the vote, and those are the people who were asked by the city of Los Angeles to vote no. We‘re going to turn those numbers upside down! Tomorrow morning, the papers are going to read, ’Hollywood is set free!‘”

As more returns rolled in, the ratio against secession remained intact. But it would be hours before anyone would utter a word so final as lost. “We’ve won just by getting on the ballot,” said Hollywood City Council candidate Richard W. Eastman. “I‘m living with HIV, and I’ve shown that people with HIV don‘t have to be afraid to run for office. And now I might run for United States Congress or another higher office after this is over.”

Which office? “I’m not going to tell you that! Why would I tell you that? I still believe I‘m going to win this race.”

LA Weekly