In West Hollywood, City Council candidate Scott Schmidt is apparently getting the reputation as the guy who worked harder to try to defeat Proposition 8 than incumbents John Heilman, Abbe Land, and Lindsey Horvath — combined.
“Now I just mention my name,” Schmidt says about meeting residents on the campaign trail, “and people immediately quote Lance Black back to me.”
The underdog candidate hopes it's the kind of thing that will help him become the first openly gay, registered Republican to be elected to the West Hollywood City Council.
In the summer of 2008, Schmidt launched a political campaign and web site called “Republicans against 8,” which tried to help defeat Proposition 8.
California voters ultimately approved the anti-gay marriage ballot measure in November, 2008.
Although Schmidt and Black don't share the same party affiliation, they worked together on a video project for the site, which later won a 2009 Pollie Award from the American Association of Political Consultants for the best use of a web video in a state ballot measure campaign.
During that months-long effort, the Weekly often interviewed Schmidt and followed his progress as he reached out to moderate Republicans across California and tried to get them to vote against Proposition 8. He also snagged many “No on 8” endorsements from prominent Republicans.
Schmidt was clearly spending a lot of time and effort on the “Republicans Against 8” campaign.
In the mailer, Black says of Schmidt: “I'm proud of the work I did with Scott Schmidt to (try to) defeat Proposition 8. Scott did more to fight Prop. 8 than John Heilman, Abbe Land or Lindsey Horvath combined.
“Scott is committed to taking down barriers, empowering our allies, and has a vision for West Hollywood as a place where people can live, work and play.”
In a heavily gay-populated city, it's a major endorsement from an openly-gay screenwriter who helped bring the Harvey Milk biopic, Milk, to the screen and continues to be active in the gay rights movement.
It may also help Schmidt, a political consultant and president of the Los Angeles Log Cabin Republicans, become more politically palatable to the many non-Republican voters in West Hollywood on Election Day, March 8.
No party affiliation will be designated to candidates on West Hollywood ballots, but Schmidt's Republican background is a well-known fact that some voters may find hard to look past.
Schmidt says, “I'm not a good fit in either party.”
The candidate points out that he's a West Hollywood transportation commissioner who has given up his car. Instead, he either walks or uses public transportation to get around.
Schmidt also worked with local bars, restaurants, and clubs to stop an unpopular outdoor smoking ban targeting those establishments. That ordinance has since been watered down and mostly involves an outdoor smoking ban for West Hollywood restaurants.
The challenger's platform revolves around improving traffic congestion in West Hollywood, maintaining low taxes in the city, allowing only “appropriate” development in WeHo neighborhoods, and keeping City Hall staff salaries and benefits in check.
Schmidt says he's aiming to throw 26-year incumbent John Heilman out of office — two other incumbents, Abbe Land and Lindsey Horvath, are also running to stay on the City Council.
“My fundamental question for John Heilman is, What does he expect to do in the next four years?” says Schmidt. “And why couldn't he accomplish that in the past 26 years?”
Heilman, who's considered the most powerful member of the City Council, refuses to speak with the Weekly.
Land and Horvath would only answer questions via email.
Asked what they had done in the months leading up to the vote on Proposition 8, Horvath wrote in an email: “Among my efforts to defeat Prop 8, I worked with the Equality for All campaign.
“As a statewide leader in the organization, I voted and worked to bring the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women into the large coalition fighting to defeat Proposition 8. I volunteered and phone-banked; encouraged many additional volunteers to join the effort; and co-hosted a sizable fundraiser for the No on 8 campaign.”
Land wrote: “I was a strong advocate for the defeat of Prop. 8. I phoned, gave financial support, helped different organizations. I spoke at a various events for campaign volunteers and outreach workers, mostly at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. My advocacy against Prop. 8 stemmed from my longtime support of marriage equality.”
Heilman was emailed similar questions that Land and Horvath had received, including a query about his role in fighting Prop. 8. The current mayor of West Hollywood did not reply.
Yet the night after Proposition 8 was passed, thousands of people — gay and straight — gathered at a rally in West Hollywood. Many of them decided to march through streets of Los Angeles in protest.
As the Weekly reported in 2008, Councilwoman Abbe Land, representing one of the world's gay meccas and a city with a roughly 40 percent gay population, climbed on top of a police cruiser and yelled that protesters should disperse, rather than march in the streets.
“You can't block traffic!” she announced without a bullhorn, with this reporter standing only a few feet away. “We have to open up the streets!”
If people listened to Land, it would have been a major tactical blunder for the gay rights movement.
Schmidt, though, joined Dustin Lance Black and thousands of others as they walked to the CNN building in Hollywood. Inspired by that march, many more protests took place in the coming days in Los Angeles, which were televised worldwide on CNN.
The images of those protests, and the passion behind them, further inspired the gay community and their straight allies to organize anti-Prop. 8 demonstrations across the country.
Many activists credit the defiant response to the passage of Proposition 8 with re-energizing the gay rights movement in the United States, which recently fought the successful battle to overturn the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy.
NOTE: During the reporting for the L.A. Weekly cover story “Dethroning West Hollywood's Martinets,” we spent many hours with WeHo's City Council candidates — except for incumbents John Heilman, Abbe Land, and Lindsey Horvath, who refused to be interviewed in person.
This week, we are using previously unpublished material for a series of posts on each of the six challengers the Weekly met and talked with.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.