Term limits for West Hollywood City Council members was the hot button issue at a candidates' forum held at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium last night.
Nearly all challenging candidates supported term limits while incumbents Abbe Land and Lindsey Horvath, who was appointed to the City Council in 2009, came out against them.
“I don't support term limits,” Land said, later adding, “We have elections, and we get to run on our record.”
Challenging candidate Mito Avlies later responded, “I am a firm believer in terms limits… After 25 years and no term limits, it increases voter apathy.”
Longtime incumbent John Heilman is known to be opposed to term limits as well. He and Land have served on the City Council for a combined total of over 40 years.
In November, Land, Heilman, and Horvath — who are running against six challengers in this year's West Hollywood City Council elections on March 8 — also campaigned against a statewide political reform ballot measure, Proposition 20, which California voters overwhelmingly approved.
The reform stops the practice of “gerrymandering,” in which California politicians drew up their own districts and made it nearly impossible for them to lose an election.
Now, a citizens' commission draws up boundaries for the districts of California State Senate and Assembly members, but Heilman, Land, and Horvath wanted to keep that reform from happening.
The candidates' forum was sponsored by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and WeHo PAC, with the League of Women Voters moderating the event.
The forum was broadcast live on West Hollywood's public access TV channel, and about 120 people watched the debate in person.
When Land made her stand opposing term limits, many audience members literally booed and hissed.
Challenger Lucas John, a 28-year-old public relations consultant and co-founder of the gay gossip blog WeHo Confidential, suggested that Heilman and Land's stranglehold on power was affecting the democratic process in West Hollywood.
“There is a problem,” said John. “I want to know where democracy is?!”
Many audience members clapped approvingly after his remarks.
Heilman shot back during his opening statement, “We do have democracy. We have elections all the time.”
Historically, however, West Hollywood has low voter turn-out — year after year, only a few thousand voters out of some 23,000 registered voters cast their ballots for West Hollywood City Council elections.
The low turn-out almost always benefits incumbents.
In fact, since West Hollywood became a city in 1984 — the year Heilman was first elected — only one incumbent, Steve Martin, has been voted out of office.
Along with Aviles, challenging candidates Scott Schmidt, Lucas John, Mark Gonzaga, and former City Councilman Steve Martin support terms limits, saying West Hollywood needs a regular influx of fresh blood and new ideas and that the city's political culture has become too insular.
“The fact of the matter is,” said Martin during the debate, “entrenched elites are throttling the soul of the city.”
Challenger John D'Amico does not support term limits, but says he will only serve two, four-year terms.
At one point during the forum, candidate Scott Schmidt, a political consultant and the only openly gay, registered Republican to run for West Hollywood City Council in recent memory, ran down a list of what the world was like when Councilman John Heilman was first elected.
“A lot has changed since 1984,” said Schmidt. “In 1984, Ronald Reagan was re-elected president, the Soviet Union boycotted the Olympics, Dynasty was the number show on television, the Los Angeles Raiders won the Super Bowl, and John Heilman was elected to the West Hollywood City Council.”
Audience members laughed. 26-year incumbent Heilman appeared to smile.
On Thursday, February 17, L.A. Weekly will run an in-depth feature story about the West Hollywood City Council race.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.