One week before West Hollywood City Councilman John Heilman is slated to succeed Valerie Terrigno as the city's mayor, Terrigno's supporters are planning a last-minute campaign to pressure the City Council to allow her to remain in her post until November.
Political allies of the nation's first avowed lesbian mayor said they would make an official presentation before the council next week, a move that some members fear will intensify smoldering political and personal rivalries among them.
Leaders of the gay-oriented Stonewall Democratic Club, of which Terrigno is a former chairwoman, said several of their officers would appeal to the council on Terrigno's behalf at next week's session. And other Terrigno supporters said they planned to present the council with petitions bearing the signatures of 3,000 West Hollywood residents who reportedly approve of an extension of her term.
"We think she's doing a good job and we think she should be allowed to serve out a full year," said Jim LaMaida, a Stonewall officer.
Terrigno's four council colleagues all reportedly oppose the extension and are expected to reaffirm a political arrangement made last November that would allow Heilman to become mayor on Aug. 1.
"I haven't seen any reason to change the agreement the five of us made," said Councilman Steve Schulte, "unless someone comes up with some overwhelming reason that John shouldn't be mayor."
Heilman, who has had strained relations with Terrigno ever since the two first vied for the mayor's post last November, said he still expects to be named mayor after the council votes on the matter next Thursday.
"I assume everyone on the council is honorable and will keep the agreement," he said. "We made a compromise and we should stick to it. Even if it was the worst kind of back-room deal, why did Valerie allow herself to be a part of it?"
While Terrigno has been careful not to take a direct role in the drive to extend her term, her supporters insist that she has been kept informed of their plans and approves of their actions.
"I've told her about what we're doing and she supports us," said Melinda Tremaglio, a Santa Monica Boulevard restaurant owner who has spearheaded the petition campaign. "She told me she couldn't have anything to do with us. But she wants to be mayor for a full year's term."
Terrigno said Wednesday that she agrees with her supporters because a change in leadership might strengthen a perception among outsiders that West Hollywood's government is fragile and unstable.
"Officials from other cities are always surprised to hear that I'm not mayor for a full year," she said. "People are always asking: 'What are you playing? Musical mayors?' "
Terrigno said she also believes that a change now could be harmful to the city's attempts to obtain a high bond rating from financial lenders. She said she worries that plans to secure $10 million in bonds for several municipal projects in coming months might be jeopardized.
"I'm afraid that banks and other financial institutions are already wary of us because of our rent control law and our reputation as a gay city," Terrigno said.
But other City Council members doubt that a change of mayors would have any adverse impact. "A city's bond rating is influenced by the experience of its staff, the programs it has planned and its financial security," said Schulte. "I don't see any of those affected by a change in mayors."
"I can't think of any function of government that would be impeded other than our seating pattern," said Councilman Alan Viterbi.
Viterbi and Schulte forged the political compromise under which Terrigno agreed to serve as mayor for eight months, followed by Heilman. Under the agreement, Heilman would serve from August until next April, when he, Schulte and Councilwoman Helen Albert are up for reelection.
Under state rules that regulated last November's incorporation vote and council election, Terrigno and Viterbi, the two highest vote-getters, won four-year council terms. Heilman, Schulte and Albert, who won the next-highest vote totals, are serving 18-month terms. If they win reelection next April, the three would then stay in office for four years.
In the weeks after last year's election, it became apparent that the two candidates for mayor (elected by the council) were Terrigno and Heilman. Terrigno told other council members she deserved the job because she had won the most votes and represented the broadest electoral base. Heilman said the post was rightly his because he was an ardent member of the Coalition of Economic Survival, the tenant-activist group that played a crucial role in the incorporation drive and showed the greatest organization strength in the council election.
Under the compromise agreed upon by the council, Terrigno and Heilman were each given eight-month terms. "We wanted to be unified when we sat down for the first council meeting," Viterbi said.
The mayor's role is perceived by most political observers to be largely ceremonial, confined to chairing council meetings and acting as the city's spokesman. But West Hollywood's national prominence as the first city to be governed by a gay-dominated council adds high-publicity luster to the job.
"It was obvious that whoever became mayor became West Hollywood's figurehead," one council source said. "The mayor would be the person who gets to go before all the TV cameras and go on all the junkets. And it was obvious that the first mayor would have to be gay. Of course, that brought even more publicity."
Terrigno said that after eight months as mayor, she has found that the job requires far more than ceremony. "People are coming to me all the time with their problems," she said. "Sure, you speak at events and get the glory. But the job has a lot more importance and requires a lot more work than some people think."
In the past month, her supporters have been gathering petition signatures in the gay bars and restaurants that line Santa Monica Boulevard. Petitions were also in evidence at the Gay Pride festival last month, and, in one incident that indicates the animosity that has developed over the issue, sparked a shouting match between Heilman and Terrigno supporters.