LOCAL ELECTIONS WEST HOLLYWOOD : Rent Control Is Top Issue as 9 Seek 3 Council Seats


Rent control, the perennial hot issue in West Hollywood politics, remains atop the agenda in the city's April 10 City Council election. As nine candidates compete for three seats on the council, the issues of crime, development and parking have also emerged as important.

As in past elections, the Coalition for Economic Survival, the architect of the city's rent control ordinance, still wields the most weight for making endorsements in the city, where an estimated 80% of the residents are renters. In the six years since the city was incorporated, only one candidate, outgoing Councilman Steve Schulte, has ever won an election without a CES endorsement.

The large field of candidates this year is a result of decisions by incumbents Schulte and Helen Albert not to seek reelection, with three of the five council seats up for election. All council members serve the city at large, so the three top vote-getters in the election will take office.

The CES has endorsed three candidates--incumbent John Heilman, 32, Babette Lang, 77, and Sal Guarriello, 71--assuring them of front-runner status. Strong campaigns are also being waged by Steve Martin, 35, an attorney who has Schulte's endorsement, and Robert K. Davis, 44, a swimming pool contractor.

The union representing city employees has endorsed Guarriello, Lang and Martin. Martin and Guarriello are also endorsed by the West Hollywood Democratic Club.

Other candidates competing in the election are John O'Brien, 41, a gay activist; the Rev. John W. VonDouris, 44, a member of United Lesbian and Gay Christian Scientists; John C. (Jack) Reilly, 55, a retired teacher, and Jim Sorkin, 37, an actor and house painter.

Heilman, Lang and Martin each said they expect to spend $40,000 or more on their campaigns, enough to finance several citywide mailers. Guarriello estimated that he would spend $25,000. The rest of the candidates planned to spend considerably less.

As an incumbent, Heilman is widely thought to have a strong chance of reelection. Political observers note, however, that he was on the losing side last November when a proposal to build a $23-million civic center in West Hollywood Park, which he vigorously supported, was rejected by voters.

Heilman and Lang have made rent control and affordable housing the central issue of their joint campaign, even though none of the major candidates oppose the measure.

"Rent control is still a very real issue," said Heilman, an attorney who has served on the council since the city's incorporation. "It's never a done issue. Rent control is always under attack."

Heilman and Lang launched their campaign earlier this month with a mailer to voters attacking Martin as being "the landlords' number one candidate." The mailer consisted of a letter critical of Martin signed by Mayor Abbe Land, who is not up for election this year, and by Councilwoman Albert, accompanied by a reprint of a 1984 article under Martin's byline that criticized rent control. The article appeared in Apartment Age, a landlords trade magazine.

Martin, who serves on the city's rent stabilization commission along with Lang and Guarriello, insisted in an interview that he is a strong supporter of rent control. He disavowed the Apartment Age article, saying that someone else had submitted it under his name, and accused Heilman and Lang of mudslinging.

"They are running on rent control and don't want to talk about other issues of crime, overdevelopment and lack of parking, to name a few," he said. "They want to focus on an issue that everyone agrees on."

Lang, a clinical psychologist, described Martin as having a fine voting record on rent control, but added: "I'm still not certain where he stands on the issue."

Despite his CES endorsement, Guarriello, a retired insurance agent, is running a campaign separate from that of Heilman and Lang and is more critical of the council.

"The current administration seems to have forgotten the community," said Guarriello, a member of CES' steering committee. "They have let the commercial growth infringe on the residential neighborhoods. . . . They have let the east side of town deteriorate and allowed too much to go on in the west side of town. The city has (been) spending money like it's a leaky faucet with little to show for it."

Davis, who appears to have strong support on the city's less affluent east end, is also critical of the current city administration. "The streets need to be cleaned, we need more police protection and the city needs to do more to encourage businesses to move" to the east side, he said.

Gay activist O'Brien charged in an interview that that the council is being run like a political machine and said he supports a socialist economy for the city and nation. He also is calling for the city to stop contracting with the county Sheriff's Department for police services and to set up its own police force in order to ensure fair treatment of gays and lesbians.

Reilly, a retired teacher, said he is running for the council because he believes that the city suffers from too much government control and that the current council members favor socialism.

VonDouris said the principal theme of his candidacy is that the city needs to do more to encourage sensitivity by police to the city's large contingent of gays and lesbians. He also called for affordable housing.

Sorkin, an actor who has not been actively campaigning, joined the race to call for an end to divisiveness in the city and to make it a good place for artists to live, according to his wife, Martha Melinda.

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