West Hollywood voters stayed with familiar faces in Tuesday's City Council election but broke up a majority closely tied to the renters' rights group that has been the local kingmaker.
Steve Martin, a lawyer and gay activist who narrowly lost a council bid in 1990, collected the most votes in the race, for four-year terms in three available seats. Also winning were incumbents John Heilman and Sal Guarriello.
The campaign--though crowded with 11 candidates--failed to create much excitement. Only a fifth of the city's 21,600 registered voters went to the polls--the lowest turnout for a regular municipal election since cityhood in 1984.
Martin, a member of the city's rent board, became the second politician to join the council without the endorsement of the renters' group, the Coalition for Economic Survival. He ran strongly throughout the city, gathering 2,144 votes--about half of the ballots cast.
Heilman was second with 2,020, and Guarriello garnered 1,778. Guarriello's win eliminated the possibility of the city having its first gay council majority since 1986. Everyone in the race except Guarriello was gay.
The big news was the inability of Heilman and CES, a group whose touch has been golden in West Hollywood politics, to produce a win for Jeff Richmond, who came in fourth with 1,566 votes. Richmond, head of the city's Planning Commission and Heilman's running mate, was the first CES-endorsed candidate to lose since the city was established. Heilman was backed by CES.
Richmond said he simply was known by too few voters. Others, however, wondered aloud whether CES--architect of the city's rent-control law--was losing clout as a political machine. The group has lost some of its activist base among senior citizens because of death or illness.
"(The election) demonstrates that John Heilman has no coattails, that the CES coattails are very short," said Jeffrey Prang, chairman of Martin's campaign.
Though rent control is under attack at the state level, it faces no local threat. All five members of the new council back the rent law and all but Martin have won CES support in the past.
The vote dissolves a council majority made up of Heilman, Abbe Land and Babette Lang--who did not seek reelection. Martin said he may serve as the council's "referee." Guarriello often goes his own way, and Councilman Paul Koretz did not always side with the previous majority.
"It's a multi-polar council," Martin declared after the vote. "It's a whole new ballgame now."
The first task is closing a budget shortfall next year projected to be at least $1 million. Throughout the campaign, Martin called for streamlining City Hall.
The council's look could change again soon. Koretz and Land are running for state Assembly.