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West Hollywood election results a mixed bag, with wins for left and center

Voters cast their ballots in the midterm elections at Plummer Park in West Hollywood on November 8, 2022.
Voters cast their ballots in the midterm elections at Plummer Park in West Hollywood on November 8, 2022.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
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In the famously liberal city of West Hollywood, the City Council election was, in many ways, a generational battle.

There were the young, progressive candidates: newer residents who were backed by left-leaning labor unions and defund-the-police activists.

And then there was the more moderate political old guard, including a sitting mayor and two former longtime councilmen endorsed by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and sheriff’s deputies.

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Voters chose both.

In the heated at-large election, 12 candidates competed for three seats. The top three vote-getters will join the five-member council.

Mayor Lauren Meister, a 62-year-old moderate Democrat who has been on the council since 2015, came in first by a wide margin, with 6,070 votes.

A small cut to the number of sheriff’s deputies in West Hollywood is animating the election in the famously liberal city.

In second place, with 3,960 votes, was Chelsea Byers, a West Hollywood human services commissioner who moved to the city two years ago. Byers, 33, was endorsed by the labor union Unite Here Local 11, which represents hospitality workers.

John Heilman, who served 36 years on the City Council before being voted out in 2020, came in third with 3,917 votes.

He won the third and final seat by just 13 votes, ahead of Zekiah Wright, a progressive 36-year-old attorney also endorsed by Unite Here Local 11.

Heilman, who was on West Hollywood’s first council when it incorporated in 1984, is one of the longest serving openly gay politicians in the country.

“I’m really excited to get back to work for the community,” Heilman, 65, wrote in a text message. “It was obviously a close election, but now it’s time to come together and make West Hollywood the best city for everyone.”

Meister — who, like Heilman, will be in her final stint on the council before term limits kick in — said she hopes “all of my council colleagues, old and new, will make an effort to work together for the benefit of our residents.”

“While there are differences in ideologies, as Councilmembers, we must remember that we represent all of the City’s residents, not just those who voted for us,” she said in an email.

Byers and Heilman will take the seats vacated by John D'Amico, who is retiring, and Lindsey Horvath, who was just elected to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

For the last two years, the City Council has moved further to the left.

This summer, in the wake of the national defund the police movement, it voted to modestly cut the number of deputies in the West Hollywood sheriff’s station while hiring 30 additional unarmed security guards from the company Block by Block.

And last year, the council unanimously voted to implement what was then the highest minimum wage in the country — $17.64 an hour — and to require that full-time workers get at least 96 hours of annual paid sick, vacation or personal leave, with part-time employees getting a proportional amount of paid time off.

The decisions drew the ire of the Chamber of Commerce and residents concerned about crime — and the praise of progressive labor unions and activists who poured into public meetings.

The famously liberal city’s decision to gradually reduce sheriff’s deputies has thrust it into the culture wars.

In one campaign mailer funded by Unite Here, Meister and former longtime Councilman John Duran, who also ran and came in sixth, were said to represent “Republican business interests.”

Meister voted against the sheriff’s deputy reductions. Heilman called those cuts “foolish.”

Byers said that, as she was campaigning, residents repeatedly told her that they were happy to see more Block by Block security guards out on the streets and that “the fact that they didn’t have a gun was a benefit.”

Byers, who is originally from Arizona, moved to California eight years ago and to West Hollywood in 2020.

She said her youth — and the fact that she wanted to move to the city years ago but was prohibited, like many people, by a lack of affordable housing — give her a valuable perspective as an elected official in a city where the median age is 38.

“We have a moral responsibility to house people in West Hollywood, a city that embraces such a broad scope of progressive values,” said Byers, director of programs and partnerships at the nonprofit Women’s Voices Now.

Housing affordability is a priority for her, and, she said, a personal issue as “a young person whose generation has been deeply challenged by our housing crisis.”

Councilman John Erickson called the election a “win for progressive values at the voter box,” with Byers’ victory and Wright — who would have been the first Black nonbinary person on the council — trailing so closely behind Heilman.

“What that says to me is voters want change,” said Erickson, who defeated Heilman in 2020 and appointed Byers to the Human Services Commission the next year.

“Voters want to look to, and are looking to, the future, and the future of West Hollywood is very bright.”


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