With the election in West Hollywood, a famously liberal town appears to be taking a moderate turn

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In November 1984, the newly formed city of West Hollywood caught the world’s attention when it housed the nation’s first city council with an openly gay majority.

At that first meeting — with a packed crowd and national news media at hand — the council passed a slew of progressive policies: a law that rolled back skyrocketing rents to an earlier level, a cap on evictions, a ban on housing and discrimination in the workplace. labor market against gays.

“The city council is one of the most liberal in the state,” The Times reported.

Among those first council members was John Heilman, a gay, 27-year-old civil rights attorney. He served 36 years before he and another longtime party incumbent lost their big seats to two younger, more liberal candidates in 2020.

Now it looks like Heilman could be back. But this time it will be part of the city council’s moderate political old guard, backed by its most established institutions: the Sheriff’s Department and the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

“When I was first elected in 1984, I never dreamed that I would still have the opportunity to serve the community today,” the 65-year-old Heilman wrote in a text message. He said voters he spoke to “want councilors to focus on public safety, homelessness and basic services” and “see the city working with business.”

The results of the West Hollywood election — a generational battle pitting young progressives against older, more moderate candidates, including an incumbent mayor and three former longtime councilors — are still up in the air.

West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, right, speaks at a reproductive rights press conference at City Hall on May 3. Meister led in her reelection bid.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Twelve candidates competed for three major seats.

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By Friday afternoon, preliminary results showed Mayor Lauren Meister — a moderate Democrat also supported by law enforcement and the Chamber of Commerce — had a comfortable lead and a virtually guaranteed seat, with 5,770 votes.

Heilman retained a second seat with 3,718 votes.

On November 11 he tweeted a victory declaration he thanked voters who, he said, called for “experienced, hands-on leaders.” But in recent days his lead has thinned.

The third-place candidate, who would occupy the last vacant seat, has been swinging back and forth all week.

On Friday, Chelsea Byers trailed Heilman by 22 votes. She is a 33-year-old human services commissioner in West Hollywood supported by the progressive union Unite Here Local 11, which represents hospitality workers.

In fourth place was Zekiah Wright, who was only 54 votes behind Byers. Wright, a 36-year-old attorney also endorsed by Unite Here Local 11, is said to be the first black non-binary person on the council.

Byers and Wright could not be reached for comment.

The city council has moved further to the left in the past two years.

This summer, on the heels of the national defund the police movement, it voted to modestly reduce the number of deputies in the West Hollywood sheriff’s office and hire 30 more unarmed guards.

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And last year, the board voted unanimously to introduce what was then the highest minimum wage in the country — $17.64 an hour — and to require full-time employees to receive at least 96 hours of paid sick, vacation, or personal leave annually, with part-time employees who receive a proportional share of paid time off.

A sheriff's deputy drives past West Hollywood City Hall in a sheriff's SUV on October 28, 2021.

A deputy sheriff passes West Hollywood City Hall in 2021. Public safety was a major issue in the November election.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The decisions drew the ire of the Chamber of Commerce and residents concerned about crime — and the praise of progressive unions and activists who flocked to public rallies.

With the apparent victory of Meister, who voted against the sheriff’s cuts, and the possible return of Heilman, who called those cuts “foolish,” voters appear to have swung somewhat to the center amid rising crime concerns.

“In West Hollywood, yes, it’s always been seen as very progressive, but many of the residents are also aging into more moderate positions,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor of suffrage at Loyola Law School.

“Progressive and non-progressive don’t always cut cleanly on criminal justice issues,” Levinson said. “If people feel that their safety is threatened in any way, they tend not to vote as liberal as they might otherwise.”

Meister, 62, said in an email that “those who voted for me want the council to focus on residents and local issues: public safety, homelessness, protecting our rent-stabilized units, preserving our neighborhoods and preserving a healthy environment for our small business community.”

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In a campaign emailer funded by Unite Here, Meister and former Councilman John Duran, who were also running for re-election, allegedly represented “Republican business interests.”

A spokeswoman for the local union could not be reached for comment.

In a statement last week, Meister said voters clearly did not want councilors serving “outside interest groups.”

She told The Times that those groups include “the defund groups trying to influence councilors and public safety commissioners to fire the police”; Unite Here Local 11, “which has promoted policies that negatively impact our old businesses and ultimately our residents”; and major developers.

Before joining the council in 2015, Meister led a successful campaign in 2013 to limit term limits for the council, at a time when all but one member had served more than a decade.

This will be her last term. If Heilman is elected, that will also be his last term.

John Heilman speaks at a 2019 West Hollywood City Council meeting.

John Heilman served on the West Hollywood City Council for 36 years before losing his seat in 2020. If Heilman wins the November 8 election, it will be his last term.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Genevieve Morrill, president and chief executive of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased with Meister and Heilman’s initial leads. The chamber’s political action committee approved them and three other candidates.

For most of her 13 years with the chamber, she said, the organization had good communication. But over the past two years, the relationship soured and communication ground to a halt.

The results of the early election, she said, “show that there will be a return to democracy for the City of West Hollywood, to the right to have their voices heard, to protect their safety and to run a business.” operate in a fair economic climate. without government force majeure.”

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