EDITOR’S NOTE: Monday was the beginning of the 25-day period in which candidates for the two seats on the West Hollywood City Council can step forward to formally register for the Nov. 3 election. Currently it looks as if there will be six candidates on the ballot (including the incumbents). As those candidates roar up their campaigns, it’s time from the citizens of West Hollywood to remember that we get to decide who leads (but only if we vote.) Carleton Cronin, a long-time resident of West Hollywood and an astute observer of local politics, offers some guidance on how to do that in a series of five essays, the first of which, published below, is an update on an earlier one that is a must-read.
With Sepi Shyne’s first fundraiser on Jan. 12, the Silly Season was here again. Silly Season? When I was banging around in the newspaper trade in Boston many years ago, that’s what some of the editors called the months leading up to a city council election in that town. At the time I was left to my own imagination to know why that period had such a designation. Over the years I have come to believe that it is because of the efforts of many electoral candidates to become less believable and even outrageous as the electioneering stress wears on them. How will we voters fare during the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 general election? Are we to have our own Silly Season or will we be truly serious about our civic duty to listen and to vote? If history is any judge, we’ll have the same old bland business we’ve seen many times. And, I know that well, for on three separate occasions, in our early days of cityhood, I was the moderator at Meet the Candidates sessions, lobbing softball questions at the applicants. Pretty dull stuff. But, what about today? Is more at stake than in past elections? (A follow-up piece will attempt to answer that question.)
If one looks at comments from residents to articles in WEHOville.com, there’s a lot being thrown out for discussion. For instance, a piece regarding Council travel had elicited 43 comments when I last checked. That’s a pretty good indication that a community nerve was struck by the writer. The comments ranged quite widely, with more vehement voices outnumbering the calmer responses. Although the comment count is an exception, many other articles in WEHOville.com have tickled the community conscience and have brought out interesting viewpoints — and, have given an indication of the concerns many residents have but don’t not always announce. I have asked all on the current Council if they read this online publication. All said “more or less,” but not with much passion.
When I once had a young sales force reporting to me, one of the factors in the competitive sales world was, well, one’s competition. I told them they should know all about their competition, the color of their socks, the first name of the wives, etc. In other words, know more about them than they do. The same advice I offer to the Council applicants: Know your opponents better than they know you – and, READ, read all you can find which will tell you what the community truly wants from its administrators. In fact, they should be reaching out by writing pieces for publication where the community can see them. Not everybody can afford to pay at fundraisers to hear what they have to say.
When I was a kid in knickers and knee sox, Election Day was a holiday. Pubs were shut (mostly), banks were closed, stores locked. It was time to vote. The days leading up to the election were colorful and noisy. Candidates walked the streets, greeting and stopping to talk. They went house to house, favoring or displeasing – what you will. They were seen in retail stores, at church services and, most importantly for some, at pubs where they handed out beer chits, payable after the election. No candidate was a stranger to the potential voters. As the day arrived, small parades with local bands appeared and flatbed trucks with loudspeakers encouraging all to get to the polls and vote for…whomever was driving the truck. . Now, a lot of things have changed, of course, and I cannot say that the turnouts where stupendous, but by anybody’s calculation, they were fun and part of the community life.
Let’s look at recent turnout in West Hollywood. Without actual figures, and only my recall, the last election for Council seats brought out around 18% of the 26,000 registered voters in town. At the time I was astonished to find that a City Council seat could be acquired with only 2,000 votes. Now, there’s not a sitting Councilperson who cannot drum up 2,000 supporters when needed, but to have such a small portion of the city determining who will run the show is ridiculous – and un-American. I say that because, in spite of all the present national turmoil, most of the world still views the U.S. as the sine qua non of democracies. That uniqueness begins at the local level – in West Hollywood.
From the country’s earliest days, with political candidates including George Washington and the Adams, a recognizable song was chosen to easily identify each applicant. Franklin Roosevelt chose “Happy days are here again…” as a bright note for the march he was leading out of the Great Depression. Looking at our two Council members up for re-election, I wondered what songs they would choose. John Heilman has been on the Council since Day One, almost always a steady hand with a view on the future. But, 36 years is a long time. Has he kept up with the times? Does he still have the pulling power of the past? For John, I would choose, “Will you love me in December as you did in May…?” Should he be unseated, I have no doubt that he will not fade away as some old soldiers do, but remain close by as our elder statesman for a long time.
For John Duran, hmmm. There’s no more “colorful” person on then Council dais, but his antics have been sometimes regrettable, sometimes almost tragic, but John is as much a part of the city as any of us. Voluble detractors can easily be found, but so also a cadre of loyalists – at least 2,000? Should this John not be re-elected, I see him strolling off into the wilds of Boystown, still singing his campaign song, “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun…”
We live in times when the presidential candidate who has the most money and the highest polls ratings rises to the top. We really don’t know who they are because their images are manufactured by “consultants” and campaign “advisors.” They are mere blurs on the TV screen, a distant figure on a stage. Only in Iowa and New Hampshire will people get up close. But, in West Hollywood, we can get up close – if the candidates allow. Pay-to-play fundraisers are necessary I suppose, but only events such as West Hollywood West Residents Association’s gathering really pulls down the barriers. We need more of that. Would our laws allow a “rally in the park”, or small gatherings in one of those pocket parks which have popped up around the city? Why not? As for campaign songs, perhaps we’ll hear a rousing, energetic Israeli dance, a spritely morning raga, a newly composed rap. We have all that in WeHo. Maybe we could even break the 25% turnout barrier. The presidential primaries are on the same day. That should help. The election for our City Council is the ONLY one we have to express or needs and wants by electing candidates who truly represent us.
Tomorrow: That City Council election — what’s it all about?