Opinion: A Warm Goodbye to One of West Hollywood’s Founding Fathers

John Heilman (Photo by Jon Viscott)

“Ah, Johnny, we hardly knew ye!”

That old refrain would have no place here, as John Heilman takes a step backward from the center stage at our City Council.

No, indeed, we all know John, some of us for all of the past 36 years. His quiet presence and demeanor was always a fallback when contentious voices rankled or detoured debate. For some, the fact that John was “always there” was not a comfortable position and the result of the 2020 election made their concerns a reality.

Tall, even lanky, with a full head of black hair and the flashing eyes of youthful ardor, John took his seat on the first City Council for the city of West Hollywood. Those were heady days as the architects of change set about building a city. Phrases such as “a walking city,” “an urban village” were repeated as mantra for what was to come. (The first City Council may well have been the most representative of all, since it contained a person from every element of the population.)

Few municipal politicians have prepared themselves for the rigors of city politics as had John. He came to the position armed at first with a shiny new law degree but never stopped enlarging his views and expanding his knowledge. His academic resume is impressive – if only some of our state and federal representatives had half the interest and background. John has Masters Degrees in Public Administration and Real Estate Development from his favorite institution of higher learning, USC. He has maintained active teaching credentials at both USC School of Law and Southwestern School of Law. In my WeHo files are many letters from John during the early days, when Councilmembers actually answered residents’ concerns in writing. I have in that file a copy of every one of the city’s letterheads as their design progressed (?) from the simple to the elaborate.

West Hollywood’s first City Council, elected Nov. 29, 1984. L-R Alan Viterbi, Steve Schulte, Mayor Valerie Terrigno, John Heilman and Helen Albert.

From the very beginning days of the city, John was the leader in the new movement to achieve what I call “full citizenship” for gay people. His lead in the domestic partnership program for the city was a major move in the national effort to recognize the simple fact that choice in every aspect is a fundamental right of every human. His activities in such associations as the ACLU and gay rights have been ongoing. The Coalition for Economic Survival — perhaps the most influential group during our city’s founding — and the Stonewall Democratic Club flag his political views. All of John’s qualifications made him uniquely valuable during his long tenure. But, now, the Young Turks have arrived and the air crackles with the challenge of change, of re-viewing the future, both near and far. The Old Guard changeth.

Well, John, there’s no gold watch to thank you for your constancy and faith in the city. I doubt that you would accept such a token, anyhow. What remains are the institutions you installed, the values you espoused and the steady hand you offered on the tiller as we sailed so often into uncharted waters. Age has diminished your band of followers as much as new challenges have excited the current generation. The city is at a crossroads – hasn’t it always been so ? And what worked once may be replaced by other ideas. I’m certain you will not fade away, and that your influence will help guide others in the city’s business. This little piece is my feeble thanks — even though I did not always vote for you — for your long service, your constant caring for all of us in “the urban village”.

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Drew Pokorny
Drew Pokorny
26 days ago

Thank you for this tribute and historical.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
26 days ago

Well Carl I think you theme shows the evolution of a “Young Turk” to “Old Guard”.

Martin Pal
Martin Pal
27 days ago

Finally.

David
David
27 days ago

He was owned by developers, which is why he wasn’t re-elected. An issue his successor, John Erickson will likely also follow.

Jay
Jay
26 days ago
Reply to  David

Hi David-

Can’t say I disagree with you on the first part and hope you are wrong on the second part- I am willing to give John Erickson the benefit of the doubt until shown otherwise.

He strikes me as an intelligent person and I imagine he is aware of WeHo residents’ valid concerns regarding developer contributions and am hopeful that he will take them to heart.

Where u been?
Where u been?
26 days ago
Reply to  Jay

Where u been guy, check the campaign finance statements.

Manny
Manny
27 days ago

Thank you Carl for a marvelous tribute to a marvelous public servant. John Heilman’s longevity on the City Council served our city well. Much of the best things about West Hollywood exist because of his vision. His steady leadership and stability were attributes that suited us well. I would have liked to have seen John finish his tenure with one last term, especially under these unprecedented circumstances. But this time other voices were louder than his, and that’s what the voters heard. That’s ok, the bedrock has been set, and the father of West Hollywood can proudly step aside, take… Read more »

West
West
28 days ago

Fond farewell for both Mr Heilman & Duran. Congrats to newcomers Shyne & Erickson!

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