In WeHo Council Race, Millennial Progressives Trail Back-to-Basics Boomers

The city’s founders are prevailing over newcomers in an election tilt that may be agenda-setting for the gay Mecca’s next decade
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Early results in the West Hollywood city election are revealing a level of dissatisfaction among residents around the boundary-pushing policies of younger criminal justice reform advocates and a preference for focusing on quality-of-life matters.

This year, 12 candidates are vying for three open seats on the WeHo City Council—a contest billed as a clash between pioneers of the gay rights movement in the 1980s and progressive millennials, with the future of the prosperous city proudly known as the queerest place on earth at stake.

So far, the gay pioneers have come out on top.

The top three finishers so far are former council members John Heilman, 63, and 61-year-old John Duran—both considered to be among WeHo’s founding fathers—and 62-year-old Mayor Lauren Meister. These are certainly not millennials, nor are they pushing lefty demands for sweeping change—they’re gay (except Meister, who is straight), white, cisgender baby boomers from the old guard, who are financially comfortable, established in their careers, and present a platform decidedly more pragmatic and business-friendly than that of their younger opponents.

Meister is currently in first place with 3,388 votes; Heilman is in second with 2,296; Duran is currently in third place, with 2,087 votes.

Rounding out the top six are candidates running on platforms reflective of the activist-minded millennial generation. Robert Oliver, 33, (1,848 votes), Chelsea Byers, 28, (1,796), and 36-year-old Zekiah N. Wright (1,673) have all supported cutting the law enforcement budget and placing costly requirements on local businesses to provide annual paid leave for workers.

Oliver, an out gay public safety commissioner for the city, seconded the motion to reduce the number of L.A. sheriff’s deputies on patrol in WeHo. However, when news of the Public Safety Committee’s proposal generated controversy, he reversed course, saying he was against it.

Byers, a social impact strategist who identifies as queer, and Wright, a lawyer vying to become the council’s first Black nonbinary member, were supportive of the decision to cut $3.6 million from the city’s budget with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The move reduces the number of law enforcement officers in WeHo and increases that of unarmed security ambassadors from the group Block by Block.

Byers, Wright and Oliver all have the endorsement of Unite Here Local 11, the hotel employees union which pushed the highest minimum wage in the country—$17.64 an hour—through the council, as well as one of the country’s most generous PTO policies—at least 96 hours of sick, vacation or personal time off for full-time workers (plus a prorated amount for part-time staff).

Heilman and Duran garnered the second and third most votes so far by running on platforms similar to one another—essentially a return to the basics with which they helped build WeHo into the safe and prosperous zone that draws thousands of gays from around the world, and has since the 1980s.

Heilman vowed to “immediately take action to restore the funding” cut from the city’s budget earmarked for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement services. Duran has denounced the decision over the summer to replace up to five armed patrol deputies in the city with dozens of unarmed security ambassadors as a “tragic mistake.”

Meister supports an increase in the minimum wage but argues that requiring a higher amount of paid time off puts WeHo’s restaurants and other small businesses at a competitive disadvantage with the cities of L.A. and Beverly Hills. The cautiously optimistic mayor tells LAMag that the election’s results are indicating that there’s a desire among the majority of voters to return the City Council’s focus to quality-of-life concerns.

“These guys I was talking to at The Abbey last night,” Meister says of an exchange at the famous gay nightlife spot, “they knew who I was, they said, ‘We voted for you, we’re so glad that you won. We believe the city needs to be focused on taking care of its residents and not so focused on other things.’

“People want for their neighborhoods to be clean, to know that they can go out at night and not feel like they’re unsafe. And to go out to eat and not have to pay a fortune.”

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