Starting To Look a Lot Like Egypt: West Hollywood City Council Candidates Try To Oust Stubborn Dictator With Social-Media Uprising
In this week's cover story, "Dethroning West Hollywood's Martinets," Patrick Range McDonald documents three underdog WeHo City Council candidates who are trying to throw a wrench in what has become an incumbency machine in their fabulous little city -- a technical democracy that really isn't one at all.
PHOTO BY JENNIE WARREN WeHo City Council candidate Mito Aviles wants to send the Mubarak -- er, mayor -- packing on a private jet
And arguably the most outspoken of those candidates, the punky pompadouring Mito Aviles, is not afraid to draw the obvious parallel to the hot-button news item of the day: Egypt.
From Page 2 of the story:
When Mito Aviles isn't attending voter meet-and-greets or canvassing neighborhoods, he's obsessed with the TV images coming out of Egypt, where young activists in their 20s and 30s took over Tahrir Square, carried signs with Barack Obama's slogan "Yes We Can" hand-painted on them and demanded the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1981. As Aviles watches, he sees unexpected parallels between the events unfolding in poverty-stricken, undemocratic Cairo and the political situation in well-to-do, democratic West Hollywood.
"There's a movement of young people who want change in West Hollywood," says Aviles, who's surrounded himself with refreshingly idealistic volunteers also in their 20s and 30s. "West Hollywood has also been under a 26-year-old dictatorship because we don't have term limits. That's happened in Egypt, and that's happening here."
Yeah, he just went there. And we liked it.
An Egyptian archeology professor from UCLA told us, in an interview at the height of the protests, that "in the past election, I know nobody who went to vote. They think it's all pre-decided anyway. ... They're absolutely fed up with the figurehead."
That's largely been the case in West Hollywood as well, where only one non-incumbent has ever won an election -- and even he was quickly pushed back out within a few years.
Of course, economic conditions in West Hollywood aren't nearly as bad as in Egypt, and for that, its unpolitical population of just under 40,000 mostly just hasn't found a reason to give a shit about municipal elections yet.
No more than 20 percent ever come out for the vote. Their democratic system's not rigged, per se, as it was suspected to be in Egypt -- it's just sort of stuck in an avalanche of City Councilmembers picking up more and more political/financial connects/contributions, including big land developers waiting to get their hands on all WeHo's quaint spots, until the entire vote is special-interested.
From Page 1:
When Philip Blumel, president of the Virginia-based, nonpartisan group U.S. Term Limits, hears about the situation in West Hollywood, he lets out a loud, sustained laugh. "Truly?" he asks sarcastically. "Is that really democratic if you have one incumbent lose in 26 years and one incumbent ruling that entire time?"
That's why the remaining 80 percent of WeHovians -- nightclubbers, queens, aspiring actors, little old ladies -- must rise from obscurity and nudge out the elbow-locked line of dictators who've made their nest in WeHo City Hall, that glamorous control room wherein zoning changes and massive mall projects and arbitrary bans are all an "aye" away.
And what better way to reach the apathetic peoples than at the central plaza spot of the 21st century?
John Heilman and Abbe Land just created public Facebook pages this February, five years after the rest of the world, even though they've been in elected office for over two decades. Land has not a single post on her wall, and a grand total of 5 "Likes." And forget Twitter.
Lindsey Horvath, the third and final incumbent on the ballot (she was appointed into office when City Councilman Sal Guarriello died in 2009), bests her elders in that department -- she's like the young, slightly tech-savvy mascot who they keep around to show them how to change their privacy preferences. (More on Horvath here.)
John D'Amico, Mito Aviles, Lucas John, Scott Schmidt and Steve Martin (the only Facebook/Twitter clunker) are five intriguing gay men vying for the three Weho City Council seats. And the first four know that the only way to reach the young, freewheelin', nonvotin' masses is to hit them up where they hang out: the lazy channels of the interwebs. And we say, three Tweets to that. (Or, you know, they could also land the cover of the LA Weekly. That couldn't hurt either.)
By the way, Heilman: No. 20 on the Forbes list of the world's Top 20 worst dictators was just freed up by Mubarak's overthrow. Any chance you'd be up for the prize?