Steve Martin: Righting the derailed revolution

January 28, 2013

“I’m running as an extension of the [2011] campaign. With the election of John D’Amico, we were moving in a new direction,” says Steve Martin, “and by now it’s pretty clear that the revolution has been derailed.”

With that beginning, the seven time city council candidate – he won twice and is the only elected incumbent to suffer defeat at the polls, he explained his reasoning for running again.

Former City Council member Steve Martin held his seat for two terms before becoming the only elected incumbent to lose an election in 2003.

He said that the city’s residents had hopes that Mr. D’Amico represented “a new coalition of people that were going to be more pro-neighborhood, pro-local business, preserving the urban village – and it’s turned out that… he just doesn’t have any consistent allies.”

He proposes to be that ally to John D’Amico if elected.

He leads a grassroots force that has put a term limits initiative on the ballot, acknowledging that the idea to do so was his.

“I’ve been talking about [term limits] for a long time,” he said,  something which can be borne out by a quick search on WeHo News, for which Mr. Martin wrote weekly op-eds over a nearly seven year span – many of those on the subject of term limits.

According to Yes on C (term limits) campaign chair Lauren Meister and campaign manager Scott Schmidt, “Steve Martin called a number of activists to a meeting at West Hollywood Park, where he suggested that we put it on the ballot and we decided to pursue the idea.”

While term limits was brought to the ballot by now-deceased council member Sal Guarriello and soundly defeated, comparing this initiative with that failed term limits measure, “is comparing apples and oranges,” according to Mr. Martin.

“The first one was only eight years, far too short,” he said, something he told Mr. Guarriello at the time.

He also asserted that Mr. Guarriello had personalized the measure by focusing on John Heilman.

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“He kept saying that no council member should serve more than ten years, and he was talking directly about Heilman,” said Mr. Martin.

Steve Martin with Steve Davis, Human Services Commissioner and supporter.

When it was noted that many of the signatures gathered to put Measure C on the ballot were encouraged to do so by petitioners saying, “Did you know that John Heilman has been on the council for 28 years? That Abbe Land has been on the council for over 22 years?”

Mr. Martin suggested that the gatherers’ and the proposition’s leadership were not on the same page.

“As I collected signatures, I heard every council member except John D’Amico complained about,” he said. “But what I heard most often was that the city council is too unresponsive, too complacent and too arrogant.”

He asserts that limiting the current crop of incumbents to another 12 years will change that complacency. “When people have been there for long periods of time,” he said, “and take their seat for granted, they don’t really feel the need to be responsive.”

He said that, because “we’re sitting on top of this prime piece of real estate where developers are willing to invest thousands of dollars to elect their people, we run the danger of people holding onto life seats – the only people they are accountable to are the developers.”

This photo of term limits volunteers shows the overlap with Steve Martin's campaign for council. Click the image for more on his close connection with the movement.

Noting that the discussions over the General Plan “showed that residents want a smaller West Hollywood,” and that on the Eastside “new vision is taking form, and that new vision is being informed by people from outside West Hollywood who want to profit.”

Steve Martin served on the council from 1994 – 2003, losing to Abbe land that year.

As he has tried to regain power three times since (this makes the fourth post-defeat effort), he faces the question of his using term limits, along with the possible influx of new voters unlikely to vote for incumbents, as a strategy to win back a seat on the council after a 10-year interregnum.

Steve Martin at a campaign event with supporters.

To that charge, he responds, “I think they’re saying it with a certain amount of envy. I’m flattered. Let’s face it, term limits is a concept, it’s not a campaign gimmick.”

He did accede that the issue’s presence on the same ballot as his name might help his own cause, saying, “If term limits brings out people who have been alienated and have not voted in many election cycles, that’s a good thing for the body politic.

“And I may be the unintended beneficiary,” he said laughing. “But I’m certainly not going to turn away any votes.”

Mr. Martin carries with him much baggage from those nine years on the council, particularly in damaged relationships.

At one point in the early 1990s, Jeff Prang was his roommate. John Duran claimed him as a “best friend.”

Both of those relationships have since soured; they say because of Mr. Martin’s contentious manner, with Mr. Duran calling him “a toxic element.”

When asked if he knows about the “Anybody But Steve Martin Contingent,” he said, “Yeah, I know at least four of them.

While no longer officially on the Yes on C, term limits campaign, Steve Martin retains close ties to the movement. He is shown here with Lauren Meister, the Yes on C chair and Scott Schmidt, Yes on C campaign manager.

“The person they feel most threatened by is me and I feel kind of flattered,” he said.

“I think a lot of that is based on the fact that I do ask a lot of hard questions, I don’t go along to just get along. We’re not elected for that; we’re not part of a club or a clique to tell each other how wonderful we are.

“If you’ve got an insecure ego, get a therapist, don’t run for city council.”

He claimed that the “No to Steve Martin” group was challenged by his effectiveness. “I’ve been accused of many things, but never of being ineffective,” he said. “No one ever said I was an ineffective council member.”

Still, that contentiousness could limit his effectiveness if he does unseat either Mr. Prang or Mr. Duran, as he would have to find a third vote (assuming that John D’Amico’s is his for the asking) to accomplish anything.

During the last election cycle, he made it plain that he has little tolerance for John Heilman, saying about his then-opponent, "(John Heilman) stifles public input and he stifles debate on the City Council."

In addition, Mr. Heilman represents to him all that is wrong with West Hollywood, entrenched, developer-controlled power seeking to “super-size” the city.

Since Abbe Land caused him to lose his seat in 2003 and he has since called her “pro-development,” “arrogant” and “out of touch” on numerous occasions, he is unlikely to gain her support for his slow-growth initiatives.

That equation leaves him at least one vote, and possibly two votes, shy of a majority on any given issue.

To his mind, though, those frayed relationships, intemperate declamations and politicking will be forgotten once he has his voice on the dais.

Steve Martin and his husband, John Mulcrone.

“I served with John Heilman on the budget sub-committee, and we put together many, many good budgets.

“And the fact of the matter is that there needs to be a powerful voice. There needs to be a good cop and a bad cop. John D’Amico needs a vigorous second, which most likely will lead to a third vote.

“If I knock off one of the incumbents, it will show people in this town are very upset and very angry with the status quo and are ready for change.”

His view of the incumbents argues against either of them joining him as that third vote.

Regarding Jeff Prang, “He’s primarily taking up space. It appears that he’s only there because he needs a city council job to leverage a job with the Sheriff or the Assessor’s office.

“John Duran,” he said, “should be unelected because he’s horrifically bad on development issues, giving developers a blank check.

“[Mr. Prang] only votes 95 percent of the time with developers.”

As far as their accomplishments, he said, “I accomplished more in two terms then either one of those guys did in three or four, and probably accomplished more in two than all of them combined.”

He hopes that West Hollywood voters on March 5, 2013, will give him another chance to show them what he can accomplish.

This is the third of nine exclusive interviews conducted by WeHo News with all of the candidates standing for election in March.

For the previous interview with Sam Borelli, see this link.

For the interview with Christopher Landavazo, click this link.

All nine interviews are "in the can." We will publish them all before February 15.