“I’m terrible at raising money. I had two events where I gave A+ speeches, thanked everyone and sat down. Then Keith told me to go back up there and ask for donations,” City Council candidate John D’Amico said. “That doesn’t come naturally to me, to ask for money.”
Despite the unnaturalness of it, D’Amico has managed to raise an astonishing amount of money in his bid for election. His campaign treasury has collected over $80,000 from friends, colleagues, neighbors, concerned citizens and impressed observers. That’s four times what any other non-incumbent has ever raised in a West Hollywood City Council election. On top of that, he added $25,000 of his own money to the fund, $15,000 of which came from auctioning off a favorite Ed Ruscha painting.
“They were small dollar donations for the first half of the campaign,” the 48-year-old D’Amico reports. “After I started doing more appearances, larger donations started coming in, especially after the debates.”
Judging by those donations, it seems that the message D’Amico is sending is working. And his message boils down to this – things aren’t working.
D’Amico explains, “It’s pretty clear now, especially after six months of this campaign, there are three incumbents, one appointed, who have decided that everything’s fine. The car has never been running better, even though it’s stuck in traffic. It’s exactly where it should be and everyone should just like it.”
“I have a different vision for West Hollywood,” he says. “My vision is one of thinking more carefully who we sell this brand to, why we give it away. More importantly, the quality of life for most residents has diminished. After talking with at least 3,000-4,000 people, I think we’re going to see on Tuesday that people agree, that the quality of life has diminished and people are interested in the kind of leadership that pays more attention to that.”
A Detroit native who arrived in Los Angeles in 1981 to attend college at Cal Arts, D’Amico thinks the city is in good shape as far as social services go. He feels people shouldn’t worry about social services being cut, saying they are “set in stone.”
However, the city is in a crisis in terms of land use and development. “The decisions that have led to this idea that the city is corrupt, that the city is for sale, are land use decisions,” he says. D’Amico’s not speaking as a casual observer. He holds a master’s degree in architecture and urban planning from the University of Houston and served from 2003-2008 on the city’s Planning Commission.
He’s worried about West Hollywood becoming more suburbanized, losing its character thanks to the “bigger, louder, faster” approach to development the city council has embraced. He says residents have yet to comprehend the amount of development on the horizon, “There are 1,500 residential units and 1 million square feet of retail that’s been approved but hasn’t started construction yet.”
D’Amico says the “built environment needs to be protected,” but quickly adds he’s not anti development. “I build buildings for a living [he’s the Principal Project Manager for the UCLA Orthopedic Replacement Hospital being built in Santa Monica]. I think that smart development that’s based on the current zoning is what’s needed,” he says, noting that he’s opposed to the city’s proposed new General Plan which would allow for taller buildings. “Cities are never finished. But because they aren’t finished, you can’t just add a multiplier. Just because it’s two stories doesn’t mean it should be four . Just because it’s four stories, doesn’t mean it should be 16.”
The battle over where the city proposed building 28 units of affordable housing, was an eye-opening experience for him. As head of the Planning Commission, he says he found city staff pressuring him to approve the project even when he personally didn’t believe in it. Then following the 7-0 California Supreme Court decision ruling that the city violated state law by not getting adequate public input before proceeding with their plans for affordable housing there, D'Amico says he was appalled at the arrogance of the City Council.
“[The City Council] cleaned up some tiny detail and moved forward with their plans,” he said. “It made me sick to my stomach that the will of seven Supreme Court justices, the will of the people, bared no sway because they were so corrupted by their own power.”
It’s because of that corruption of power that D’Amico has distanced himself from the five other non-incumbents in the race. “If three of us were to join up, we’d be no better than [incumbents , and ],” he says. “Their campaign is totalizing. You have these three incumbents who promise to make all decisions and you can’t trust them to take any input because they wouldn’t ever have to [since they form a majority on the City Council]. I think that verges on abuse. Abuse of power and abuse of public trust.”
Partnered with Keith Rand since 1992, married since 2008, D’Amico believes his campaign is resonating with the people because it’s based on attraction. He has strived to create a campaign where people want to be involved, promising himself he was “going to win by attracting people to my ideas.”
Still managing to get eight hours of sleep a night, even in the final stretch of the campaign, D’Amico remains calm and focused on his destination – the City Council seat he wants. He says he’s accomplishing that by following a simple mantra, “Make the plan. Stick with the plan. That’s the plan.”
There are nine candidates running for the three City Council seats up for election on March 8. The other candidates include Lindsey Horvath, Scott Schmidt, , Mark Gonzaga, , Mito Aviles, Steve Martin and Lucas John. We will continue to profile other candidates.
You can also check out other candidate profiles from Weho Daily and LAist online. D'Amico's profile on Weho Daily is available here and LAist's profile on D'Amico is not yet available. A video profile of the candidates is also available on YouTube courtesy of LGBTPOV and Frontiers. To view D'Amico's video and other candidates videos, click here (D'Amico's video is also embedded on the right hand side of this story).