The gay members of our city council have long decried bullying of gay and lesbian young people. But in the sand box of West Hollywood’s politics, it is the council incumbents who are the real bullies. Resorting to the sort of tactics that would make a Chicago ward boss blush, certain incumbents’ lack of commitment to free elections would be more appropriate to Vladimir Putin’s Russia than a city supposedly founded on progressive values.
Days before political newcomer Christopher Landavazo’s Oct. 25 campaign kick off at the Viper Room, his friends and potential supporters began getting calls and text messages from council member John Duran making thinly disguised threats if they supported Landavazo’s campaign. At least one of Landavazo’s business supporters felt compelled to withdraw his endorsement.
Landavazo delivered a withering critique at the Nov. 19 city council meeting that may have turned out to be the real kickoff of his campaign. Asserting that he was sworn to protect the public as deputy Sheriff, he announced his appearance before the council was to protect West Hollywood’s democratic process from the “thuggery” by council members John Duran and Jeff Prang. Landavazo berated the two incumbents, saying “you have not learned from the campaigns of the past, which have left huge fractures in our community.”
Aside from attempts by the two incumbents to intimidate his supporters, Landavazo related how John Duran refused to meet with a local business owner about a city issue simply because he had heard his partner had endorsed Landavazo’s candidacy. Of course this conduct is not shocking to veteran city hall observers. After all, it was John Duran who once announced from the city council dais during in response to a citizen’s comment, that “if you say you’re not voting for me, why should I listen to you?” Given city hall’s infamous “pay to play” politics, I suppose the upside to any local business owner being denied a meeting with a council member during election season is that they avoid being shaken down later for a campaign contribution.
Landavazo’s performance was one of the most spectacular introductions of any council candidate in recent memory. You can view his comments on the city website at minute 30:16 of the Nov. 19 council meeting. The city council was already having a bad night as it was required to approve putting the term limits initiative on the March 2013 ballot. Landavazo’s eloquent tirade left its members shocked and grim faced. John Duran seemed to physically shrink in his seat. Needless to say, neither Duran nor Prang provided any rebuttal.
While the sort of political arm twisting Landavazo described has become common place in West Hollywood politics over the last decade, the fact that the incumbents would have chosen to focus their efforts on Landavazo have puzzled local activists. Given that Landavazo is a new comer to the political arena with no neighborhood connections, few gave his candidacy much thought.
But apparently John Duran and Jeff Prang feel threatened by Landavazo and Duran was certainly not taking any chances the young deputy might erode his gay electoral base. Landavazo’s youthful appearance and refreshing focus on service over self promotion has alarmed the aging and complacent gay incumbents that he may threaten their Boystown turf.
During his three terms on the city council, John Duran has managed to alienate nearly every constituency outside of Boystown. His cavalier disregard for members of the pubic who appear before the city council and his rubber stamping of even the most outrageously supersized developments have not endeared him to neighborhood activists. While Duran’s self proclaimed role as “Mayor of Boystown” plays well to his gay base, the other seventy percent of West Hollywood find him to be disconnected and indeed, indifferent, to the concerns of the rest of the city. Rather than build bridges to other community constituencies, Duran would rather resort to strong arm tactics to protect his gay base.
The Landavazo accusations loaded yet another negative on the Duran, who is already living under the shadow of a potential indictment for abuse of city credit cards. The Los Angeles County District Attorney had announced that Duran was under investigation for charging thousands of dollars in meals to city credit cards, solely for himself and his council deputy. While I don’t believe that the credit card use warrants criminal charges, the charges are a clear violation of city credit card guidelines. The district attorney’s office could file charges anytime before Election Day
Bullying and disinformation tactics have become an unfortunate feature of West Hollywood politics. During the campaign to “Save Tara,” the historic structure on Laurel, Allegra Allison was subject to unrelenting character assassination. She was confronted by city hall loyalists who accused her of using the process to extort huge relocation fees from the city. The fact is that Allison refused to accept relocation fees as a matter of principal and never received a dime. In the meantime scores of city commissioners and board members expressed private support for her efforts while cautioning that there would be political repercussions if they went public.
During the collection of signatures for term limits we lost count of the number of city employees and city board members who said they supported the concept but were afraid to sign, particularly after Mayor Prang accused the term limits campaign of being a rightwing Republican front group. It was very clear that West Hollywood has not become a model of grassroots democracy but rather a city of fear.
The people of West Hollywood have to decide if this is the sort of political culture that we want in our city. If our elected officials are so wonderful, why would they need to resort to Mafioso tactics while running for re-election? Why do supposedly progressive officials need to sink to this level?
The very idea that residents and businesses would be denied access to “public servants” or have to fear retribution if they happen to support another candidate is repugnant to the very principals upon which this city was founded. Any attempt to retaliate against supporters of your political rivals is a clear violation of the oath of office that each council member took upon the assumption of office.
If John Duran has attempted to intimidate those supporting rival candidates or the term limits initiative, then he really needs to look in the mirror and ask if he is worthy to continue in office. Whose ends is he serving by destroying the integrity of the electoral process? As a city we have decried attempts by other jurisdictions to discourage people from exercising their right to vote. Are these sorts of bullying tactics any different from the tactics used by right wing Republicans to block minorities’ access to the polls? The West Hollywood tactics are in fact more crude and egregious.
Clearly power, narcissism and a sense of entitlement are fogging the judgment of some of the folks at city hall. Chris Landavazo should be commended for standing up for real West Hollywood values.