A few years ago I lost my vision in one eye. And then I found my voice. Now I’m being called a “rabble rouser” by some. There are various dictionary definitions. But when I think of a rabble rouser, I think of someone like Harvey Milk or Martin Luther King. For me the definition is “a guy who speaks truth to power. A person who stands up for what’s right.”
So, am I a rabble rouser? Yes, if that’s what you call standing up during the City Council’s public comment period and asking Councilmember John Heilman to shake John D’Amico’s hand. I felt sorry for D’Amico, a new guy on the council whom Heilman had given the silent treatment for a year. When I was growing up the “silent treatment” was really intimidation. I persisted for six months, admittedly looking foolish sometimes, asking Heilman to shake hands with D’Amico. People said it would never happen. But I believed the people of West Hollywood deserved a City Council that worked together. I kept amping the volume. A month after I said that by not shaking D’Amico’s hand Heilman looked like a sissy, he and D’Amico shook hands and even met for a private talk. That was my first real effort to stir the pot. Now I am proud when I see them working together.
Rabble rouser? Yes, if by that you mean campaigning for council term limits. I had heard about the DA’s investigation of Councilmember John Duran for misuse of a city credit card, about the potential for conflict in then-Councilmember Abbe Land’s work for the Saban Free Clinic and later the Trevor Project, and then there was Heilman’s unwillingness to shake a newcomer’s hand. These people had been on the council forever. So I decided that we needed council term limits. I knocked on Steve Martin’s door and asked him to write the language for the law. He was busy on a case at the time, but I “rabble roused” him for a month and got it going. Martin got together Allegra Allison, Sheila Lightfoot, Lauren Meister and Scott Schmidt to “rabble rouse” the whole community. We got the signatures needed to put a term limit proposal on the March ballot, and it won. While we campaigned, I continued to comment at council meetings, touting the merits of term limits and how it could result in a citizen-based council not controlled by special interests and obligated to big campaign donors.
Rabble rouser? Yes, I asked the City Council to hang a rainbow flag, the symbol of gay liberation, on City Hall. Many people were against that. But I think the rainbow flag belongs on our City Hall because West Hollywood is a beacon for the LGBT community, and the rainbow flag is a welcome sign to LGBT people who face discrimination in other places. Our city was founded on LGBT rights, so let’s celebrate that!
Rabble rouser? Yes, I have opposed the City Council’s decision to extend parking meter hours, and I have said the West Hollywood garage should have the same 90 minutes or 60 minutes of free parking as other city garages (or even two hours like in Beverly Hills). That will let local residents frequent local businesses and do their banking without having to put money in a meter.
Rabble rouser? Yes, I pushed the City Council to name the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards in honor of the gay liberation movement. LGBT Square, WeHo Square, whatever the name, let’s celebrate our community’s fight for equal rights and its place as an epicenter of gay life. Council members Heilman and Duran themselves proposed the same thing two years ago. Robert Gamboa, co-chair of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, worked with city staff members to develop a way to solicit ideas for a name from the community. The Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board formed a task force to work on the project. But the council has refused to act. I even had to argue for hoisting a rainbow flag at that intersection two days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage in California. We need to proclaim our LGBT identity and not homogenize into Beverly Hills.
Rabble rouser? As part of the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board I joined with Lisa Andreson to seek funding to promote Disability Awareness month. City laws wouldn’t let us hold a fundraiser, but Chairman Rick Watts and the rest of the board got the city to hang banners honoring individuals and non-profit organizations during that month. That helps raise the consciousness of the entire community and honor those who provide service to the disabled.
Rabble rouser? Yes, I have launched a successful petition drive to be on the ballot for the upcoming election for a seat on the board of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. I was inspired to run by John Altschul, who took me to dinner and said I would be an asset. There has been a benefit to my petitioning for a place on the ballot instead of being named by a chamber committee. I have had to actually go around town and talk to chamber members and listen to their concerns. I’ve offered ideas to increase chamber memberships by outsourcing membership sales to an independent rep who would be paid a commission for signing new members. We also can grow membership by offering value-added services to members, acting as a middleman to get better rates for credit card processing or payroll processing to offset the cost of membership dues. Chamber President Genevieve Morrill has done a great job boosting membership to almost 500 businesses. But I believe we can get to 1,000 and increase the number of members who actually are based in West Hollywood or have local businesses, which is under half of the membership now.
Rabble rouser? I am going to be one this week as I work with Dana Miller to re-launch Labor Day LA. I was president of that event in 1999 when we raised $100,000 for local charities. Now Labor Day LA is dormant. I have asked Genevieve Morrill for the chamber’s support in launching Labor Day LA in 2014, with the goal of including community businesses in the effort.
Rabble rouser? You can call me what you want, but I’m not crawling back into the closet. You lose an eye, and suddenly you can see all sorts of things to care about. I care about my community, the ability to grow old gracefully here and provide a social safety net. And I care about honesty in government (where, by the way, is that City Council ad hoc committee’s report, promised six months ago, on campaign finance reform?)
To that end, I am running for City Council in 2014. I was inspired to do that by my sister, who has inoperable lung cancer. I visited her two days after the last council election and she told me to run. I told her: “You stick around, and I will.” So I am running for my sister and my mother, to keep their hope alive and make them proud for as long as they have left to live. And I am running to offer an honest voice in a community that I love. That means, win or lose, I am going to talk about the issues. It is time for us to graduate from the John Heilman years. It’s time to take back our city from entrenched outside interests. This next election is our opportunity to create a new City Council with local business and community leaders. Run Lauren Meister, run Jerome Cleary, run Cathy Blaivis, run Lucas John! You are among the “rabble rousers” I like to call my friends, people who care about West Hollywood and have the knowledge and experience to address any issue that comes before the Council.
I can’t help but end this comment by remembering the first time I went to speak at a City Council meeting, which was about three years ago. I asked my friend Mary and her girlfriend Natalie to come along. I had my speech in hand, but I froze and didn’t hand in the required speaker slip. I went home feeling like a wimp. Now my mom wonders what happened to her shy little boy. “Mom, I lost my eye, but I found my voice,” I’ve told her. You can call me a rabble rouser, but in my book that beats being a namby pamby any day.