EDITOR’S NOTE: WEHOville is inviting candidates in the 2015 City Council election to share with its readers (and thus the city’s voters) why they are running. This is the first in a series of occasional essays by candidates.
My story is a classic love story and a not-so-classic one. I started out falling in love with someone who became the catalyst for changing my life and encouraging me to move across the country. But then, I fell in love again. This time with a city — West Hollywood. And made it my home.
I grew up 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn, N.Y. My father was a woodworker and my mother an elementary school teacher in the public school system. I was just another “borough boy” who attended inner-city schools, where I was actually a minority. On weekends, if I wasn’t working at the bowling alley, you could find me at the Coney Island boardwalk, riding the Cyclone and munching on Nathan’s hot dogs.
My grandparents, who were holocaust survivors, taught me a lot about the world beyond Brooklyn–about struggle, courage and compassion. I felt a deep moral responsibility to give my neighbors the same opportunities that I sometimes took for granted.
In New York I worked for the Council for Unity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting tolerance and diversity, while curbing bullying and gang violence in public schools. I also became active in local government, serving as the Deputy to a New York City Councilman. We dealt with issues of urban redevelopment, capital projects and providing social services for low income seniors and Russian-speaking constituents. It was a chance for me to work closely with the community, to listen to people and their concerns and help to make it a better place to live for everyone. I took pride in being the point person that people came to when they had a problem that need to be resolved.
But, while I was doing my best to help others in their struggles, I was neglecting to be honest about my own. I identified in so many ways: son, grandson, friend, volunteer, Jew, public servant. However, I had not yet acknowledged another identity, that of being a gay man. Would my family approve? Would my career be negatively impacted? Would the community I worked so hard to serve turn against me? I was lucky that someone came along who challenged me to start living my life for who I am. So at 31, the kid who thought he would never leave New York, packed his bags and moved out West. When I arrived in West Hollywood, I knew I was home.
It’s the spirit of unity here and the open arms acceptance of all people that excites me so much. After all, it’s how West Hollywood was founded 30 years ago. A coalition of Russians, Jews, seniors, gays and renters wanted their unincorporated neighborhood of Los Angeles to be an affordable place for everyone. They fought and won. And, in 1984 the “City of West Hollywood” was born, adopting one of the most progressive rent control laws in the nation.
What is it about todays West Hollywood that excites me? Our beautiful parks for starters. WeHo park will become a model for cities across the country when Phase II is completed. Cosmo and I walk the park regularly ,and he is adamant about having a place to go off-leash with other dogs! Plummer Park has a wonderful community feel to it, with historic Great Hall-Long Hall and beautiful mature trees providing refuge for seniors enjoying the day. As a Public Facilities commissioner I am working hard to make sure the communities’ input in the development of our park land, which is so scarce in this city, is heard by the City Council. I love our walkable city, and the diversity of offerings it has, including great restaurants, homegrown businesses, the Sunset Strip, and Boystown.
It’s important to bring back the coalition building that created this city as we continue to grow. Development is key to building a great city. I want to make sure that anyone can call West Hollywood home — whether its a long time senior resident, a new family, or a gay young person from the middle of the country seeking safe refuge.
As I’ve matured, my commitment to public service has only continued to grow. I know I can bring my experience, energy, and dedication to help build upon our great city. After much thought and lots of encouragement, I’ve decided to declare my candidacy for OUR City Council. Some naysayers tell me “it’s too soon” or that I’m “not well known enough.” Challenges have never stopped me. There is a tremendous opportunity, right now, to make the changes that our city needs. West Hollywood embraced me, giving me a new beginning, a new life, and now I want to give back.
I have the next six months to earn your vote, as well as your trust. And I’m up for the challenge.