Opinion: Still a Work in Progress, Lindsey Horvath Is WeHo’s Person of the Year

The year 2015 was certainly a unique one for West Hollywood. We experienced a historic double-barreled election. Development changed the face of the community while City Hall was plagued by malaise that seemed more appropriate for places like Bell or Southgate, not the progressive City of West Hollywood.

This being West Hollywood, there was no shortage of interesting personalities in 2015. Larry Block graduated from being a local gadfly to being a credible City Council candidate. When it came to thinking globally and acting locally, businessman Nir Zilberman led the way, opening a storefront to provide shelter for young homeless people. Cynthia Blatt tapped into a deep reservoir of frustration, organizing her neighbors on King’s Road and founding United Neighbors for Responsible Development. Sophisticated developer Jason Iloulian seemed determined to put his creative mark on West Hollywood, with proposed developments throughout the city.

In 2015 our local institutions all seemed to fail us. City Hall seemed mired in dysfunctionality. We saw the Sunset Strip Music Festival sunk by incompetence, drowned in a sea of red ink. The City Council deputies found their positions eliminated as the public was shocked by huge salaries and immature antics on the third floor of City Hall. John Heilman’s deputy, Fran Solomon, retired after being accused of campaigning for her boss at City Hall. Even the Sheriff’s Department came under attack for insensitivity and incompetence as its aura seemed tarnished by the shooting of two men during the hostage standoff on Palm Avenue last year.

The City that prides itself on its progressive politics was sued for sexual harassment in what many saw as “sex for job” scandal. Indeed some might say that John Duran’s former deputy, Ian Owens, might be the best candidate for West Hollywood’s Person of the Year.

But with two elections just 90 days apart, politics clearly dominated the year in our little City. In March three seats on City Council were up, while in June there was a special election to fill the seat Jeff Prang vacated when he was elected County Assessor. Although hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised from developers via “independent expenditure” campaigns, the new City Council reflects the growing concerns voters have about the direction of the city.

While in March popular John D’Amico provided an encore performance of his 2011 run and came in a clear first, somehow 2015 does not seem like the “Year of John D’Amico”.

Pro-neighborhood candidate Lauren Meister came in second in the March election despite being heavily outspent and being the target of a vicious and sexist smear campaign inspired by Councilmember John Duran. Lauren’s election was significant as she personified the concerns many have about West Hollywood’s future as an inclusive and livable community. She ran a grassroots campaign that was in stark contrast to the slick corporate campaigns of her rivals that were underwritten by developers and lobbyists. Although a passionate advocate for West Hollywood, Lauren tries to bring a logical and low key approach to council debates, which are often marked more by bombast and posturing than serious deliberation.

Of course nearly every year is the Year of John Duran. What year does not go by where John is not in the news generating bad headlines for himself and West Hollywood? From city credit card abuse scandals, sexist tirades, (“we are not all lesbians…”), attempts to derail Sheila Kuehl’s bid for Supervisor, we thought we had seen it all. But in 2015 Duran topped himself, if you can forgive the bad pun. Not only was he sued by his former deputy Ian Owens for sexual harassment, Duran raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers and lobbyists to support John Heilman, Lindsay Horvath and anyone who was not Lauren Meister via an independent expenditure campaign that he clearly controlled. While this sort of fundraising is apparently not technically illegal, it is certainly unethical and did not help the credibility of our local government. Duran managed to rivet our attention throughout 2015 but it was more like bad reality television or an overwrought telenovela.

2015 whiplashed veteran Councilmember John Heilman out and then back into office. His loss in March sent shock waves through the city establishment, particularly in light of the huge amounts spent promoting his re-election. But John shook off his complacency and rebounded in the June election. Although Heilman faced three inexperienced and underfunded candidates in June, he was able to win but did not garner over fifty percent of the votes. While he was clearly the most qualified candidate, it seemed many people simply came out to vote against him. Had Heilman demonstrated a bit of healing humility in the months following his June victory he might of qualified as the Person of the Year.

I believe that the Person of the Year in 2015 would undoubtedly be Mayor Lindsey Horvath. Appointed to fill the late Sal Guarriello’s last 18 months in office, Lindsey went down to defeat in 2011, placing fifth in the election. Her mentors put her back on the Transportation Commission, apparently not trusting her with a more visible appointment to either Rent Stabilization or the Planning Commission. Many felt Horvath’s political career had been nipped in the bud.

But Horvath demonstrated a lot more grit that many of us expected. She did her best to remain relevant even while avoiding many of the major issues that divided the city over the next four years. She did her homework and in 2015 she walked all over the city. The person voters met was a confident, articulate and poised candidate and Lindsey has carried those traits into office. Most observers were shocked that she edged out John Heilman in the March election.

As most of you know, Horvath and I don’t agree on a variety of issues. But in my 35-year history with the body politic of this city, I have not witnessed this sort of personal growth in such as short period with anyone associated with City Hall. Although we are a very divided city, I give Horvath points for presenting a healthy air of optimism that is sorely needed during our public discourse.

Lindsey has demonstrated some good political instincts. Her decisive move to eliminate the council deputies, which I felt was a bit rushed, demonstrated an excellent sense of political timing. Not only did she articulate the concerns, and indeed the outrage, many residents felt about the abuses with the council deputy system, she managed to skillfully put the blame on the deputies while extricating John Duran and John Heilman from any responsibility for the dysfunctional conduct attributed to the people they hired.

But Horvath is still a work in progress. She seemed a bit thin skinned about criticism of her vote in support of the development at 8899 Beverly Blvd. and her sole vote against giving the council members’ raises seemed a bit cynical. I thought John D’Amico’s description of her vote was right on.

But there is nothing wrong with being a work in progress. Indeed being on City Council should be a never ending process of education. It is when our elected officials start thinking they know it all that it is time to replace them. Horvath has potential to become a visionary leader. She is not there yet but she appears to be making every effort to find common ground with people in the community who did not support her. I believe over time her vision will broaden beyond her rote adherence to predictable politically correct mantras. As much as I appreciate the advocacy of council members D’Amico and Meister, as a community we appear to be very divided, and we do need to find ways to build consensus. If Lindsey Horvath wants to be that bridge builder then the more power to her.

Have a happy and healthy 2016.

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7 years ago

Don’t be distracted from Steve Martin’s own record. Talk about a dysfunction. You accuse our exceptional Mayor as thin skinned and a work in progress. Well Steve, you too were a work (and I do mean work) in progress during your tenure. Time and time again, you acted in such a manner that you, in fact, never grew beyond the work in progress stage. This is why Steve voters removed you 14 years ago and we the voters, over and over again rejected you for many your many flip-flops, ethics violations… Steve, you regularly accepted campaign contributions from big developers… Read more »

Virginia gillick
Virginia gillick
7 years ago

Thank you, Steve Martin and I wish you a happy, healthy, 2016.

Neal Z.
7 years ago

There you go again Steve. It’s a good thing there are those of us in town who have been here awhile (almost 23 years for me) and can call you out on your ridiculous and factually deficient opinion pieces. You don’t have the unbiased reflection or credibility to name a person of the year. It’s ironic that in the same week where West Hollywood is lauded with over one dozen awards for its great works – you see the opportunity to criticize. But that’s what you do. Ever since the voters booted you out of office in 2003 (and I… Read more »

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
7 years ago

Since to state the obvious (and IMO to her credit) Horvath is an ally of both Heilman (her mentor) and Duran, this tribute makes no sense unless one sees it for what it’s main purpose is -an excuse to bash the other two members and try to fool people who admire Horvath to thinking likely candidate vs Heilman & Duran next year is on their side. If Martin were to get on the council, he’d be an opponent of Horvath’s. Sorry, but I’ve seen too much of Steve Martin to not think everything he says, does or writes is based… Read more »

David Reid
7 years ago

Thank you Steve. The City is indeed divided.
Perhaps the people will use the 2017 election as a referendum on the robograge.
there seemed to be such little discussion for a folly of this magnitude.

nir Zilberman
7 years ago

I can not help myself but adding this post. We have so many people (angeles) in our world. I want to thanks every one of you for never give up on us and always support our vision of Love NO Hate. HOME Your actions speak louder then words. You (we) are the people who make our cities, our countries our world a better place to live in. I love you and i thank you from the bottom of my heart. you are PRIDE. we are the people of the world. For more info or schedule a tour of our “HOME”… Read more »

Coe Holbrook
Coe Holbrook
7 years ago

Thanks Steve. Well thought out and good article.

I usually kind of blow off year in reviews, but your article does exactly what you’re asking of Lindsey if you know what I mean, and makes you want to stay a part of it.

Nir Zilberman
7 years ago
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