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.