It’s not unusual in West Hollywood for City Council elections to get nasty in the final days and hours before the vote. But given what this country has gone through in the last few months on the national level, one would hope that WeHo could stand out as a place where “alternative facts” aren’t acceptable, and where issues such as development, affordable housing, traffic and parking can be debated with respect and not anger and vitriol.
Sadly, that’s not happening.
That was evident at last week’s Rent Stabilization Commission meeting. After rambling on about the development on 8150 Sunset Blvd., which is not in the City of West Hollywood, local resident Kaye McLane declared that Donald Trump is backing the incumbents in our March 7 election. Kellyanne Conway might call that an “alternative fact,” but actually it is a lie.
The most dramatic moment occurred after that when Victor Omelczenko, a member of the city’s Public Facilities Commission and the treasurer of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, went off the rails (as shown in the video above). Omelczenko began his comments to the commission by ranting against incumbent candidates John Duran and John Heilman. When the gavel struck and he was told that political speeches were not allowed at the commission meeting, Omelczenko lost it, asking one commissioner if she was a Nazi and yelling so loudly that Commission Chair Richard Maggio turned off Omelczenko’s microphone. Maggio said that in his 20 years on the commission he has never seen such outrageous behavior.
Apparently taking a key from the Trump supporters, West Hollywood’s vitriolic purveyors of “alternative facts” have found homes on social media. The @Heilmantown Twitter account tweets links to news stories containing actual facts, but laces them with nasty images and comments. Then there is the Facebook account of “Hilda Vorceya” (“he’ll divorce ya”), which has republished one of the @Heilmantown nasty images as part of its attacks on the incumbents. The clearly fake account also has posted a distorted and insulting photo of Adam Bass, a member of the city’s Public Facilities Commission. Bass has asked Cynthia Blatt and Steve Martin, widely seen as the most viable challengers to Duran and Heilman, to denounce that.
“I am asking you to intervene and denounce this type of campaigning and behavior by your supporter,” Bass wrote in an email to Blatt and Martin. “I am asking that you demand honorable and civilized debate by people like yourselves – people willing to show up and show his or her face and have a constructive dialogue, not someone who hides behind a fake profile on social media.”
In an email to Bass, Martin did just that. “I have no idea who this might be but I do denounce this sort behavior, which is cruel and totally out of bounds,” he wrote.
There are legitimate reasons to oppose the incumbents, and legitimate reasons to oppose their challengers. That’s why WEHOville asked all of those in the race to respond to questions raised by WeHo residents about more than a dozen local issues. With that information, voters can decide who they will support.
Anger and vitriol and lies and exaggerations do not help us make the right decision. So let’s make it clear again: Donald Trump is not backing the incumbents. And, to address another major exaggeration, WeHo has not lost a massive amount of rent-stabilized housing over the past 30 years. While the affordability of housing is an issue in WeHo (and in most other major metropolitan areas in the country), the truth is that West Hollywood’s rent-stabilized housing inventory has gone down only 5% since 1986.
Each of the 10 candidates in the March 7 election needs to rein in his or her supporters and publicly disavow those who campaign with lies and vitriol. And the creator of @HeilmanTown needs to realize that he runs the risk of branding West Hollywood as @TrumpTown. This city deserves better than that.