UPDATE, Aug. 7: Lester Aponte, president of the Stonewall Democrats executive board, reached out to WEHOville to say that “… only four candidates have asked for our endorsement and submitted questionnaires as part of that process. Per our bylaws, they are the only candidates who are eligible for our endorsement. Moreover, the forum is a special membership meeting for the purpose of allowing our members to choose among the candidates who are eligible for our endorsement. It serves no purpose to include candidates who, through their own lack of diligence, failed to qualify. I want to make clear that we do not chase down candidates in any race. … Finally, I would point out that running for office is a serious endeavor and being proactive, following procedures and meeting deadlines are important indicators of a person’s competence to hold public office.”
The final list of candidates for the Nov. 3 West Hollywood City Council election won’t be confirmed until tomorrow. But the campaign already is getting heated with several candidates complaining that they aren’t going to be allowed to participate in a virtual forum to be hosted on Sunday by the Stonewall Democratic Club. Members of Stonewall Democrats will vote on who to endorse for the two City Council seats at the end of the forum.
That forum, which will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. via Zoom, will include only four of the eight candidates confirmed thus far. Following the event, members will vote on who to endorse in the upcoming election. The four participants are incumbent City Councilmember John Heilman, a law professor who has been on the Council for 36 years; John Erickson, a Planning Commissioner and former City Council deputy who is chair of Stonewall’s legislative action group and is director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles; Sepi Shyne, a lawyer and a member of the city’s Business License Commission, and Noemi Torres, a real estate agent who is on the city’s Public Facilities Commission.
City Councilmember John Duran, who is running for re-election, has been told he can’t participate in the forum. Candidates Larry Block and Marco Colantonio have been told the same thing. Newly confirmed candidate Christopher McDonald said Stonewall hadn’t reached out to him.
Block, Colantonio, and Duran say they were told that they failed to meet the deadline for registering for the forum. Block, who is a member of Stonewall, initially said he didn’t recall receiving a notice of the forum and the registration deadline. He said he contacted Jane Wishon, Stonewall’s political vice president, to ask to be included but she denied him. Block later said he discovered an email from Wishon in his spam folder. That email states the deadline for registering to be considered for an endorsement is midnight on Aug. 7. It also says the Stonewall’s “endorsement leadership team” may reach out to candidates who they have identified as important and ask them to register.
Duran said he received a notice of the application process, replied that he wanted to be considered and then was told he wouldn’t be because his application was too late. Colantonio said he was never contacted by Stonewall with an invitation to participate.
“This is unfair to the candidates and the voters,” Colantonio said in an email message to Lester Aponte, president of Stonewall’s executive board. “There is nothing democratic about not offering every candidate an opportunity to participate…
“If Heilman, Erickson, Shyne, and Torres believe in a fair election process, they should withdraw and ask for a postponement until the other candidates are invited to participate.”
In a response to Colantonio, Aponte affirmed that Stonewall had not reached out to candidates to ask them to participate in the forum. “The forum includes all of the candidates who requested our endorsement and asked to be included in the forum by the deadline,” he said. Aponte said Stonewall had been promoting the forum for four months.
Duran expressed his disappointment in Stonewall’s decision to not include him and also in how the organization has changed over the years. The Stonewall Democratic Club was established in Los Angeles in 1975 with a mission to advocate for LGBT rights and for progressive and feminist values in the Democratic Party. “Now it’s a shill for the Democratic Party that doesn’t consider LGBT issues anymore,” Duran said. “… Their only use is for a Democrat to say they have the endorsement and ‘pass’ on LGBT rights.”
Stonewall has been criticized by some who see its membership evolving from LGBTQ activists to traditional and heterosexual members of the Democratic Party who see it as a valuable political asset. Stonewall was accused by former member Craig Scott, who is gay, of “pinkwashing,” a term he used to describe giving an LGBTQ endorsement to a moderate and heterosexual Democratic Party candidate so that that candidate could attract the LGBTQ vote. Scott was forced out of Stonewall after posting a comment on his Facebook page using the term “faghag,” which is a slang word used to describe heterosexual women who like to hang out with gay men.
In an op-ed published by WEHOville, Scott said “the endorsement process fails to advance progressive candidates. … All questions posed to candidates are vetted in advance by the political director, Jane Wishon, a straight, white woman who claims to be an ally. If she doesn’t approve the question, it is not asked … . This process silences issues that people of color or transgender members may want to ask. Questions unique to LGBTQ people are few and far between.”
Scott also criticized Stonewall for doing its endorsement interviews behind closed doors, which won’t be the case with Sunday’s Zoom forum. Those who want to watch the forum can do so by registering online. Only those who are registered members of the club will be able to vote on who to endorse when the forum is over. They are asked to join the Zoom meeting at 1:30 p.m., which is when the process of checking their membership credentials will begin.