Several members of the Hollywood chapter of the National Organization for Women have filed a complaint with the national organization and its California chapter claiming that John Erickson, its former president, has used the organization to promote his political career.
Erickson, who stepped down as president of the womens’ advocacy organization on July 31, is a candidate in the Nov. 3 election for West Hollywood City Council. The three Hollywood NOW members who filed the complaint claim that he and Karen Andros Eyres, the interim president, have used the organization for his benefit and that of David Ryu, who is running for re-election to the Los Angeles City Council and has endorsed Erickson.
“Hollywood NOW is making partisan political endorsements favoring problematic men over qualified women that are inconsistent with the values of NOW,” says the complaint. “The endorsements process is not fair. It is biased in favor of John Erickson and his political associates rather than being open to all candidates. There is unlawful coordination between Hollywood NOW and Erickson’s current campaign for West Hollywood City Council.”
“The male candidates endorsed–Erickson and Ryu–have a reputation for mistreating women,” says the complaint. “Ryu, in fact, was arrested in 2002 for an alleged rape. Erickson has targeted and harassed women in a number of political organizations in which he has been involved and whilst taking on leadership within women’s groups has elevated his own ambitions over the interests of women.”
The NOW members who filed the complaint are Lauren Buisson, Sean Kolodji, and Alex Paris. They are asking that Hollywood NOW revoke its endorsement of Erickson and Ryu and remove Erickson and Eyres from the organization and that NOW conduct an independent investigation of their conduct. (While Ryu in 2002 was arrested on a charge of attempted rape, to which he pled not guilty, the charges were dismissed when the district attorney’s office said it was unable to proceed within the required time to file charges.)
The complaint is the second time this year that Erickson, who has been building his nascent political career in part on his claim that he is a feminist, has been criticized for not being one. In July some local women objected when he nominated himself as vice chair of the West Hollywood Planning Commission and garnered enough votes from his fellow male members to push aside Lynn Hoopingarner, the woman next in line for the vice chair position.
The complaint says that Hollywood NOW endorsed Ryu but did not invite Sara Kate Levy or Nithya Raman to be interviewed for a possible endorsement. Those women ran against Ryu for the L.A. City Council District 4 seat in the March primary. Raman, who served as the executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment, part of the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment, is competing with Ryu in the Nov. 3 election. The complaint also says that Hollywood NOW didn’t consider Sepi Shyne, a challenger in the West Hollywood City Council election. And it says the chapter not inform its members of the Sept. 24 endorsement meeting.
“At that meeting, on the evening of September 24, the chapter endorsed former chapter President John Erickson along with John Heilman and Noemi Torres—three candidates for two slots on the ballot,” the complaint says. “Torres is running an underfunded campaign and is not considered a leading contender in the election, so the effect is an endorsement of two men—Heilman and Erickson.”
The complaint says that Hollywood NOW’s social media accounts have been used only to promote its endorsements of Erickson and Ryu and not endorsements of Noemi Torres or Heilman. And it says that Erickson appears to have control of those accounts, noting that coordination between a candidate and a non-profit like Hollywood NOW is a violation of the law. It also suggests that the Sept. 24 endorsement may have been decided well before that meeting, noting that on Sept. 26, only two days later, West Hollywood residents began receiving mailers from Erickson’s campaign announcing the Hollywood NOW endorsement.
Eyres told WEHOville that Hollywood NOW’s executive board did consider all candidates in the races in which the chapter made endorsements. “No one, not any member of our leadership team or membership ranks, is in a position to manipulate the endorsement process in a way that excludes one or more candidates,” she said in an email message. “… the chapter voted overwhelmingly in favor of endorsing Torres, Heilman and Erickson based on the track record each has in their work for women’s rights and in the area of improving the lives of women and girls.“
Eyres said the chapter members who filed the complaint were “ardent supporters of City Council candidate Sepi Shyne.” She also said that Kolodji and Paris only recently joined Hollywood NOW and Buisson has no record of being a paid member. None of then were active members of the organization, she said. Eyres also said Sepi Shyne was one of those who received an email from the chapter announcing the Sept. 24 endorsement meeting, and she did not attend.
Erickson, who works for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles as director of public affairs, has played a role in a small and intertwined group of political and advocacy organizations including Hollywood NOW and Stonewall Democrats, where he is a member of the steering committee (as is Karen Eyres) and which gave him its only endorsement in the WeHo election. Like Hollywood NOW, Stonewall also did not invite all nine candidates in the West Hollywood City Council contest to participate in its endorsement forum.
As president of Hollywood NOW, Erickson has gotten the organization involved in several issues that aren’t related to women’s rights. For example, working with Abbe Land, who once employed him as her City Council deputy, he had Hollywood NOW stage a live reading of the Mueller Report in the City Council Chamber in August 2019, which was funded by the City of West Hollywood and attracted no more than a dozen people at any one time. It was widely viewed as an event to promote him politically.
Erickson also appeared before the City Council in 2019 on behalf of Hollywood NOW to state that the organization supported a demand by holders of original cannabis licenses that they be granted permanent recreational cannabis sales licenses despite their not qualifying in a complex licensing process. Erickson said the reason a woman’s right’s organization would take a stand on cannabis licenses is because MedMen, a major campaign donor which sued the city over its failure to get a license, had agreed to sign a contract with United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 770, and not getting its license renewed meant some employees would be out of work.
Erickson is very close to Lindsey Horvath, West Hollywood’s mayor, who is the founder of Hollywood NOW and its former president and has endorsed Erickson for City Council. Horvath’s political career took off after she was chosen by Council members John Heilman and Abbe Land for a vacant seat on the West Hollywood City Council in 2009. That was a controversial move because some residents said the seat should have been filled by a special election. Horvath lost her bid for re-election but was elected to City Council in 2015 in a campaign managed by Estevan Montemayor, who now is deputy chief of staff for David Ryu, who has endorsed Erickson for election. It was Heilman who appointed Erickson to the Planning Commission. In recent years the City of West Hollywood has sponsored a number of fundraising events by Hollywood NOW that benefit it and Planned Parenthood, including the annual reading of the Vagina Monologues.
The complaint filed against Hollywood NOW says that Erickson, “when not using the Hollywood NOW organization to further his cronies’ political careers, he is using it as a private social club rather than a general welfare organization. IRS guidelines require 501(c)4 organizations to have primarily a general welfare rather than personal or political focus. Hollywood NOW has few active members and very little traffic on its website. NOW has not engaged in any mass-lobbying activities to the community in furtherance of its general welfare goals of intersectionality and women’s empowerment. Hollywood NOW does not have much visibility to the general public–except in its political activities.”
Per NOW’s policy, the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women is now setting up a “grievance committee” to address the complaints. Karen Eyres has objected to that, stating that it is up to the Hollywood NOW chapter to review the complaints and decide if they have merit. However Kolieka Seigle, president of the California National Organization for Women has said that is the role of the California chapter of NOW and the state organization will proceed.
WEHOville has reached out to Erickson his comments on the complaint filed with NOW but has not received a response.