Opinion: Consider Library Naming Options Carefully Rather than Rush to Choose Heilman or Ginsburg

West Hollywood Library

In 2009, upon the death of long-time City Councilmember Sal Guarriello, the then City Council made the unwise decision to avoid a special election and instead anointed Lindsey Horvath as a councilmember. They attempted to justify this affront to democracy by, among other things, the high costs associated with a special election. Democracy is not cheap. I called bullpucky then and I reassert that charge now. That cloakroom arrangement dealt the power of incumbency and unfair advantage on Ms. Horvath that will forever be a stain on her legitimacy.

Similarly, we now face a debate over whether or not to name the West Hollywood Library after John Heilman who has served West Hollywood honorably for 36 years and for whom current law affords an opportunity to serve one more four-year term. While I will make arguments against naming opportunities generally, the present issue specifically confers unfair advantage on Mr. Heilman if he chooses to seek that final term in office. So long as that option exists, it is ill advised, and indeed unfair for him to receive an honor that lends him unfair messaging advantage should he choose to exercise his rightful option.

More to the point, however, is the premise that public service is a noble calling, for which all are qualified, but few seek to answer. I applaud those who do, and especially applaud those with skins thick enough to endure the critique that is our duty as voters and citizens to inflict on elected officials. There should be no expectation of grandeur beyond the nobility of being of service.

I have also commented previously on the Biblical command to do good work and not draw attention to oneself or to claim credit and demand recognition. I have specifically cited the quiet eloquence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and my strong opinion that such subtle strength roared with the ferocity of a lion. None of that brilliance will result in renaming the United States Supreme Court building after her, nor indeed after any jurist who has served there. To do so would be an insult to any of the other 113 men and women who have served on the high court in our nation’s history. The strength of that institution transcends any personality that has served it. The same should hold true in West Hollywood, where many men and woman have and continue to serve on council.

I have spoken previously of the sycophancy that attends local politics. Renaming a library for a former member of the city’s governing body, who retains an option of one additional term, has already and will continue to spark feuds based on long-standing loyalties, divisions, and clique-based public discourse. The debate, before and after any council decision, will lay bare those grudges, long-standing loyalties, cancel culture, group think and ego in an already divisive state of politics, even at the local level. One only needs to read the commentary (often ensconced in the comfort of anonymity, which often gives rise to toxicity in discourse) that follows articles and op-eds here in WEHOville to find numerous illustrations of that fear.

If we are to enter the fraught world of naming things, there should be more review than the rushed exercise underway now, and there should be time and consideration given to developing some mission statement for making naming recommendations. As a starting point, clearly deceased status should be the number one consideration, and the five-year period previously in place seems entirely reasonable. Second, we should give preference to a namesake who has some professional connection to the building’s purpose and mission. Finally, if peer politicians are to be included in the possibilities for naming, then we must remove the process entirely from the hands of the City Council. The rightful place for these recommendations should in the care of a citizen’s commission, with such recommendations placed on the ballot for a vote by the entire electorate. There is no need for hastiness on an honorary matter that will outlive us all.

I urge the City Council to reject any naming opportunities for the West Hollywood Library at this time. I do so with great respect and admiration for the history of contributions made by Mr. Heilman to the formation and strong governance of the City of West Hollywood. His name, and those of his peers with whom he has served, appears on plaques around the city commemorating projects completed during his long tenure. We should always remember those contributions and the brass from which those plaques are forged will withstand the test of time.

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Robert Switzer
Robert Switzer
9 months ago

I suggested to Council Member Meister that the City honor its founder, the late Ronald L. Stone, who is credited by none other than John Heilman himself in a Los Angeles Times article as the individual who made the incorporation of West Hollywood possible. Sadly, Mr. Stone died a few years after cityhood occurred. We should not forget him.

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-08-29-mn-732-story.html

Danielle Harris
Danielle Harris
9 months ago

Well stated and thanks for the reminder of how Lindsey Horvath got her start in WeHo politics. We have bigger issues to worry about than renaming buildings right now. But this wouldn’t be the first time that streets and buildings have been named after living and sometimes currently serving politicians – see Carson for an example.

Michael Grace
Michael Grace
9 months ago

Naming the library after named Judge Ginsburg works from a public relations POV and is a plus. It would get national media attention and certainly help a city that’s going to need a lot of hype. Because of the economic hit it’s taken from the Covid CCP Virus ordeal.

As for the practice of naming City buildings or Parks etc after politicians it’ offers no media value at all because basically no one knows who these people are beyond the city limits. Within the city limits, most likely only 5% would even know who John Heilman is within them

Last edited 9 months ago by Michael Grace
Sanae A Garcia, NWP
Sanae A Garcia, NWP
9 months ago

I completely agree. Why do we always feel the need to put former politician’s names on our public buildings?

Art
Art
9 months ago

I have not read a better thought out commentary on this subject!

Jerome Cleary
Jerome Cleary
9 months ago

Why not name it after Rita Norton who worked tirelessly for our library for decades. She’s a local resident that passed several years ago and is well known and was well liked in our West Hollywood community.

Alison
Alison
9 months ago
Reply to  Jerome Cleary

Why name it after anybody?

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
9 months ago
Reply to  Alison

Agree

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
9 months ago
Reply to  Alison

agree

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
9 months ago

In reality, RGB’s legacy bears a serious flaw. President Obama & VP Biden gently encouraged her to resign at that particular time so Obama could appoint another younger liberal justice who would be worthy of her seat. Justice Ginsberg refused, saying “Who could do it better than me?” Needless to say the current debacle that gave us the 3 (mind you 3!) of Trump’ conservative (right wing fanatical) court members has changed American history for the worse for generations to come & RGB is directly responsible for the current court makeup .Not good

Randy
Randy
9 months ago

I agree that the library should be left alone, not name it after anyone. But RGB’s contributions far outweigh what you consider to be a “serious flaw.” And I don’t know at what point you are saying Obama and Biden asked her to retire, but look at what happened when Obama tried to nominate a justice, 11 months before he left office. McConnell blocked it. Our system is so screwed up. The Senate Majority Leader has way too much power.

A. Lee WALKUP
9 months ago

In regard to the naming of the West Hollywood County Library I do NOT support the December 2020 re-naming effort. The late, revered RBG did not have a particular library affiliation with the possible exception of that of Congress or the Supreme Court; neither need re-naming. John HEILMAN is not elegible, being very much alive; I know him well enough, over 30 years, to assure everyone that he does not seek that honor. If anyone be a candidate for such an honor, it would be the late Rita NORTON. She was the WeHo local library’s “assistant” from 1971 to 1993… Read more »

Observer
Observer
9 months ago

Please be aware that the following will be discussed at this Monday’s, December 21st, City Council Meeting. This is a cut and paste from the agenda. You should read this Item 5C in its entirety on the City’s web site.

5.C. REQUEST TO RENAME THE WEST HOLLYWOOD LIBRARY IN HONOR OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG [L. MEISTER, S. SHYNE, J. LEONARD, A. LOVANO, J. DUCKWORTH]:

While I revere Justice Ginsburg, I think the library should not be named for anyone. Leave the name as it is.

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
9 months ago
Reply to  Observer

Agree

Vigilant
Vigilant
9 months ago
Reply to  Observer

Justice Ginsburg appeared to be well capable of speaking for herself. One wonders how she would feel about having fallen into the soup.

The entire subject seems like beating a dead horse deader than dead.

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
9 months ago

I think it’s a sad commentary when someone has to go around town trying to solicit support & encourage people to name a building after him. It’s pathetic. Anyone who does this is strictly self serving & ego driven & it’s really not about the library, it’s about his name. I don’t understand why the proud name of the “West Hollywood Library” has to be renamed. With the exception of Torrance, there are no country libraries named after individual people, they all bear the name of the city in which they’re located That makes sense & is as it should… Read more »

Larry Block
Larry Block
9 months ago

You are very wrong in thinking that John Heilman is going around trying to get support to name the building after him. In fact, John Heilman called after hearing about this and asked for his name to be removed from consideration. Your reading old news. New news will come out monday at the council.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
9 months ago
Reply to  Larry Block

Well that should end the speculation. Maybe he should inform the press as his advocates have been pretty vocal.

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Fake News’s, Misinformation and complete fabrication. I would ask why the new Mayor Pro Tem and the new Councilmember Shyne for their first item on they have signed jointly since the election is about renaming? They renaming of anything is nonsense at this moment in time.

Rudi Logan
Rudi Logan
9 months ago

Nicely written, Mr. Strasburg. You have a fluid, logical style and make your points well.

The people have spoken regarding Mr. Heilman. He should accept his loss with grace and retire to private life where he can continue to benefit the public in private.

Richard
Richard
9 months ago

A thoughtful and well-stated view of this topic, however I find the headline to be misleading. As far as I can tell, nobody is talking about naming the library after Ginsburg. Strasburg is simply using RBG as an example of why a public figure, even a highly respected one, might not be a good choice to name a building after, even when she was so closely connected to its function. RBG is merely a point of reasoning in this piece and should not be mentioned in the headline in a way that could lead readers to believe she is being… Read more »

Richard
Richard
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard

To add to my comment… it appears from another reader’s comment that there is consideration about naming the library in honor of RBG. That was not mentioned in the article however, hence my comment. Glad to see this thoughtful article and discussion here.

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Read the Agenda for the Council meeting on Monday, December 21st. Item 5.C.REQUEST TO RENAME THE WEST HOLLYWOOD LIBRARY IN HONOR OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG [L. MEISTER, S. SHYNE, J. LEONARD, A. LOVANO, J. DUCKWORTH].

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