Whether or not you think West Hollywood is a better place since Lindsey Horvath began serving on City Council, the mark she has left on the city is impressive and indelible. Her hard work, her steely resolve and her vision have all helped define WeHo’s identity in this day and age.
In the 13 years since she first became a councilmember, Horvath’s passion for progressive politics has in many ways become the law of the land here in WeHo. Her drive to effect change and her studious approach to governing helped give us the highest minimum wage in the country, a guaranteed basic income program, a domestic violence community response team, stronger protections for vulnerable populations — just a handful of examples among many achievements she’s made for progressive causes. As mayor during the majority of the COVID pandemic in 2020-21, she steadied the ship as WeHo sailed into uncharted waters, managing both the city’s shutdown and navigating the rocky road to re-opening.
Her convictions and her commitment have won her many fans, including Sheila Kuehl, the retiring County Supervisor whose seat she hopes to capture this June.
“Lindsey is one of the bright lights and brilliant connectors in the progressive community in Los Angeles,” Kuehl said. “She is a longtime leader on women’s, LGBTQ+ and transportation issues.”
Kuehl endorsed Horvath almost immediately after she announced she was running, and since then she has earned the backing of many of the area’s influential Democratic clubs and the powerful UNITE HERE Local 11 labor union.
Others have been harder to win over. In online forums such as the comments sections here on WEHOville, Horvath has faced a sharp, steady stream of criticism from a vocal contingent of residents and community members. The accusations thrown her way have ranged from the fair to the absurd, and the intensity of the criticism has been viewed by some as misogynistic.
But Horvath is no pushover. In many respects, the opposition has toughened Horvath’s resolve and burnished her reputation as a fighter for what she believes in.
But what does she believe in?
WEHOville had the opportunity to ask the councilmember about her values and her vision, her past and her present, and where a path to victory in the County Supervisor race might lead in this exclusive interview.
Introduce yourself to the WeHo voter who knows nothing about you.
I’m a city councilmember. I’ve served at the local level in local government for about 15 years and it’s that experience of implementing programs on the ground in our community that sets me apart in this race. I got into the race with a sense of urgency on the issues that are facing our region — from homelessness and housing, keeping our communities safe, getting our businesses back up and running and people into work, and good jobs that afford themselves and their families a good quality of life, and of course, building out our regional transportation infrastructure, making good on the promises of Measures R and M and since I’ll have a seat at the table in terms of Metro, I want to make sure that we are are making progress in our transportation infrastructure.
Where did you grow up? How did you get here?
I grew up in the Midwest on the east side of Cleveland. I lived there till I was 15.
My family moved to Las Vegas at that time and so I went to high school in Las Vegas. The mayor of the city now was my guidance counselor in high school.
After high school I went to the University of Notre Dame where I graduated with honors. I was a double major in political science and gender studies and after graduation I came to Los Angeles. I was recruited by a musical theater academy to perform. I thought I was going to go to law school at UCLA. They have an excellent gender and orientation program and that was the area of interest I thought I was going to focus on in law.
And it turned out as a Millennial I had a lot of student debt and I needed to get to work to make sure I had not only a good paycheck but healthcare — and this was pre-Obamacare — and so I took to work in a creative advertising agency and I’ve worked in that industry since 2004.
Proudest moment on City Council?
The thing I’m most proud of is being able to bring new and different voices into the conversation in our community. At the time I was first appointed and then again elected to the City Council, I was the only person under the age of 40. I and about 50 percent of our city (residents are) under the age of 40. So we helped to diversify representation on our boards and commissions and bringing new new people into the conversation. I think I helped to diversify how we thought about policies impacting our community, how we could bring generations together.
Not only were we focused on a new generation of leadership, but also we created our Aging in Place community plan led by my commissioner, Barbara Meltzer, who also serves on the county commission for older adults.
A lot of the standard-setting policies that we have created in our community that have served our broader region have come because we’ve brought new people into the fold and so I think that’s what I’m most proud of — bringing more people into our political process and into our decision making.
What is it like enduring the daily criticism online and in social media that is often directed at you?
Well it’s certainly not fun, but I would say what I really stay focused on is why I ran and why people elected me.
My job is not to focus on myself; my job is to be of service to the community, and so focusing on the work that we do as local elected officials, focusing on the work I’m entrusted to do on behalf of the city when I serve as president of California Contract Cities Association or as chair of the Legislative and Regulatory Committee for Clean Power Alliance or serving on the Board for the National League of Cities or as president of Women in Municipal Government — all of those are opportunities for me to represent our community, our values, and use those opportunities to help advance policy goals that that are important to our community and to local governments throughout the country and to making sure that I’m focused on what what people need the most.
And that’s why I’m excited about running for L.A. County Supervisor. It is the social safety net for all of our local communities. It is the place where people who are often forgotten about or left out or actively discriminated against are the people who are most vulnerable in our society. It is the county that is their safety net. I’m really excited to be able to center the people who need help the most, and that’s really what gets me through — focusing on helping them.
What do your detractors get wrong about you?
There are people who want to launch personal attacks for whatever their reasons and I think that’s unfortunate because right now after a time of extreme division not only locally but throughout the country, and after a time where we were physically divided from each other because of COVID, what we need more than ever is to try and bring people together.
I’ve seen people say that this is really about me, but I’m running because it’s about my community. It’s about the people that I’m intending to serve and focusing on bringing people together.
I was actually asked to get into this race by housing advocates, by the transportation advocates, by people who are working to change our justice system, by people who are very concerned about health care and access to reproductive rights, and so people see in me an ability to lead and to help bring people together and that’s why I got into this race — to be of service on these issues that are very important to our community and to the district and to the county as a whole.
While your political stance is very progressive today, it hasn’t always been. In 2000, you registered as a Republican and campaigned for President George W. Bush. Our readers are hoping you might explain how your views on fundamental issues like reproductive rights and foreign policy have changed over time. They ask, ‘How do we know your positions now or how you really feel?’
Well, my political party designation changed shortly after I first registered. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was with the wrong party based on the things that have been my values in terms of fighting for working families, trying to uplift people who need help the most, being of service — and those are things that have been with me for a long time.
But what I saw was that the party with which I had originally registered did not commit to those issues in the ways that I wanted to see.
They were focused on things that were not priorities for me, which is why I shortly thereafter became a Democrat and have been completely dedicated to fighting for progressive change — helping to un-elect George W. Bush, or at least trying to in 2004, and focusing on helping to elect Democrats up and down the ticket, and helping to advance progressive policies that actually help to support our most vulnerable residents.
The COVID pandemic has left many voters feeling like elected officials don’t abide by the rules they make the public live under. What are your feelings about that?
I think people had a lot of frustrations during COVID and when people see anyone in positions of authority not adhering to the rules that they’re intended to uphold I can certainly understand how that’s frustrating. I work to hold myself to high standards and make sure that we’re advocating for policies that make sense for our community and that we intend to abide.
You criticized your opponent Sen. Bob Hertzberg, questioning his trustworthiness, because he’d received so many endorsements from law enforcement agencies and unions. Did you seek out those same endorsements?
Well, what I criticized him for was, as a person who’s endorsed by all of the law enforcement associations, I just questioned whether we could trust his ability to hold them accountable if every single law enforcement association says that he’s the best guy for the job. I think anyone who’s in this position has to work with law enforcement, as I have as a city councilmember.
It’s not about whether or not you work with law enforcement, it’s about how you’re able to do that. We have had a good working relationship in many ways with our local West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. We’ve also had questions come up from time to time about things that have happened at the station in our community and in the department as a whole that impact us locally.
It’s through that perspective and also as chair of the Liability Trust Fund Claims Board and Oversight Committee where I’ve seen the deputy-involved incidents and the liabilities they’ve caused. They’ve cost us at the local level, and cities that contract for service as well as the county as a whole.
And of course the cost in terms of public trust and the loss of life that we’ve seen with some incidents that I think people rightly question. I think it’s important for anyone who holds this seat to be able to ask those tough questions and hold the department accountable where it falls short in the same way that any elected official needs to be held accountable to the promises that they make when they’re running and to what is expected of them when they’re in that office.
But did you seek out those endorsements?
I wasn’t endorsed by any law enforcement agencies. I didn’t seek (the endorsement of) every law enforcement agency as he did. I did meet with the Sheriff’s Department. I’ve always had a good working relationship with them and I intend to continue to have a good working relationship with them.
What do you say to voters who do not agree with your position on the Sheriff’s Department, particularly the plan to reduce the number of Sheriff’s Department deputies patrolling West Hollywood?
We’re not saying that we want to get rid of law enforcement. What we’re saying is that we want to have the right kind of law enforcement response for the right kind of issues right and set enforcement officials up for success while also supporting them with other tools — like a Behavioral Crisis Response Team, like our security ambassadors.
There are lots of tools that are available now to keep people safe, and I think we’ve seen when we have defunded things like mental health services, we’ve seen a lot of issues related to mental illness, and we’ve seen people who have struggled with mental illness either because they were unhoused or before they became unhoused, and so making sure that we’re investing in both services and care as well as keeping people safe and making sure our law enforcement officials have the resources they need to fight violent crime, which they are trained to do I think — that’s the right, winning approach.
It’s not only smart because it sets our law enforcement officials up to succeed but it’s also fiscally responsible. It helps to make sure that we’re spending resources more effectively. What I hear from people in our community as well as throughout the district is a desire for there to be more of a presence in communities, to have eyes and ears out there in neighborhoods, trying to keep people safe. I don’t hear people saying they need to have more guns on the streets.
I don’t hear people saying that they need law enforcement to respond to every kind of call. What they want is to make sure that there is a response when people are in need. And I think that’s really what I’m focused on is helping our Sheriff’s Department succeed in the calls that they’re called for, helping our other service providers continue to keep us safe, and provide services and support.
Where did you meet Nika Soon-Shiong, the Public Safety Commissioner you appointed who has been among the Sheriff Department’s most vocal critics?
I was introduced to her when we were pursuing the city program for a pilot in guaranteed income and there is a Mayor’s for Guaranteed Income program that was started by former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs. His program is what introduced me to Nika. She was working with then-Mayor Asia Brown in Compton, and I learned about how she was trying to help Compton launch their guaranteed income program. From there I learned that she was a resident of West Hollywood and had been involved in organizing with groups like the Justice L.A. Coalition and so that’s how I got introduced to her.
Do you think it would be unethical to ask for or receive the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times, since Nika Soon-Shiong is the daughter of the newspaper’s owner? Would it be a conflict of interest since there’s a personal relationship there as well?
I don’t. Nika isn’t part of the editorial board. She’s not a staff member of the L.A. Times so I’m going to leave that to them to decide whether they believe it is a conflict of interest. I had a conversation with them about our race, as I’ve had with many bodies, be they press, be they community-based organizations, political groups, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to have conversations about this race and answer people’s questions just like I’m doing today.
Your seat on City Council will open up if you win the race for County Supervisor. Which of the candidates currently running would you like to see in your place?
As you might imagine I’ve been focused on my own race so we’ll see how that goes. Financial reports and filings will come up probably end of June/early July and so at that point I’ll have an idea of who is in the race to make a better assessment.
What would be the advantage for WeHo voters in electing you to the Board of Supervisors rather than keeping you as a Councilmember?
I certainly have an intimate understanding of how our city works and what our city’s needs are. But being able to be a partner and an ally in the work that the city is trying to do and being able to use the county’s resources to help support the good work that’s happening in West Hollywood, to be able to partner to showcase pilot programs and innovation that could benefit the rest of our district and the region would be a wonderful way for us to to continue to lead and make sure that the county is also helping to do its fair share on issues that are very important to folks.
In 2018 or 2019 we had a working study session as a council with representatives from the county, both from Supervisor Kuehl’s office as well as social service providers on the issue of homelessness, and we asked them what more could we be doing or what would they like to see us do differently to help improve the situation. And they said they needed to catch up to us. And I think that’s something. I really think about how we’ve been leading the way and it would be great if we saw the region stepping up and doing its part to help see that difference.
We worked so hard on the issue of homelessness locally. It would be great to see the benefit of those efforts come to life by seeing the region also taking up those efforts and doing their part, so we can make a difference year after year.
Our community is able to get about 80 percent of people who have been identified as unhoused in our community off the streets and then to housing services or both. But we also see more people come into our community intending to receive those services or at least to stay safe and so it would be great if the rest of the district and the region would also join in these efforts and follow our lead. And so I think that’s one of the benefits I hope for our community is that I’ll be able to effectuate change that we would like to see on the regional level that we’ve been innovating and implementing here in our community so we can all benefit and improve our quality of life.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with readers?
I think that what this opportunity is in terms of being able to serve as a county supervisor is to really show for not only this district but for the rest of the county the great work that’s been done in West Hollywood, and the ways that we’ve piloted innovative policies and practical solutions to problems.
There are oftentimes where we see the city of Los Angeles or others claiming achievements that West Hollywood had done months or maybe even years before, and so it’s a real point of pride for our community to be able to inform countywide policies to show how we’ve been leading the way on progressive change — whether it’s our sustainability policies, our climate action plan, and our now our climate action and adaptation plan.
The county has its own sustainability plan which I’m excited to see fully funded and implemented to make a difference for our county and to lead the way. But I think it’s also important that the values that we hold dear in our community also be reflected on the wider level. Oftentimes we’ve seen our city’s commitment to human rights and the diversity that we embrace in our community helps us have a world view that’s bigger than our borders and certainly helps to champion progressive change and important policy making.
This is an opportunity for our community to help inform the kinds of change we would like to see at the county level we’ve seen uniquely as a city since 1984 but before that as unincorporated territory in L.A. County.
Our relationship with the county administration has evolved over time and so we have a unique perspective into how the county has worked for local governments, has worked with local communities — and how it hasn’t. What I intend to do is continue building a strong, diverse coalition, which I have done as a local official and now throughout our region, to help inform how we will lead the county. I’m excited to bring the leadership ideas and creativity from our city to bear for the benefit of our broader county.