LOS ANGELES — John Duran is running as a law and order candidate for West Hollywood City Council, posing in front of sheriff’s cruisers on his campaign website and touting his endorsement by the deputies’ union.
It’s a stark contrast to the Duran of the early 1990s, when as an activist lawyer in his 30s, he helped sue the LA County Sheriff’s Department for alleged discrimination against a gay deputy and for refusing medicine to a gay inmate with AIDS.
Duran, 63, spent two decades on the West Hollywood City Council and is now considered part of the political old guard in this famously liberal and gay city, as many young residents embrace a brand of progressiveness far to the left of its founding fathers.
The Nov. 8 election has become a generational battle in West Hollywood, which made international headlines when it was incorporated in 1984 with the nation’s first city council to have an openly gay majority.
With three board seats contested, many are throwing accusations that the other side has sold itself out – the moderates to big business and developers, and the progressives to outside activists and unions.
Duran and two other former councilors hope to regain their seats and sway a council they say has veered too far left due to its economic policies and decision to cut the sheriff’s staff.
“Now I’m the quote-unquote conservative, which is weird because I’ve been a liberal Democrat most of my life,” Duran said. “But compared to what’s out there? I’ve become the moderate voice – pro-Sheriff, pro-House [of Commerce]pro business.”
In 2020, the balance of power shifted within the municipal council.
Duran – who has been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment during his tenure, including by a former aide he hired after meeting Grindr and having sex with him – and John Heilman, who has been on the board since founding the city, lost their at-large seats to two younger, more liberal candidates.
On the heels of the nationwide funding of the police movement, the council decided this summer to phase out up to four West Hollywood sheriff’s deputies while hiring 30 additional unarmed security officers to police the streets.
(The council voted in September to delay cuts planned for that month until December, citing a reduction in crime after more security officers were hired. No MPs have yet been removed from office – and they would not lose their jobs but would be reassigned within the sheriff’s department. .)
Last year, the council voted unanimously to implement what was then the highest minimum wage in the country – $17.64 an hour – and require full-time workers to benefit from at least 96 hours of paid annual sick, vacation or personal leave, with part-time employees getting a proportional amount of paid leave.
The rulings drew anger from the Chamber of Commerce and residents concerned about crime — and praise from progressive unions and activists who flocked to town hall meetings.
Twelve people are vying for the three at-large seats held by Mayor Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico.
In addition to Duran and Heilman, another former city councilman, Steve Martin, is running.
“We’re coming out of COVID, we’re all grumpy, and we’ve got this judgmental city council trying to impose its woke worldview,” said Martin, 68, who served on council from 1994 to 2003.
Martin, who moved to West Hollywood in 1979, is running because he disagrees with the staff cuts, saying they will slow response times at a time when residents are worried about crime and homelessness.
In a text message, Heilman, 65, called the deputy cut “stupid” and said he wanted to “help get back to basics”.
He and Duran, along with Meister, were endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee and the Sheriff’s Deputies Union.
D’Amico, who voted to cut MPs, said in an email he was baffled by claims by former councilors that the current council is too influenced by outsiders.
“I guess they forget what happened when they pushed for the city, the domestic partnerships and [same-sex] wedding – all headline-grabbing ideas pushed by strangers, but turns out it was exactly what was needed next,” he wrote.
D’Amico said he is retiring because he believes the board needs new, young leadership.
“This whole Chamber of Commerce ‘Make West Hollywood great again’ campaign is a proxy for late ’90s developer ideas championed by the current crop of 60-year-old queer candidates stagnating in their must be needed” , wrote D’Amico, who is 59 and, like former city councilors, gay.
Meister, 62, voted against the deputy cuts. A post funded by Unite Here Local 11, which represents hospitality workers, features images of her and Duran with grimacing faces. They “just don’t act like Democrats,” the Mail says.
Meister said in an email that although she is a lifelong Democrat, she is “everybody’s board member, not just those in one party.”
“Many are uncomfortable with a new division that has recently been injected,” she said.
Before joining the board in 2015, Meister led a successful campaign in 2013 to limit terms on the board, at a time when all but one member had spent more than a decade in office.
Among the newcomers running for city council this year is Zekiah Wright, who is endorsed by Unite Here Local 11, which has lobbied for higher minimum wages and a hotel employee ordinance that limits the charge of daily work of housekeepers.
The union also supports two other progressive candidates, Robert Oliver and Chelsea Byers.
Wright, a 36-year-old lawyer, moved to the city last November precisely because it’s such a progressive place.
It’s “a city that was so strange and assertive,” Wright said. “I want to make sure we preserve that so other people can come down south or come from anywhere and see – ‘Oh my god, a community exists where I can feel welcome.'”
Wright supports the decision to hire unarmed security guards to supplement deputies and said the city needs to consider alternatives to law enforcement when dealing with homeless people, especially those experiencing crises. of mental health.
“We rely on the sheriffs to do it. It’s not their job, they’re not equipped,” Wright said. “There’s not much they can do, especially if the person isn’t committing a crime.”
Ben Savage, the actor best known for his role in “Boy Meets World,” is another political newcomer aiming to join the council.
Savage, 42, has lived in West Hollywood for 18 years and said he was worried about the safety of his elderly neighbors and young parents. He said he would support “restoring the appropriate number” of sheriff’s deputies to speed up emergency response times.
“For me, it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Savage said. “There should be proper funding for sheriffs, but there should also be increased funding for mental health programs, clinical services, and short- and long-term housing. … It’s a false choice that there must be one or the other.”
Keith Kaplan, 62, a realtor and president of WeHo for the People – a Chamber of Commerce-backed coalition that has spoken out against the new progressive policies – said the city had “been hijacked by special interest groups”.
He said the new council members were too influenced by Unite Here and embraced “virtue signaling” policies.
Danielle Wilson, research analyst at Unite Here Local 11 and West Hollywood tenant for three years, said it was “shocking that people are talking about our members like they don’t live in the city.” About 100 union members live there, she said.
“I think for some of these people, it’s hard for them to imagine that a dishwasher or a room attendant or even a banquet server could possibly be their next door neighbor,” Wilson, 29, said.
The race exposed some nasty flaws for Albert Muñoz, a Writers Guild of America organizer who has lived in West Hollywood since 2019.
Muñoz, 41, voted against the incumbents in 2020 and was proud to see the council cut the number of sheriff’s deputies and raise the minimum wage. He is troubled by accusations that these policies are mainly supported by outside interests and not actual residents.
He said there was a generational divide – but also “a divide about being more inclusive of black and brown people and people with different gender identities”.
“When people talk about who is ‘younger,’ that could also be code for different demographics,” said Muñoz, who is Latino and gay.
Meanwhile, Karim Amersi, owner of Hollywood Cleaners on Santa Monica Boulevard, likes “pro-business” applicants.
He said he was a moderate – “a Bill Clinton Democrat and an Obama Democrat” – but the council had swung too far left.
Amersi, 54, is angry at the deputy’s cut. Crime and homelessness seem out of control, he said.
It remained open until midnight. About a year ago, Amersi began closing at 9 p.m. because it thought it was too dangerous for its employees to work late. Cars have been broken into in the parking lot, despite its bright floodlights, and homeless people are sleeping outside the front door, he said.
A few nights ago, Amersi, who has worked night shifts for a long time, arrived around 2 a.m., and a man sleeping outside pulled out a penknife and threatened him.
A few months before, he says, a homeless man asked for his wallet. Amersi’s young son had left a toy gun in the car, he said, and he pulled it out, managing to dissuade the man.
Amersi now lives in Sherman Oaks. But he has West Hollywood political signs plastered all over the dry cleaner’s windows. Among the candidates he likes are Duran, Heilman and Meister.
“I think we are now at the point where we need experience,” he said.
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