The allegations and anger that have characterized this year’s election for two seats on the West Hollywood City council flared at the council meeting Monday in a confrontation between challenger Steve Martin and supporters of incumbents Jeffrey Prang and John Duran.
When Martin came to the podium to speak, about eight supporters of Duran and Prang, seated in the front two rows of the audience, held campaign signs high above their heads, blocking the view of the people behind them. Many in the audience yelled out “Rude!”
The signs were lowered after Prang banged the gavel and told the audience to respect the speakers. Martin called their action “fascist” and told Duran, who has focused his re-election campaign against Martin, to “send your dogs out.”
During the public comment period of the meeting, Vince Roncone, who is employed by the Duran re-election team, said Martin had been rude calling them “dogs” and that they are “human beings.”
Well over an hour of the 90-minute meeting was consumed by public commenters explaining why they were supporting or opposing Measure C, a proposal on today’s ballot that would limit council members in the future to three four-year terms, or voting for a particular candidate.
“Yes on Measure C” campaign manager Scott Schmidt, also speaking during the public comment period, said that, regardless of the election’s outcome, it is clear by the thousands who signed the petition to get term limits on the ballot that residents want change. Term limits supporters garnered 3,454 signatures from local residents on a petition forcing the City Council to put the measure on today’s ballot.
“They believe that we can do better as a city than we are doing now,” said Schmidt, who also called on the council to create an ethics commission.
Another speaker, West Hollywood resident Chris Tucker, said term limits are not needed because the city is running in an orderly fashion.
“Why should we take that away?” said Tucker. “We’re a well-oiled machine. Why would you stop operations?”
Another contentious moment came when Erik Barker, an at-large appointee to the Business License Commission, said he felt pressured when Duran emailed him asking for his endorsement for the election. As a result, Barker said he felt compelled to resign from the commission. He said that there should be a new way of selecting city commissioners rather than a “pay for play, quid-pro-quo situation.”
Five members of the Business License Commission are appointed by individual council members, while two at-large members are appointed by the council as a whole.
While Duran did not address Barker’s accusations at Monday’s meeting, he dismissed similar concerns raised at the Jan. 17, 2012 council meeting. At that meeting, during a discussion on election reforms, several other commission and board members said they’d also felt pressured to endorse incumbents they didn’t believe in. Duran said that asking for endorsements is just part of the political process and that people can always say no. At that same meeting, Councilmember John D’Amico pointed out board or commission members might fear for their political future too much to say no. D’Amico, in fact, sparked controversy when he removed Lauren Meister from the city Planning Commission, saying he had promised the position to attorney John Altschul in exchange for Altschul’s support of D’Amico’s council campaign.
Finally, Larry Block who six weeks ago stood before the council unsuccessfully trying to get Councilmember John Heilman to shake D’Amico’s hand, returned for another round.
This time, Block said that Heilman’s refusal to shake D’Amico’s hand was an “intimidation” and that it made Heilman “look like a sissy and our council look weak.”
Block went on to criticize Duran and Prang for failing to broker peace between Heilman and D’Amico.
“You two big boys running for re-election can’t negotiate a handshake between your 10-year-plus colleague and the new councilmember?” Block asked.