Opinion: WeHo Political Observers Need to Lighten Up in Assessing Council Candidates

Last month’s WEHOville interview with potential City Council candidate James “Duke” Mason was followed by an avalanche of negative comments that made me wonder: Has the generation that said it wouldn’t trust anyone over 30 become so ossified that we no longer trust anyone under 40?

West Hollywood City Council candidate Steve Martin
Steve Martin

Of course Duke Mason is a child of privilege, but I got a more nuanced portrait when I happened to run into him while he was monitoring a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission. I found his youthful enthusiasm to be a refreshing break from the cynicism of WeHo politics. While he didn’t conceal his silver spoon in conversation, he proved to be more interesting and complex than his pedigree. Unlike Supervisorial candidate Bobbie Shriver, who believes that political power is his birthright, Mason seemed quite cognizant that he needed to earn his credentials and that convincing the West Hollywood electorate that he is ready for prime time is not something he is taking for granted.

Indeed Mason seemed a bit abashed when I told him I saw his mother performing on the Sunset Strip before the GoGo’s had even released their first album. Apparently that occurred before he was born. I am not sure if that fact was more embarrassing to him or to me.

Duke Mason
Duke Mason

Mason made it clear that the GoGo’s front woman, Belinda Carlisle, was just “Mom”, noting that any celebrity connection was not going to get him far with the tough West Hollywood electorate. After all, even in Boystown, Heidi Shink has not helped her campaign with her incessant name dropping of her bff, Cher. Bfd.

This November West Hollywood will be turning 30. Are we as a community getting so grumpy that we don’t remember what it was like to be young and idealistic? Or is the “progressive” political label only to be flashed by aging baby boomers like a pseudo-urban gang sign?

The community snarking about Mason’s age and alleged Republican connections, both on and off the comment section of this fine publication, were disturbing and reflected a collective amnesia about West Hollywood’s own history.

When John Heilman was elected to the City Council in 1984 he was all of 25 years of age, just out of law school. His life experiences were fairly limited, and his background not exactly blue collar. Abbe Land was not much older when she got elected in 1986. She was an unemployed actress working at a catering company. Her credentials included a high school diploma. While Abbe’s youthful progressive enthusiasm was contagious, she clearly lacked the intellectual depth or political experience that Mason has managed to garner at age 22.

One of the top vote getters in the historic 1984 incorporation election was Alan Viturbi, who was already known in local Democratic circles as “the Young Zev”. Alan was all of 21 years old, but he made inroads with UCLA’s Bruin Democrats and was bright, articulate and someone who clearly was going places.

Alan was one of the new city’s most effective Council members. But after Abbe Land was elected in 1988, John Heilman suddenly commanded a three-person majority. Heilman then engaged in a campaign to quash independent voices and rivals on the Council. Feeling that his talents were wasted, Alan declined to run for re-election and backed his Council deputy, Paul Koretz, who ultimately filled Alan’s seat. But that did not change the fact that much of the historic progressive legacy of the first years of cityhood was enacted under the leadership of a youthful Alan Viturbi.

What I find amusing is that some of the incumbents that will be dismissive of Mason’s qualifications were all saying that West Hollywood needed a youthful voice to replace the late Council member Sal Guarriello. Abbe Land, with the help of Jeff Prang and John Heilman, foisted her 20-something protégé, Lindsay Horvath, on the city, making Horvath our first “unelected” City Council member in 2011.

While Horvath turned out to be a youthful political airhead whose ambitions vastly outstripped her talents that should not be a reason to assume Duke Mason has the same defects. That would be ageist, which is an issue that hits rather close to home at my age.

The subject of Horvath leads us naturally to Mason’s alleged Republican “connections.” So his dad worked as protocol chief in the Reagan White House; that is not exactly a policy-making position. As far as I know, political preference is not genetic.

When former City Councilmember Lindsay Horvath was Mason’s age, she was a college Republican in Indiana writing articles in praise of George W. Bush. When that fact came up during the 2013 Council election, Horvath’s supporters such as Jeff Prang and Abbe Land did not disavow her. They simply wrote off her early Republicanism as “youthful” foolishness. The Democratic Party of the County of Los Angeles still endorsed her, largely on Prang and Land’s lobbying. Mason at least has a history of working for progressive Democrats. Obviously when Mason was young, he was not as politically dumb as Lindsay Horvath.

Councilmember Jeff Prang likes to promote himself as “Mr. Democrat.” Yet that did not stop him from working for Republican Sheriff Lee Baca for nearly a dozen years. While Prang recently described himself as a “senior policy advisor” to the Sheriff, Baca’s tenure was marked by incompetence and a long list of ethic violations involving campaign contributors.

Let’s not forget that some of our best friends are Republicans. While Scott Schmidt is a Log Cabin Republican, he was a highly effective Transportation Commissioner, and he has been a thoughtful community advocate. Jeff Prang had no problem appointing his former roommate, Brad Torgan, to the Planning Commission and now the Cultural Heritage Commission, even though Brad is a Republican activist and former Republican candidate for the state legislature. In his recent bid for County Supervisor, John Duran made a point of telling the Los Angeles Times he was doing outreach to Republican voters, promoting himself as the “fiscally responsible” candidate.

So unless the folks who disparaged Mason for hiring a Republican campaign consultant decide to hold our Council members accountable for their Republican “connections” maybe we should not make ill-considered attacks based on our partisan political prejudices. After all, we have real issues to discuss.

Today, the political “wisdom” in this community is that no one is qualified to run the City Council unless he or she has spent decades on the Council. That is simply rubbish. The current Council is complacent, self-congratulatory and generally intellectually incurious. The City has a well deserved reputation for corrupt “pay to play” politics, and we are a long way from the original vision of a City that would be a model of participatory democracy.

The defenders of the status quo can cackle all they like, but the reality is that the electorate adopted term limits overwhelmingly despite the fact the entire West Hollywood Establishment, with the exception of Mayor John D’Amico, came out against the measure. We have term limits because the public understands West Hollywood needs new leadership that won’t become entrenched and solely focused on clinging to office.

While the 2015 City Council field may be historically crowded, my observation is that most of the candidates who have announced to date have something to say. Rather than letting those who are enamored with the status quo disparage these challengers, why don’t we hear them out? Being dismissive of Mason simply because of his age is just as bad as being dismissive of someone who may be heterosexual, religious, owns a cat or is even a Republican. We have plenty of time to winnow out the candidates who are not ready for prime time. But we owe it to the candidates, as well as to ourselves, to hear if any of them have new ideas that might pull the West Hollywood body politic out of its current malaise. Let the debates begin.

Steve Martin is a former City Council member, current Democrat and daddy of two cats.


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Scott T Imler
Guest

While there are plenty of public safety and quality of life issues that drive WEHO’s economy sized electorate to the polls, the most common cry is about a genuinely participatory process – or lack thereof. It seems to me that we need more than contracted community engagement consultants and insta-noodle consent committes to fully realize the democratic values on which the City was founded. An insider’s incumbency game can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the level of government. While experienced and well-connected representatives can accomplish great deeds in the public interest through time-tested relationships and institutional… Read more »

Christopher
Guest
Christopher

A fresh voice would definitely be welcome. I am so tired of Heilman in particular with his smug and dismissive “Let them eat cake” attitude, and his refusal to even consider any complaints about corruption and financial shenanigans in the Russian sector. This city has run so off course from its original founding ideals that it has become a sad, albeit outrageously expensive, joke.

Scott Stoddard
Guest
Scott Stoddard

WeHo could do a whole lot worse than James Duke Mason. Such specious and complex city affairs! Oh my, as if WeHo were some special place that has issues far more important and complex than, say, Defiance, Ohio or Waycross, Georgia. Get over yourselves. James Duke Mason is an intelligent and passionate young man who cares about WeHo and the LGBT movement. He would be a fine addition to your council. The petty attacks here against him and Martin are just more infighting and backbiting from the small town political class that would love to be entrenched but has been… Read more »

Alison
Guest
Alison

@luca d – Your entire post is disrespectful.

luca d
Guest
luca d

meow. i always smile when weho’s own version of harold stassen lectures about civility, while tossing his crunchies at others.
young go-go will have his opportunity to go up against all the pretenders and side show acts, the fools who hang dolls from their roof or those who generally embarrass themselves with their lack of knowledge of city affairs.
i’ll be happy to listen to ‘go-go’ and hear what he thinks about the future.

Todd Bianco
Guest

There will be 3 and maybe 4 seats up for grabs in the 2015 election if Jeff Prang wins his election to be the LA County Assessor (I support him for this job). Maybe John Heliman will decide that his 30 year legacy is good enough and decide not to run again. Maybe Abbe is too busy with her well-compensated duties at The Trevor Project and she may choose not to run. So 2015 could be a turning point for West Hollywood. All voters should be educated on the candidates and their positions and what unique qualities or talents they… Read more »

Jason Franklin
Guest
Jason Franklin

So I’m guessing either you are getting free tickets to his mother’s next show or you are working on his campaign?

This editorial seems not only bought but also wrought with sexism, hypocrisy, and sheer hatred towards a specific female person. While Steve cares so much about ageist comments, he sure has no problem stating sexist things. Anyone who knows anything knows how openly Steve hated Lindsey and his “sugar coating” here is shameful!

Shame on you and shame on WeHoVille for running such a blatantly sexist attack piece.

Manny
Guest
Manny

All anyone knows about this candidate is that he is young and has republican ties.The republican thing shouldn’t really matter considering that Weho voters in 2011 supported the republican funded term limits campaign. But observers of Weho politics have nothing else to to judge him on. Who is he? What does he stand for? What does he want to do with Plummer Park? Does he want safe crosswalks? Does he like streamline architecture? Is he concerned about “Big Box” houses? Does he like extended meter hours? What’s his position SB1818? For those who pay attention (those are the ones that… Read more »

Flores St.
Guest
Flores St.

Many people who like to comment only have negative things to say or are often contradictory. They demand the city council reduce traffic somehow while also making parking free and removing cross-walks that make our city more pedestrian-friendly. They aren’t able to point to even one development of which they actually approve. They blame everything that is going wrong in the city on buildings that aren’t even occupied yet.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Steve So well said…..”The current Council is complacent, self-congratulatory and generally intellectually incurious. The City has a well deserved reputation for corrupt “pay to play” politics, and we are a long way from the original vision of a City that would be a model of participatory democracy.” Youth has clearly played a large roll in the life of this city. We are slowly losing it and them to the visions of the few. Youth is our countries future and many have a way better grasp on what is happening today and how to make it happen. Almost 31 years ago… Read more »