Analysis: Behind the Scenes — John Duran and the WeHo City Council Election

He’s the one West Hollywood City Council member who isn’t up for re-election. But John Duran nevertheless appears to be playing a significant role in the increasingly heated campaign.

John Duran
West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran

According to political insiders, none of whom is willing to be quoted by name, Duran is an organizer of “Friends of West Hollywood: A Committee to Elect John D’Amico, John Heilman, Lindsey Horvath and Joe Guardarrama to the West Hollywood City Council.” That so-called “independent expenditure committee” had raised $130,000 as of Feb. 14 — about 20 percent of total campaign funding — with most of the money coming from real estate developers. The committee’s principal officer is George Urch, who also was the principal of “Friends of West Hollywood: A Committee to Re-Elect John Duran” in the 2013 City Council election.

And while the committee by name is supporting the re-election of Mayor John D’Amico, none of its campaign mailings promote his candidacy. That, political insiders say, is because Duran is upset that D’Amico endorsed challenger Lauren Meister, whom Duran is said to dislike.

While most of the “Friends Of” committee’s mailings endorse Heilman, Horvath and Guardarrama (and ignore D’Amico), a recent one — probably the nastiest to date in this campaign — focuses on Meister. It quotes negative comments about her from WeHoNews, an opinion blog written by Ryan Gierach, a longtime supporter of Duran. It attacks Meister’s claim that she opposes overdevelopment by saying she solicited campaign contributions from the Beverly Hills / Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors (Meister notes that its members sell real estate, not develop it). And it attacks her claim that she has business experience (Meister is a research consultant) by noting only that she once ran a company that sold adult novelty products and marital aids for women.

That mailer drew a quick response from Horvath, who noted that she has no control over what the independent expenditure committee does. In an email to WEHOville she wrote: “As someone who has dedicated a great deal of time to encouraging women to seek elected office, I am disheartened by what I found in my mailbox yesterday: a campaign mailer sent out by an independent expenditure campaign attacking candidate Lauren Meister. This mailer underscores one of the reasons why we have so few women in elected office. Female candidates want to talk about issues, not be fodder for exaggerated, personal attacks that have no place in politics.

“When I read the attacks on Lauren, I was reminded how I felt when I was attacked in my 2011 campaign for City Council — disgusted and sad. I immediately called Lauren to offer sympathy and to reinforce my commitment to running a campaign focused on what should matter to voters: my record and positions on the issues.”

Guardarrama also issued a statement criticizing the mailer: “Earlier today I was emailed a copy of the mailer put out by the ‘Friends of West Hollywood’ independent expenditure committee (which by definition is not associated or coordinated with any candidate or their campaign) which seeks to show Lauren Meister in a negative light. The attacks made in the mailer are sleazy and misogynistic, and I am disgusted by them. All of us in this race- including Ms. Meister- have run positive campaigns, and we have focused solely on our records and on the issues. Mailers like this have absolutely no place in this campaign, and I, as well as everyone on my team, repudiate tactics like this in the strongest terms possible.”

Another “Friends of West Hollywood” mailer, ironic given that it is paid for by the real estate developer-dominated group, also mentions Horvath, along with Heilman, endorsing them as “The West Hollywood Renters’ Rights Team.”

Duran’s name also surfaced in the recent comedic brew ha ha over a lawsuit accusing Larry Block, a Council candidate with whom Duran has long had an unpleasant relationship, of illegally evicting and spying on James W. Snyder. Snyder, aka Jimmy Jimmy Coco, is a former Chippendale dancer who now is a celebrity spray tanner. His lawyer is Neal Zaslavsky, a Duran appointee to the city’s Eastside Working Group. Zaslavsky larded many of the pages of the lawsuit with attacks on Block’s City Council candidacy and furnished a copy to Duran before the suit was served on Block. Block has accused Duran of supporting the lawsuit.

An older Grindr profile of West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran's .
An older Grindr profile of West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran’s .

But the harshest light cast on Duran’s involvement in the campaign comes from the so-called “Deputy-gate” scandal at West Hollywood City Hall. There Duran’s deputy, Ian Owens, allegedly spied on Fran Solomon, the deputy to Councilmember Heilman, alleging she made illegal telephone calls from her office to solicit support for Heilman’s re-election. Ironically Duran has endorsed Heilman. But Owens is known for his close friendship with D’Amico’s deputy Michelle Rex, who refuses to speak to Solomon. The unpleasant relationship between Solomon and Rex reflects the one between tbeir bosses, Heilman and D’Amico.

Duran attempted to step out of that mess by publicly disapproving of Owens’ actions. But Owens dragged him back into it when his lawyer, in a letter to the city, alleged that Duran refused to act on Owens’ complaints about Solomon because Owens has refused to have sex with Duran since joining the City Hall staff. Owens said (and Duran has confirmed) that they had sex after meeting on Grindr, the gay hookup app that Duran is sometimes on during City Council meetings. Duran says he hasn’t solicited Owens for sex since he hired him. That scandal made its way to the Los Angeles Times. (Grindr users, by the way, elected Duran “local hero / community advocate” in 2013.)

So where does all this leave Duran after Tuesday’s election? His admission that he hired his deputy after meeting him on a gay hookup site and having sex with him seems to put an end to any county or state political aspirations. It has drawn criticism from a number of residents such as Sam Borelli, a local activist and former Council candidate. Some West Hollywood residents are calling for a recall election, a major effort in that it will require signatures of 20 percent of registered voters (about 5,280 people, based on recent registration figures).

If Duran remains on the Council, which seems likely, it’s clear that he won’t have a good relationship with at least one of his fellow Council members. That is D’Amico, who looks certain to be re-elected. If Meister wins, Duran will have another difficult Council relationship. He may get along better with Guardarrama, a long time friend of D’Amico and a fellow lawyer. But Guardarrama’s advocacy of campaign finance reform and stronger ethical standards for the Council is likely to put him in conflict with Duran, who has said such changes aren’t needed.

If Heilman and Horvath, both of whom the “Friends Of” committee have endorsed, are winners, Duran may be able to round up at least two other votes on some contentious issues. However Horvath’s move to disassociate herself from the “Friends Of” mailer suggests their relationship may be fraught. And a victory by Larry Block won’t help Duran either.

Then there’s the June 2 special election to fill the seat vacated by Jeffrey Prang, which could throw another wrench into any effort to make the City Council machine run smoothly. West Hollywood, which celebrated its 30th birthday in November, apparently still has a few years to go to work its way out of political adolescence.

  1. I give credibility to comments made by someone willing to ‘sign’ their name to it.
    I can only imagine who “Voice of Reason” would be.
    Mike Antonovich would be my first guess. You know the county drools every time they hear how much revenue the formerly unincorporated 1.9 square miles hauls in. West Hollywood can’t help but succeed. The bed tax is mind boggling.

  2. Boycott the Weho election and let these losers stew in their own bile! West Hollywood does not deserve to be a city. Never did, never will!

  3. @Mike Dolan-I’ve noticed than when “DA” is questioned about his own issues and involvement, he sympathetically nods as if he doesn’t understand they’re talking about him. Very odd.

  4. You couldn’t make up a villain more vile for a Batman movie as we have right here in John Duran. Count me in for a recall effort anytime and consider me simultaneously repulsed and amused by his sleazy mailers and utter lack of ethics in elected office.

  5. Hey Mike, I do forgive you. Frankly we all get a bit overwrought during election season. But let’s talk some time. I admire anyone who tries to keep up with what is going on at City Hall. We don’t always have to agree but this is a small town and we should all do our best to keep ourselves and our neighbors informed.

  6. GAME CHANGER: Horvath 2011 is has come out! She almost had my 3rd vote. I was so close to being convinced that she had changed. After reading yesterday’s op-ed she wrote and today, her decision to call Lauren Meister to convey her condolences for Duran’s bad political behavior proves she hasn’t changed at all. All her problems in her life are all because she is a women but, in gay town!

    2011 she hired an angry male campaign team. The campaign team that ran against her were two women. One is now a deputy and is waiting with open arms for Lindsey, if she wins at city hall.

    Gay Men, especially in West Hollywood are most supportive of women and women’s rights. We don’t want to hear we are against anybody. We have a had tough life being accepted in the word and workplace. We have suffered our friends dying of HIV/AIDS.

    I will now VOTE for Lauren Meister. She didn’t ask for Lindsey to comment. She knows the struggles of the gay man and women. Heidi Shink has now followed Horvath, all my problems are because I am a woman!

    That don’t work in WEHO Ladies! We love women! Especially, who acknowledge our struggles so we can support each other. It is WEST HOLLYWOOD!

  7. But according to the ‘GoHarrison’ radio show and Plummer Park candidate forum, John D’Amico believes deputies are a reflection of the candidate. I agree. However, D’Amico was once again, defending Michelle Rex as beyond reproach. He did not even address the question about the insane amount of money paid to Deputy’s but defended Rex as always cooperative, helpful and worth her salary.

    He forgot to talk about her alleged involvement in “Deputy Gate” and as many believe, Rex to be the mastermind working with Owen’s to take down John Heilman and Fran Solomon.

    These past four years have been the most divisive, polarizing years. In my opinion, due to D’Amico and especially Rex’s scheming, caddy and unprofessional so-called leadership.

    Now, there’s, in my estimation, the real problem. I have heard far too long of Michelle Rex attitude and discourse she brings to the third floor and only serves to further turn off voters.
    D’Amico and Rex if eliminated will radically change the forward thrust of productivity and bring back positivity to West Hollywood Government and City Hall.

  8. campaign reform was introduced & not supported by damico, naturally!!!, perhaps it would cut into the $180,000 per year he pays his deputy to be nasty to people.

  9. @Steve Martin: I was over zealous and I deserve your “bit gullible” comment. Please accept humble and sincere apology. The IE I commented to was from 2011 and did list your name but I fail to due my own due diligence and did not see that the mailer that this IE generated was in-fact in opposition of your candidacy.

    It did appear under “past elections” but now is under current campaign statements. This IE has also generated a hit piece against John Heilman.

    With that said, I agree with you regarding IE’s going forward and the desperate need for Campaign Finance Reform to be expanded to eliminate IE’s or at best, put a cap on donor contributions of no more that a one time donation of say $1,000. I don’t believe in them either!

    Under the current IE structure, I don’t agree that the candidate that benefits should be subjected or receive any consequence. In your example of Duran’s IE, you left out one candidate. It’s not just the three you mention but includes John D’Amico too.

    When an IE is established and a single contributor can donate $40,000 and if so desires donate another $40,000. This must stop. Full campaign finance reform when the new and full council are seated.

    I know my research comes late but I do hope you can forgive me for my erroneous error in judgment. My deepest regret and apology is offered.

  10. Mike, you seem to try to keep informed but at times you’re a bit gullible. Call me sometime and maybe we should have coffee and get to know each other. Despite what you may have heard, I don’t own race horses, a studio or an island in the Caribbean. But more to the point, I have not organized, funded or raised any money for any West Hollywood independent expenditure campaign. I don’t believe in IE campaigns and I have often been the victim of them. I believe that candidates who don’t believe in them can simply say they are not interested in being endorsed by them. Unfortunately John Duran has raised over a $100,000.00 for his favorite candidates, John Heilman, Lindsay Horvath and Joe Gurardarrama. If elected these folks will be beholden to the developers and consultants who have funded this campaign and undermined our local democracy. The only way to “reform” West Hollywood politics is to have consequences for those who would buy City Hall. Don’t vote for Heilman, Horvath or Guardarrama. Anyone who is endorsed by John Duran can’t be in favor of ethical reform at City Hall.

  11. So sad that West Hollywood city council is “for the developers, by the developers” and “we the people” no longer matter. Oh, but keep voting for the same people and nothing will change. Time for some new blood to break the hold developers have on West Hollywood.

  12. Thank you, James Litz, for clarifying that. I do hope somebody tells Larry Gross!
    Mr. Gross & John Durans IE don’t appear to know the difference between Realtors (as in real estate agents) and developers.
    The one hit piece says that Meister was cozying up to the Realtors (at the Lawrys event)
    soliciting them for contributions & discussing their interest in getting rid of rent control in Weho.
    Clearly why Heilman sought their endorsement & support.

  13. I think the #weho democracy is broken and more and more residents are becoming informed of how it really had been functioning for years now as they see the mega development’s rising to the sky’s and watch our city hall is ineffective dysfunction. This review of Duran’s attempts to influence our democratic process is more of the same in his questionable actions and approach to serving the community for years now. And in fact in the last election he raised the most total dollars if I’m am correct in campaign money? Also one PAC that helped his election was shown to be full of contributors both in vendors who do biz in the city and in developers who want to or have already developed in the city. It’s clear to me that he can’t let our democracy have its way and even though he’s not up for reelection he and his developer, city contract vendors and consultant friends are still trying to influence the election. Is this helping the resident’s quality of life? Is this what we want from a West Hollywood Council Member in involvement in our elections? The ideal is one person, one vote. But in my view Mr. Duran wants more than that and is using his connections, and access to money to attempt it. I am glad Hank has continued to have the courage to shine a light of transparency on our current city hall, elections and fund raising. It the end I think information allows voters to make the right choice that is aligned with what is important to them. Unfortunately the use of glossy spin political mailers is normal operation procedures now in elections. And many of these mailers are misleading and created to influence the voters in a less than transparent way. And the groups creating them hide behind misleading names and really are funded by big business or the wealthy.

  14. Hold on a minute. I was taking a third and fourth look at candidate Matt Ralston and stumbled across this: Dude – what up? Really?
    You procured the services of a prostitute, within city limits no-less, then brag about it. Then expect I and perhaps others will think “no big deal.” Think again.

    You’re no different than the skeezy Grindr hunting Duran. Only worse, you knowingly broke the law then bragged about it in a sad attempt to create cheap content for a blog post. Again, really?

    Say what you will about either female candidate (and I’m only supporting one), I can rest assure neither has ever sought or paid for a “rub and tug.” Men… Sigh. Have you no shame?

    2 questions Mr. Ralston:

    a) what say you about this – why you believe it should have no bearing on your cred as a clean and law abiding citizen of West Hollywood

    b) what are the addresses of these two places so we alert law enforcement and concerned citizens can lead a campaign to have these faux business shut down and make room for a legit biz

    Again, Really? You (almost) had me at hello. #disappointed #womenmatter

  15. Um, wait a minute here. I just went back to give candidate Matt Ralston another look. So I searched and stumbled across his website filled with years of blog entries. Cool, I’ll get a real feel for his true thoughts – the guy before the public plea for me. Lots of straight talk I liked (the endless use of F-bombs: those I can do w/out in our increasingly vulgar public forum). But wait a minute.

    Mr. Ralston, you need to explain how by your own admission in your blog dated Feb 2013 “A Rub and a Tug” you used and paid for the services of a prostitute via some West Hollywood faux massage business on SaMo Blvd. Cum again.

    Human nature be damned; men are pigs, yes, this can be true quite often that is fer sure. But really? No thanks dude. You’re no better than the sleaze skeeze AKA John Duran. Worse in that you broke the law and procured the illegal services of a whore (not that Duran hasn’t I don’t know) and then walked away from the sleazy experience apparently with glee cuz you had sensational and personal fodder for your blog.

    I have 2 questions for you:

    a) what have you to say and
    B) where is this joint (the other place too) so we can lead an effort to have then shut down?

    Say what you will about either female candidate (and I’m only supporting one) I can assure you neither has ever sought a “rub and tug” and then thought it ok to run for City Council.

    Dude, really? And you (sorta) had me at hello.

    WTF man. WTF? #disappointed #whaddadick

    I’m waiting…

  16. John Durand is owned by Townscape developers (former ICM Building and 8150 Sunset). It is time that Durand is investigated by the FBI along with the City of WEHO. Thanks for putting the Grinder pic up… I guess this is how Durand does his recruiting for what WEHO calls “deputies”! The LA Times recently called Southern California the second most corrupt are in the USA after Chicago. WEHO is now making Bell look pedestrian. As for realtors… this is a group that is about as trustworthy as pimps.

  17. As Government Affairs Director for the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS, I will correct and clarify the statement made in the “Friends of West Hollywood” attack piece on Lauren Meister. The Association’s Local Candidate Recommendation Committee Trustees support John Heilman, John D’Amico & Lauren Meister in the March 3rd election. Two years ago, they supported John Duran and Jeff Prang. Duran has been supported by the Association in every election to City Council.

    Indeed, the Association held a Legislative Luncheon today at Lawry’s. Meister & D’Amico attended and spoke. Hellman was invited, but had a conflict. Joining the REALTORS today as well were Senator Isadore Hall, now running for Congress, Los Angeles Council District 4 supported candidate Tara Bannister and Los Angeles Council District 8 supported candidate Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

  18. “On Grindr during Council meetings?” Are you sh*tn me? Seriously? I missed that. Lets be clear, his being on that sleazy app is No different than some straight pol doing the same on Tindr. And you can bet your horny, skanky sweet a$$ there are plenty of them creeps out there too. Either way, Yuck. Go away. He gives gay and West Hollywood a bad rep – in the worse way.

    John Duran = stink, stank, Skunk.

  19. It should really be very simple: Duran, because of his alleged actions with his own deputy should be on suspension just as his deputy, Ian Owens is for his alleged actions. DUH!

  20. If you don’t want to benefit from an independent expenditure campaign, then you simply need to come out early and denounce the group and tell them you don’t want their help. It is pretty clear that the 3 candidates who are supported by “Friends of West Hollywood” are not adverse to benefiting from the largess of big developers and their consultants. Anyone who cares about bringing ethical reform and integrity to City Hall should not vote for any of those candidates or anyone endorsed by John Duran.

  21. I’m starting to reconsider if I should vote for D’ Amico. Something seems wrong with what is going on and his support for Meister is a real turn off to me. So whom do I vote for besides Hellman? Not Lindsey, she claims she has improved the traffic situation but I see it getting worse. I received a phone call from her supporters and her answer to a simple mass transit question was overly broad with no different idea’s. This whole idea a female must be elected is nonsense. We need the best available candidate.

    Now they are attacking John Duran. Is it because he tells it like it is? I do disagree with him concerning Plummer Park. But I also disagree with how West Hollywood Park is being covered in concrete. Parks are trees and shrubbery not wall to wall multistory buildings especially in such a small space.

  22. “But the harshest light cast on Duran’s involvement in the campaign comes from the so-called “Deputy-gate” scandal at West Hollywood City Hall.”

    To my knowledge, there’s been no accusations by anyone (including Owens) or admission by Duran to instruct Owens to spy on Fran Solomon. So how is that “Duran’s involvement in the campaign” if Owens did this on his own account, not to Duran’s knowledge?

    I’m not saying that some juicy stuff didn’t come out of City Hall as a result of this (hence your posting of the Grindr picture … again), but this is not directly related to the election, if Duran wasn’t involved in Owens actions.

  23. Look up slimy in the dictionary. Duran’s pic will be there. Some day it will be a “mugshot” when we can finally get him convicted for his many wrongdoings. I hope his deputy sues the city for sexual harassment too.

  24. There is a reason developers are anxious to block Lauren Meister from being on the council. For thirty years we have had overbuilding in West Hollywood under John Heilman. Mayor John D’Amico has endorsed neighborhood leader Lauren Meister because he needs dependable allies to stop the blank checks give under Heilman to developers. Ms. Meister is thoughtful, does her homework, presents reasonable objections to projects that harm neighborhoods, not crazy knee jerk objections that fall on deft ears. Mayor D’Amico has started the practice of disclosing all donations prior to a vote on developments and city contracts. Lauren Meister will help to codify that into law so that every council member has to do the same. Joe Guardarama has pledged to do the same and to institute other reforms drawing on his experience as a ethics lawyer. Steve Smith

  25. it’s easy. Dump the JD’s! Don’t vote for Damico and get Duran to step down, if Ian’s lawsuit doesn’t do that first. They are both disgraceful representatives of this city, and don’t get me started on Damico’s deputy and Ians bff Michele Rex

  26. I find this man vile, a worm by any other name Every time I see his face or read his name, I want to take a shower to cleanse away the residual stench. I think he is all that is wrong with small town politics & then some. Can you imagine this person on the County Board of Supervisors? What I do know is that his political goose is cooked, that he is as good as gone from the WeHo CC in 2 years, which can’t come soon enough, & that he will never be elected to higher political office. The challenge is to hold one’s nose for 2 more years until he’s gone

  27. May I ask what the point is in including a screenshot of John’s Grindr profile?

    Really wonderful/professional journalism here.

  28. Amazing what a mess our little city finds itself in. I’d say that the actions of and candidates supported by the PAC provides a road map of who NOT to vote for. It’s all pretty disgusting and sleazy — but pretty representative of what is going on all over the country with pools of “dark money” subverting the shaky “democratic” (small “d”) political system we purport to have in the U.S.

    Thanks to Hank & for exposing the tentacles of money and politics.

  29. The only endorsement I need is yours. The voter. I’ve stood up against Duran, Heilman and D’Amico and I’ve also had coffee witt all 3 in the last month. I’m independent but will forged a consensus on common ground for all the people of West Hollywood.

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