Opinion: How Can West Hollywood Fight Donald Trump Yet Accept John Duran as Mayor?

west hollywood city council, ian owens, deputygate
John Duran being sworn in as mayor pro tem (Photo by Jon Viscott, courtesy of the City of West Hollywood)

At the final City Council meeting of 2017, Larry Block recited his annual holiday poem to commemorate the events of the year. Block delightedly recounted how Michelle Rex, John D’Amico’s former deputy, lost her lawsuit against the City of West Hollywood for wrongful termination. He went on to say that Rex’s loss represented a vindication, not only for the city and its decision to eliminate the council deputy system, but also a vindication of the sexual harassment claims against John Duran.

This is patently absurd; nothing more than fake news. There is no vindication for John Duran. The city settled Ian Owens’ sexual harassment claim for half a million dollars. That says it all.

While some delude themselves into believing the line that this $500,000 was not an admission of guilt but merely a payment to avoid the “nuisance” of taking the case to trial, that simply does not make sense. John Conyers, one of the longest serving members of Congress, recently resigned when it was revealed he paid $27,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim of a female staff member 17 years ago. A 2016 Time magazine cover story on sexual harassment reported that the average recovery in such cases was $95,000. These figures help put some perspective on why the city’s insurance carrier insisted on settling the case for half a million dollars; it feared that based upon the state of the evidence, if the case went to trial Ian’s recovery may have been even greater.

While Duran himself proclaimed his vindication to the Los Angeles Times in the story reporting the verdict in the Rex case, as an attorney he is aware that Rex’s loss in no way disproved Ian Owens’ accusations of sexual harassment and hostile work environment. That issue was not decided by the jury. If Duran wanted vindication, he had the legal right to have the Owens case taken to trial. Obviously Duran was afraid to take that step. Personally I believe if elected officials are falsely accused of such conduct, they have not only a right but a legal obligation to seek vindication before a judge and jury, not only to save their reputations and integrity but to discourage fabricated allegations. But Duran was a coward and knew that taking this case to trial would be a disaster.

Former West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)

But what is lost in all the salacious allegations revealed in the Owens and Rex lawsuits is that we really only know two relevant uncontroverted facts about this controversy. First is that is that John Duran had a consensual sexual relationship with Owens and that a few months later Owens was hired as Duran’s deputy, with a six-figure salary. Duran violated his moral and ethical obligation as an elected official to inform to inform the City Manager or the head of Human Resources of his sexual relationship with Owens before Owens was hired. Indeed Owens alleged in his lawsuit that Duran specifically told him not to mention their encounter when he was interviewed for the job.

As an attorney John Duran is aware that a supervisor should inform the Human Relations Department of a prior romantic or sexual relationship for any person applying for a job where that person would be under his direct supervision. Such relationships can (and in this case did) expose the employer to an expensive law suit. In the private sector a violation of this requirement often results in instant termination. West Hollywood’s own sexual harassment training includes alerting employees of this mandatory disclosure.

This mandatory disclosure is meant to prevent disruptive office romances with their potential for blackmail and to protect employers from sexual harassment lawsuits arising when romantic relationship sour. Thus when Duran failed to inform the city about his prior sexual relationship with Ian Owens he violated his oath of office and his fiduciary duty to the citizens of West Hollywood.

John Duran in January 2012 yelling at Torie Osborne, winner of the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic Club endorsement over Betsy Butler, who Duran supported. Duran interrupted the meeting with shouts of “bullsh-t” and walked out, saying “I’m not being a misogynist, I’m working for a woman (a reference to Butler). Wake up! They’re not all lesbians!”

Duran’s failure to report the relationship ultimately prejudiced the city’s legal position in the Owens lawsuit. When the L.A. Times reported the Ian Owens settlement on Feb. 23, 2016, Duran complained that “people are trying to make him (Owens) sound like he was unqualified for the job” and believed Duran was using Grindr as an employee search app. Ironically during the Rex trial, Duran changed his tune and alleged that the city’s Human Resources department was slack in not discovering that Owens had inflated his “qualifications” in his employment application. Like most members of the public I thought Owens passed his interview during the Grindr hook up. But like most narcissists, Duran simply cannot take responsibility for his actions.

I first became aware of Ian Owens in August 2012, during National Night Out. I was at the Norma Triangle event talking to a friend when I saw John Duran happily in the embrace of a handsome young man. Duran was insisting residents take selfies with him and Owens; their cheek to cheek pose would ultimately become infamous. I mentioned to my friends that it looked like Duran had a new boyfriend. My friend corrected me saying Ian was his new City Council deputy. He then said “this looks like it’s going to be trouble.”

As predicted, it was trouble. Owens turned out not to be a completely starstruck sycophant. Once installed on the third floor he rapidly became disillusioned with the antics and back biting. This was not the progressive workplace he had envisioned. According to his lawsuit, Owens was troubled by what appeared to be inappropriate fundraising at City Hall. When he brought his concerns to Duran, he was blown off. He was troubled by Duran’s conduct, which reduced him to a sexual cipher, a mere ornament that was subject to Duran’s incessant exploitation. Owens’ physique was a constant source of comment by Duran who would allegedly describe Owens to constituents as “hot” and an “A-list” item, as if to bask in the reflection of Owens’ youthful glow. According to Owens he has constantly being badgered for sexual favors; “I’ll bottom for you” being the most memorable quote attributed to Duran in the lawsuit. Duran apparently characterized the offer as some sort of employee bonus.

While Owens claims he was subjected to a least a hundred instances of harassment, Duran’s defense was astounding: He claimed that since he only comes to City Hall a couple of times of month, so Owens’ numbers are a fabrication. Most council members come to City Hall two or three times a week. Clearly Duran’s dedication to his public position is called into doubt by this admission.

An old Grindr profile of West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran.

That lack of dedication to the public has been repeatedly chronicled. On April 11, 2016, the Los Angeles Times also quoted John D’Amico, who described Duran as regularly “trolling for men on Grinder,” the gay sex app, during City Council meetings,” something that had been rumored for years and makes a mockery of the Council’s public comment period. “This is not gay life excuse time” an exasperated D’Amico stated, venting his frustration with Duran’s immature lack of focus on the business of the city.

During the Rex trial Duran tried to rationalize his conduct with Owens by telling a slack-jawed jury that his conduct was simply typical gay male behavior and that gay men can’t be held to the same legal sexual harassment standards because we live by different rules. Obviously this is not the state of the law, and it is embarrassing that a member of the Bar would stoop to such self-serving perversions of the truth. This absurd tirade, which Rex’s attorneys did not bother to refute, is the basis of Duran’s claim of “vindication.”

As we enter the second year of the Trump Dark Ages, West Hollywood has positioned itself as a leader in the Resist movement, leading the charge against the sexually harassing narcissistic sociopath who currently occupies the White House. But how can progressive West Hollywood lead when one of our own leaders is a sexually harassing narcissist, a Donald Trump mini-me?

It is hard reconcile our community’s progressive values while we continue to embrace John Duran. The Ian Owens controversy is not just an example of how power can be abused. It exemplifies how the powerful know they can abuse their power and count on the silent acquiesce of those around them, who find no incentive to identify with the victim and every incentive to either rationalize or ignore the conduct of the abuser. In the case of sexual harassment, silence equals acquiescence. That silence, the silence of the cowardly, the silence of the self interested, legitimizes both the abuse and the abuser, making all of us guilty.

We cannot proclaim our progressive values and have a mayor who clearly mocks those values. Mayor Pro Tem Duran’s tenure has been marked by bringing pay to play politics to West Hollywood, misogyny, alleged abuse of city credit cards, sexual harassment and repeated betrayals of the LGBTQ community. In Year Two of the Age of Trump, we cannot have an irresponsible and immature mayor who so closely mirrors the destructive narcissism of our Commander in Chief.

Our City Council does not have the courage of its self-proclaimed convictions and will promote Duran to become our next mayor. Unless we stand up and put our own house in order, West Hollywood will have abdicated all claims to moral and progressive legitimacy, and we will be no better than the people who put Donald Trump in the White House.

Opinion pieces such as this reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of West Hollywood Media Company or WEHOville unless they carry the byline of publisher and editor Henry E. (Hank) Scott.


41 Comments
  1. We HAVE TO hold ourselves as accountable for the still growing wave of women having the exact same situation. IT IS OUR DUTY TO SHOW THE WORLD AS THE CITY IS ALL IN BEING THE VISUAL AND VOCAL VOICE DECLARING EQUALITY AND NO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GLBTQ et al PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, STARTING FIRST AS AN EXAMPLE, IN THE CITY OF WEST HOLLYWOOD.

    AL FRANKEN LOST HIS HOUSE SEAT OVER FAR LESS SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ALLEGATIONS MADE AGAINST DURAN AND AT LEAST ONE OTHER I REMEMBER READER HERE ON WEHOVILLE.

    NO DOUBLE STANDARDS. I personally find John Durans comments very often, offensive and sexually suggestive during open city council meetings. BUT THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT ALL LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT ARE DOING. CLEANING HOUSE OF THIS (and far less disgusting yet inappropriate actions this person allegedly made.

    If the City Council doesn’t stand up and get John Duran to Resign, HOW CAN ANYONE IN CITY HALL (THE SPOKESVOICE FOR THE LGBTQ EQUALITY – SELF APPOINTED) AND ALL THE MEMBERS ELECTED BE ALLOWED TO STAY IN OFFICE.

    THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE FIGHT AGAINST TRUMP IS ABOUT IF HE WILL SUPPORT AND NOT CALL FOR THE RESIGNATION OF ELECTED OFFENDERS IN HIS ADMINISTRATION, HOW CAN WEHO FIGHT THAT FIGHT WITH THE SAME STAINS ON THEIR OWN HANDS.

  2. This is not in support of John Duran but instead asking a question. How many employees of the city have been employed here because they knew someone in a high position that helped them secure their job? This could be just a friend or a friend they knew sexually as well.

  3. No council candidate has ever gotten a majority (50% +1) of the vote. With the open field voting you need only more than anyone else. No primary, no run off system. There are always plenty of egos to fill the ballot. The automatically also-rans divide the anti-incumbent vote. West Hollywood has never had a 25% turn out for a city election. (1984 Cityhood vote it was not a city at the time). So the win by the incumbents in the last election was not a majority nor a mandate. It was working the system, totally legal, but very specific and focused. If he won’t excuse himself, watch closely at who on council endorses his standards and office ethics.

  4. Others have resigned for less.

    Duran’s presence on Council is an affront to any semblance of ethical conduct.

    Those on Council and in City Management providing cover for Duran should reflect on their morals and consider resigning as well.

    “Forgiveness” was not on the mind of the electorate who voted Duran back in office, it was something else.

  5. Owens should have never taken the job if he felt harassed. The dynamic of the relationship was already there prior to his employment. Just another desperate gay looking for easy money. Glad he moved to Boston, still a liberal city but not as easy to scam taxpayers out of money.

    1. @Steve C: It seems Councilman John Duran’s dealings with Ian Owens was a whirlwind Grindr hook-up plus job interview, and a six-figure assistant position.

      The scenario is definitely “pay to play” with a half a million dollar pay off by the taxpayers of West Hollywood.

      West Hollywood now stands out as a city condoning sexual harassment and trying to sweep it under the rainbow flag.

      Unless Duran resigns, these image problems won’t go away and West Hollywood could now face big-time boycotts from the #METOO movement.

      A hashtag could be: #WEHOsaysMETOOsucks.

  6. @JV ‘you don’t understand how the voters voted for him’. Yes many – thousands – a record turn out. Your comments show there is a lot more than that you do not understand besides how how a majority of people voted for John Duran. And it’s clear you don’t respect your fellow West Hollywood voters either.

  7. Any and all (if there are any left) principled members of the City Council should resign the minute Duran is sworn in as mayor. Just step down from the dais and leave the chambers.

    1. And leave him by himself, in power? You think that makes for a better situation? Not even sure what city law would call for in such a situation, but probably a special election to fill the four vacant seats, and a Council made up of one person in the meantime?

  8. The bottom line is that the West Hollywood politicians are flipping the bird to the #MeToo movement.

    WEHO is no longer the “Creative City” but will now be known as the “Anti-#Me Too Movement City.”

    And John Duran is their WEHO Teflon Grindr Man!

  9. I don’t think Martin’s argument needs any polishing, Larry. And if you’re not trying to stick-up for Duran here, you should have refrained from commenting rather than trying to take a swipe at Martin. But admittedly, it is hard to get you to be quiet on anything because you’re always seeking publicity. As for Duran, he is a pathetically immature person and an embarrassment to the City. How did he win reelection after the Deputygate scandal? I can’t understand who would vote for him!

  10. @conerned citizen – your points are well taken . And on a side note Steve has been my neighbor and friend for many years and I’ve learned much from him – I know he could have polished this argument with more gravity if he put aside some of the personal stuff.

  11. Larry Block, even if you feel that Duran was exonerated by a PI, do you not think that his not reporting the sexual relationship to HR, that, in itself, is grounds for him to resign? That was completely arrogant, and inappropriate. Further, as Steve Martin pointed out, he could have went to trial to get a full exoneration, and the amount of the award that the insurance company gave Owens does say something about how they thought a trial might go.

    No idea whether he sexually harassed Owens, or not. But he put the city’s reputation at risk by hiring him, and not telling anyone about their prior relationship. At the very, very least, he owes the public an apology for his inappropriate hiring decision, or how he wasn’t forthright with HR. To my knowledge, he hasn’t said a word about it. I think his arrogance has precluded him from doing that. He thinks he did nothing wrong, at all, and that he’s the victim here.

    The victim is the public, who lost trust in their local government.

  12. @michael g – sir – your thinking of somebody else if you know me as lauding praise. I’ve stood at the public comment with my thoughts- which at times spoke against campaign donations or no bid contracts or crosswalks and many other things. Your also very uniformed as to the cities independent investigator that was an outside investigator with no bias a sort of Robert mueller – and to your other point that was completely wrong— the last thing the city wanted was a jury trial downtown that would result in a big judgement for the plaintiff- if you paid any attention at all the city defended itself , downtown, on a jury trial, and won a verdict on all counts that gave Rex nothing. And yes Martin laid out a good case in principle- But in reality the objective of asking how we can condone Duran’s behavior ion a Trump era misses its mark as it simply rehashes selected facts.

  13. LarryBlock: Of course the “private investigator” is going to clear Duran. The PI was working for the city. The last thing West Hollywood wanted was a jury trial, downtown and the possibility of a very large reward for the plantiff. Older man corrupts younger man using Grindr, compromising the “City’s Integrity” if that’s possible.

    Plus WEHO’s policy re Duran is to hire attorneys for him, recall the credit card scandal?

    I have no idea who you are but have recalled that you’ve spoken at city council meetings and lauded great praise on the council members like you were the P.R. guy? Is that what you do?

    Martin layed out a strong case for Duran bowing out of WEHO politics before he becomes the center of five minutes of fame on TMZ or Fox or Britbart and then becoming a footnote in West Hollywood history.

  14. If this article was written by somebody other than Steve Martin it would be easier to digest it points. Its like Clinton writing an op-ed about Trump. You had your chance to make the case.

    I appreciate Steve as my neighbor and friend and sometimes mentor but my holiday poem is should not be used to discredit Duran, in fact it was the opposite.
    I’d like to repeat the exact language.

    January began with the trial of Michelle Rex
    She could not stop talking about City Hall sex.
    But the Roddig report cleared John Duran’s name
    The verdict gave Rex nothing but herself to blame.

    To be clear, the city hired a private investigator to review events happening in the city hall offices and cleared John Duran of wrongdoing. In the role he is to assume as mayor most of us should consider the finding of this report.
    But it would be interesting to ask all the woman and men from Weho who attended the march downtown if there is a double standard. Hopefully you can chime in.

    The title asks ‘should we have a man like John Duran as mayor in the Trump era?’
    But sometimes we need to fight fire with fire. But a mayor for all? Even Republicans in West Hollywood deserve a Mayor who represents them too. Wouldnt it be great if our elected leaders concerned themselves with only all things local?

  15. Is that Ed Buck standing next to and directly to the left of Duran in the January 2012 photo shown above?

  16. If Duran does NOT decline to become Mayor, I would recommend that all who have expressed their disdain here and others who share the same sentiment, attend that event and shut it down via a peaceful but very loud protest. And if he does it behind closed doors, disrupt the first time he presides as Mayor. Boo him off the dais.

  17. Mr. Duran may have to resign as #MeToo in connection with the Oscars in March is planning a boycott of West Hollywood Oscar celebrations because WEHO allows sexual harassment and pays out the big bucks to protect their political hacks like Duran.

    I don’t believe hotel and restaurant/clubs like the image of some elderly man pathetically harassing a young guy he met on Grindr and then giving a him a great job.

    Milo and Fox would love this kind of rainbow creative city spin.

    And with Duran not resigning… it’s only going to get worse.. because the media is already onboard.

  18. Very good article Steve, despite your usual verbosity. (Just kidding!) Perhaps had Steve changed his name to John as a candidate during the last campaign, he would have won, as this seems to be a prerequisite for male candidates to win. Provided of course that he didn’t join the clique of the other 3 Johns.

  19. Bravo Steve Martin! duran is no different than trump (I purposely avoid capitalizing either name) as it relates to the sexual violence perpetrated on those around him. He has brought shame to an otherwise progressive and fair city. He has abused his position, abused public trust, abused our confidence in the council system. As to defenses about his otherwise good work for the LGBT community (which I count as questionable), remember that Nixon opened China and established the E.P.A. but resigned in disgrace and will go down as one of the worst presidents in history (until trump supplants him in that position). Enough!

  20. Well put and Duran should be out due to his behavior. Owens should also be held to task (ie kept from office in the future) for his part in accepting a position he was neither qualified for nor earned honestly.
    The WeHo counsel is on their last leg – change is coming and they are a disgrace.

  21. Good 4 U Steve. Duran is a disgusting character, completely oblivious to the real world around him & has his own reality. Shows once again that unfortunately many who are attracted to politics are of unsavory character but once they’re in, it’s hard to get them out. Sad

  22. Whatever you think of Duran (I will not offer an opinion here), calling him a “Donald Trump mini-me,” is patently absurd, ridiculous and over-the-top (and you know it is). There’s never been a more loathsome politician in my lifetime than our current president. Even if you think they share sexual harassment traits, Trump is so, so much worse than that. I’m not defending Duran’s behavior here, but like most things in life, it is more complicated than that. He has done many, many great things for the LGBT community. I’m not saying that as a defense of inappropriate work behavior or sexual harassment, but as a defense of comparing him to that awful monster who is leading our country into the ground.

    1. One has nothing to do with the other. The male and female #metoo rogue’s gallery includes many folks who have done lots very generously for many groups. This is not a reason to put the city in the position of a $500K settlement (that is half a million dollars – still) and retain the guilty man to continue to be a council person or Mayor or anything else where his judgment might be required. He has has none. I agree with Rudolf Martin – he should simple resign. Others have done it. Why does he get a pass.

    1. Yes, a classy first step towards enlightenment.
      Retire to a monastery or an ashram.
      Do good anonymously.

  23. I finally got a smartphone and joined Grindr a year and a half ago. I was online less then two hours and a conversation started with some headless guy on there. When he sent me his face it was …. John Duran! I said “have you not learned anything?” I asked him why he does not have a boyfriend. He said “Oh I was so traumatized by all my friends dying of AIDS.” I basically said “Lots of people had friends die of AIDS. I think it is because you are a mess even by lawyer standards.”

    Yes, two hours online and I had already run into this … loser.

    1. Why he doesn’t have a boyfriend is because he’s got a DOMESTIC PARTNER WHO HE’S LIVED WITH AND BEEN IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS NOW!!! He’s such a sleazy hypocritical piece of work!

  24. While many of the points are valid, this is a long and windy argument that would fail to get the judge’s attention in a brief. It is also unfortunate that Steve Martin is the individual advancing the argument. There are other instances of questionable conduct of Duran representing residents in legal matters while a council member.

    Incidentally, John Duran was momentarily absent when the remarks were delivered during Public Comment at the CC Meeting.

    1. “Incidentally, John Duran was momentarily absent when the remarks were delivered during Public Comment at the CC Meeting.” You cannot put a horse away wet.

  25. As an elected official, Mr. Duran couldn’t be “fired” like any other City Hall employee. Since the scandal, Mr. Duran was re-elected. Apparently, despite all the dirty laundry, enough voters either didn’t know or didn’t care and both he and incumbent John Heilman won the majority of the votes in the 2017 election. What does that say about the voters?

      1. All this talk about Duran and horses is demeaning the horses, worldwide.

        They would not tolerate his lack of integrity. Any horse I have known and I have known ridden and trained many, would take one sniff of him, buck him off then perhaps put their hooves to him.

  26. Hmmmm. “Stormy Drain” only got $130,000? Trump got off cheap. My feeling is that, all things considered, Duran should have kept it in his pants and out of his very public job. Duran displayed no discretion as a lawyer when he started wishing for a horse on Grindr and placing WeHo in the spotlight as a little city full of horny gay men who have no sense of privacy or shame.

    For this foolishness Owens got a nice juicy reward; Duran sidestepped a public review of his libido needs and thus I must ask; why is Duran still on the council. If a city council position is about making, well-considered, rational decisions for our little city, I offer, as my opinion, his lack of good judgment and discretion. Personally, as a #metoo. I have sat on laps and been cornered by horny men. It was no secret; neither was it a revenue stream for me. Social media has turned us into performance artists, some of whom should reconsider and keeptheir own private lives, private. I think Mr. Duran, and the horse he rode under disgraced and cost the city. AND, we are still discussing it. At the very least The Accused in the growing #metoo Rogue’s Gallery lost their jobs and THEIR revenue streams. I suggest Mr. Duran’s Equestrian themed mug shot should be added to this list.

  27. Excellent ! These are great points. I think this should be read at council meeting. I would be curious to see if any council members could argue against any of these points. (Hint hint)

  28. Mr Duran should of done the right thing and step down from council. Not because he hasn’t done great work in the past in the LGBT community, but that this incident would get anyone fired in the public sector. Not to mention the principal of integrity, and of the damage to the citys reputation and the $500k this HR mess cost. Even if insurance paid it, it was $500k. Its clear in the day of the #metoo movement we as a city or as voters have missed a chance to set the example for other city’s in the nation and for what a role model of a gay elected official should look like. And a $500k check cant change the story of a man hired into city government with a past sexual exchange by that council member.

  29. Well written, a bit long, but thorough.

    In most cities, Duran would be out of a job by now.

    Isn’t it time for West Hollywood to change its form of government? The traditional model of someone elected by the people to be mayor for 4 years. This rotating mayor system leaves a responsibility gap. It has helped the same tired politicians being elected time and again.

    Ask most residents to name the mayor of West Hollywood and most probably couldn’t (or they’d say Eric Garcetti). The citizens will get more involved in a mayoral election than multiple council seats at the same time.

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