The silence has been deafening. Historically West Hollywood has on leading the progressive parade, taking pioneering stances on issues ranging from gay marriage, gender equality, animal rights and a host of environmental issues. But the #MeToo movement has left West Hollywood on the sidelines.
While the City Council recently passed a resolution supporting state legislation to create tougher guidelines on sexual harassment in the political workplace, it only timidly asked the City Manager to review our municipal policies to see if they reflected “best practices.” Based on recent events, I think the City Council can safely assume that our practices don’t reflect even the basic protections for our employees that have long been in place in the private sector.
Given the number of women who have served on the City Council and the unusual number of women who serve or have served as directors and department managers at City Hall, you would think that sexism and misogyny would be foreign on the third floor at City Hall. But you would be wrong.
Last year, we had a window into the culture of City Hall’s third floor during the trial of former City Council deputy Michelle Rex’s lawsuit for wrongful termination. All sorts of interesting tidbits came out: Campaigning from City Hall by a Council deputy on city time, deputies being expected to solicit charitable contributions for favored non-profits, and immature behavior by various Council members that would embarrass most third graders.
The most embarrassing evidence was revealed in a private email exchange between Council deputy Ian Owens and his boss, John Duran. In an email message, a neighborhood activist, who happened to be a woman, asked what the city was doing about broken water main on Sunset Boulevard. Owens forwarded that email from his personal email account to Duran’s personal email account, and he saved a copy of it all the was projected on a screen before the jury in the Rex trial.
“It’s a 100-year-old pipe,” Duran said in his email to Owens. “About as old as her unused box.”
It was disturbing how casually Duran made such an immature and crude comment about that woman’s genitalia. Here is a woman who simply complains about a problem to City Hall. The email from the woman was not the least bit antagonistic. But Duran simply blurted out the first thought in his head. And that first thought was both sexual and sexist.
That episode was in keeping with Ian Owens’ allegations of Duran’s crude attempts at work place seduction (“I’d bottom for you any day”) and also is in keeping with another prominent episode in the Duran saga.
That was Duran’s “we’re not all lesbians” taunt.
As many recall, Duran has run unsuccessfully three times for the state legislature and once for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. In every race Duran wrapped himself in the rainbow flag, crying that “we need a place at the table.” In 2012, Torie Osborn, the lesbian former executive director of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, ran to represent West Hollywood and the Westside in the state Assembly with the endorsement of former state senator and current L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, also a lesbian. Her victory would have given the LGBT community that “place at the table.”
Osborn was challenging a one-term incumbent — an obscure Democratic back bencher with a very thin resume who had previously represented the South Bay. During redistricting, Assembly member Betsey Butler’s district was moved north, with an appendage of the new district taking in her home. While she was technically an incumbent, many felt she was essentially a carpet bagger in our community.
Duran endorsed Butler, whose only connection to the LGBT community was that she had been invited to sit on the board of Equality California. But Butler was the establishment candidate, and Duran suddenly decided that the need for an LGBT voice in the legislature was not so important after all. Duran not only worked for Butler but attempted to block Osborn in the LGBT community.
Osborn had a well-oiled ground campaign and mobilized volunteers who helped her sweep the local Democratic clubs, including the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic Club. As Osborn took the podium to accept the endorsement of the West Hollywood Democratic Club, John Duran stood up and started to heckle her, spewing obscenities, saying “this is bull shit.” Duran’s tantrum was captured on video by several witnesses. Standing next to his friend Ed Buck, Duran berated Osborn and the endorsement process. As he was winding down his rant, a woman said something to Duran about Butler being more organized next time and apparently referred to Duran as being misogynist. Duran responded: “I can’t be misogynist, I am working for a woman,” then he taunts the woman saying “we’re not all lesbians.” This bizarre episode can be viewed in the YouTube video above.
Duran, the supreme narcissistic, refused to acknowledge he had committed any wrong; he was just being “passionate.” But isn’t it odd that, in his passion, he had to be sexist and dismissive of lesbians? Anger is often the most revealing access to a person’s true beliefs.
After that 2012 election, Duran was not content to leave it alone. In 2014 as Sheila Kuehl entered the race to succeed Zev Yaroslovsky as our L.A. County Supervisor for District 5, John Duran suddenly jumped into the race. No one believed Duran had a chance of winning, he was simply playing the role of spoiler, hoping to split the gay and lesbian vote to derail Kuehl’s candidacy, which would somehow avenge Betsy Butler’s loss. Duran placed a distant third in the primary, losing West Hollywood by more than 2-to-1.
In the general election Duran obnoxiously endorsed Kuehl’s rival and campaigned against her. He wrote a long letter to the Los Angeles Times, claiming that Kuehl, a veteran Assembly member and state senator as well as a pioneering lesbian activist, held municipal government in scorn, discounting his own experience as being only “part time.” That was classic Duran, making the most out of a concocted issue. Our City Council members are part time, and Duran is the most “part time” of all of them. During the Ian Owens litigation Duran claimed he could not have sexually harassed Owens as many times as Owens claimed since he only came to City Hall two or three times a month. That is about as often as his colleagues are in City Hall each week.
John Duran has demonstrated his misogynistic tendencies by word and deed. His misogyny is not only a betrayal of West Hollywood’s community values, his denigration of lesbians is an even greater betrayal of the LGBT community.
West Hollywood can do better. We deserve better. While Duran and his supporters are quick to point out that he recently won re-election, note that Donald Trump also was recently elected. Winning the presidential election did not make Donald Trump any less of a sexually harassing misogynist. The same holds true for John Duran. Both men confuse elections with baptism.
Mayor Pro tem John Duran does not deserve the honor of being elevated to mayor of West Hollywood in the annual rotation that takes place in April. That would be a dishonor to us and our progressive values. Let’s hope our City Council has the courage to stand for our community values when it chooses the next Mayor of West Hollywood.