A week ago Monday, three members of the West Hollywood City Council sat in awkward silence as Mayor John Heilman asked that one of them nominate someone as the city’s next mayor. Heilman had to ask twice, before finally responding to the silence by himself nominating Councilmember John Duran, who was next in line for the role.
Councilmembers John D’Amico, Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister weren’t required to cast a vote for Duran, given that no one else was nominated. So Duran was “elected” but not voted in. (Their silence was not evidence that they were “unanimously supporting” him, as Duran claims in a Facebook post:
Duran will be sworn into office as mayor on May 21. Then the question will be how the City of West Hollywood, the City Council and Duran himself are going to deal with the fact that he will be the public face of a city that proudly proclaims itself as progressive.
— During the trial of Michelle Rex’s lawsuit against the City of West Hollywood last year, the 12-member jury had to take an uncomfortable look at an email exchange between Duran and his former City Council deputy, Ian Owens. In those emails, which were projected onto a video screen in the courtroom for all to see, Duran dismissed Owens’ message that a prominent female civic activist was complaining about the slowness of the city’s response to a water main break on Sunset Boulevard. “It’s a 100-year-old pipe,” Duran wrote. “About as old as her unused box.”
Calling a well-known local woman’s vagina an “unused box” is not quite the level of Donald Trump’s “pussy grab” comment, but then Duran is gay and likely sees vaginas differently than does Trump. (#MeToo anyone?)
— Then there’s the fact that Duran hired as his deputy Ian Owens, an attractive young man with an exaggerated resume, after meeting him on Grindr and having sex with him.
The result was a scandal that came to be called Deputygate, which got salacious coverage across the nation and resulted in a $500,000 payment to Owens by the city to settle his claim that Duran sexually harassed him on the job.
Did Duran sexually harass Owens? Did Duran tell Owens, “I’d bottom for you any day,” as Owens alleged in his lawsuit? Did Duran require that Owens update his boss’s address book, making him sort through lists of men Duran had had sex with, lists said to have noted the size of their penis or their sexual skills?
We’ll never know the real answers to those Owens-versus-Duran allegations. But it is clear that Duran hired a handsome and unqualified young man with whom he’d had sex, a young man who became known for his acrimonious relationship with many of his City Hall co-workers and his rude public treatment of Duran himself. Where’s the progressive in that?
— And of course none of us will (or should) forget that City Council meeting at which Councilmember John D’Amico called out Duran, who was sitting next to him on the dais, for trolling on Grindr during Council meetings. Duran, D’Amico said, was focusing his attention on men looking for sex rather than residents who wanted their voices to be heard. Duran screamed that D’Amico was lying. But gay men who attended Council meetings had long laughed about Duran’s presence on the app, which shows one’s actual location, during those meetings. That may be why Duran often had his head focused on the mobile phone in his lap rather than the constituents in front of him.
— There’s also Duran’s solicitation of large amounts of money from vendors and developers and lobbyists looking to make a buck from the City of West Hollywood and its residents and business owners. Yes, that’s a major flaw with the political system in the entire United States of America, not just West Hollywood. But in Duran’s case, begging Wells Fargo for donations to the Gay Men’s Chorus, whose board he chairs, and then arguing that the city should extend its banking contract with Wells Fargo, contradicts the very definition of progressive. As previously reported on WEHOville, Wells Fargo has been dubbed the “go to bank for the NRA and gun manufacturers” and is a financial institution whose corrupt behavior has hurt millions of ordinary citizens (and thousands of veterans) and cost its shareholders over a billion dollars in penalties.
Duran defends his solicitation of money for the Gay Men’s Chorus from Wells Fargo and from Athens Services, the city’s trash pickup vendor; the Charles Company, developer of the Melrose Triangle project, and E.T. Legg, the billboard company, and others, in three ways:
–First, Duran sometimes says that he himself doesn’t make many of make those calls for donations (and thus isn’t required to file the required statements with the City Clerk acknowledging such requests for donations). Yes, many of those calls probably are made by staffers at the Gay Men’s Chorus, but one would be a fool to think that the donors aren’t aware of whose influence they are buying.
— Then, Duran argues that he can’t be bought, that donations to a charity he chairs don’t influence his judgment on city matters. That would make him the first creature on earth, no matter the species, who doesn’t respond to a donation, whether it be tens of thousands of dollars to a human being in a government office or a dog biscuit to a puppy or a banana to a monkey.
— And finally, Duran cites Wells Fargo’s beneficence to the LGBT community as a reason to keep doing business with that demonstrably corrupt financial institution. A detailed study mentioned in a recent story in The New York Times – “Tax-Exempt Lobbying: Corporate Philanthropy As a Tool for Political Influences” – provides persuasive evidence that companies actually give in order to get, not because they love the gays. And when they get a tax deduction for what they give, the rest of us are paying for it.
Given the facts outlined above, why were three City Council members silent when Mayor Heilman asked for nominations for mayor? Why did Council members who have spoken out for women’s rights and against sexual harassment, who have gone out of their way to be transparent about possible conflicts of interest – why did they not offer an alternative to Duran as the official leader of the City of West Hollywood? One excuse offered by two of them is that the voters re-elected Duran to the City Council despite the issues outlined above. If that is a legitimate excuse, then perhaps our elected officials should stop their condemnation of Donald Trump for his misbehavior, given that Trump also was elected to office.
So, now what?
John Duran will be officially sworn in as mayor on May 21. It is important to acknowledge that he does have a lot to offer:
–Given his years on the City Council, Duran has a deep and valuable knowledge about the history of West Hollywood and its governance. Yes, new faces on the City Council are always needed. But keeping some of our long-serving Council members is important because of the perspective they have to offer their new colleagues and the rest of us.
–Duran is eloquent. When it comes to summarizing an issue and giving his opinion on it, no one beats Duran. Like a lawyer (and he is one) giving a final summation in a major case to a jury, Duran pulls together the facts and offers his conclusion in a way that is easily understood and often quite captivating.
–Duran is passionate about the rights of gay people (although he has exhibited some public disdain for lesbians). While the LGBT community has come a long way, it’s important that we keep fighting the good fight to make sure we don’t lose the basic human rights it has taken us so long to attain.
But it also will be important for Duran and the City Council to try to mend the damage he has inflicted on West Hollywood’s reputation. That may be difficult. After all, Duran did allege at this past weekend’s California Women’s Law Center event that he is the victim of a “right-wing conspiracy” that is calling out his misbehaviors.
Let’s hope Duran can kick off his fourth term as mayor by dropping the conspiracy theories and publicly acknowledging and apologizing from the dais for his misdeeds — his misogynist comments, his hiring a young man after soliciting sex from him — and then explain what steps he will take to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes again. (Sensitivity training would be a good start).
Then the City Council should vote to bar Council members from serving on the boards of non-profit organizations. Duran and Mayor Heilman likely will object to that, as they have in the past. But, first and foremost, members of the West Hollywood City Council should have the interests of their constituents at heart, not those of non-profits to which they can donate quietly on their own without putting their reputations or that of the city at risk.