Editorial: What John Duran Must Do to Win Back the Trust of Progressive West Hollywood

John Duran, left, is sworn in as mayor pro tempore in 2017 by City Clerk Yvonne Quarker (Photo by James Mills)

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.

Consider this:

— 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.

An online posting of major donors to the Gay Men’s Chorus Voice Awards, with those who have business interests with the City of West Hollywood listed in boldface.

— 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.


25 Comments
  1. John Duran was reelected to office by West Hollywood voters, who were unaware of his past errors or were just lazy.Many voters went for him because he has been a good councilman for the past 18 years. Unfortunately,he has become complacent and too comfortable in his position as councilman, which has led to the many controversies mentioned in this article. I don’t think he will ever owe up to the many embarrassing problems he has created for himself and the city as Mr. Scott has suggested. Mr. Duran is too full of himself to do this. It will be up to the voters to get rid of him in the next election cycle.

    1. John Duran was willing to move out of his safety orbit and run for L.A.County Supervisor abandoning WeHo. The broader electorate didn’t buy it.

      When opportunism surpasses dedication, good judgement and reliable behavior it’s time to abandon the one lacking in character. Come to think about it there is a great similarity to the behavior of another individual from a different party who also has the gift of slick and bears little responsibility for bad behavior.

      Let’s line up another candidate that will represent the qualities we seek.

  2. I think this piece was tainted by its tone, a tone that I found to be self-serious, gossipy, provincial and, well, bitchy. I’m not saying this ad hominem; rather, I do it to make this point: I do not live in West Hollywood, nor would I entertain that possibility. Because it’s residents are overwhelmingly self-serious, gossipy, provincial, and, yes, bitchy. For all it’s touted social resources and civic-mindedness, it’s a supremely unfriendly place to spend time in. Your new mayor seems then the right choice: a shallow, Grindr-obsessed mayor seems exactly what a town this superficial deserves.

  3. The “unused box” will be a major issue in the 2018 elections For all candidates taking money from John Duran and his pay for play coffers.

    How does the WEHO City Council think the following will play around Oscar time with all the “metoo” issues.

    From WEHOville “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.’”

    Does the WEHO City Council believe that Gweneth Paltrow, wIth her elitist project on Sunset Boulevard, or Elton John, with his large Oscar party in West Hollywood, won’t have considerations about being associated with West Hollywood When muckraking efforts go after them. When they are called sexist, when they are blamed for associating with the mayor of West Hollywood, who is a sexist

  4. Comparing Duran to Trump, does a disservice to the author.

    Duran has done a good job the city is successful.

    Are there questionable issues? Sure.

    An immature opinion piece #Eyeroll

  5. Funny thing about trust, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

    John Duran appears to know nothing about integrity. His artifice is evident if one takes an honest perspective on his myriad claims and actions. Mr. Political Grandstand, hitting the convenient notes. For those that easily excuse lack of diligence, follow through and don’t look too deep, he’s your man. It’s always best to scrutinize a resume and not be impressed by the length. Even Duran’s resume on line at Weho.org is whitewashed. Duran has not acknowledged his misdeeds and has made no demonstration of any will to change. If and when he does, his rehabilitation should take place beyond the city spotlight.

    In the end, all anyone ever has is their integrity.

  6. Duran needs to just declair the man who he truly is; he’d be very happy if this town was just left to be his playground of young boys! He needs to stop pretending he is a friend to the L in LGBTQ. Time and time again John paid lip service to his love of the strong women in his life and community and it’s only for a good sound bites , good copy , or whatever he might need to round out his image . His pandering has worn thin and I am not going to stand on the sidelines anymore and pretend like he is a friend to all! His agenda is self serving and the time has come for his actions to have consequences .

    1. the same 5000 people show up to vote. as long as that happens, don’t expect any changes. there are too many “blurred lines”. You don’t bring your personal life to work and you don’t use your work for your personal life or use it to profit financially.

      Eric

      wehoeric.com

  7. This will be a Muckrakers holiday.

    The Grinder Mayor. Mayor Pay For Play. Mayor Unused Box.

    The latter is probably the most appropriate. Because after reviewing Duran’s desperate ads on grinder, as an elderly gay politician, he should not be calling anybody an unused box. Since his derogatory sexist comment is like the pot calling the kettle black.

    1. no one has the right to say what a person can do in his/her personal life. but people should not bring their personal lives to work

      eric

      wehoeric.com

  8. Bravo, Mr Scott.

    This morning, I was pondering the silence of this issue and wondered if/when we would hear a sane voice.

    I am not outraged, for it takes a lot more to generate that emotion, but it troubles me that in 2018 we would accept Mr Duran as the face of WeHo. Even if there was no wrongdoing, as Mr Block writes, Mr Duran’s behavior in council meetings in unacceptable.

    More than once, I have commented on the supposed progressiveness of WeHo.
    I find, through the small number of commenters here, consistent as it is, that the voices are quite conservative. We may be a great Progressive city, but our ‘representative’ leadership is not. Many of the people who hang around WEHOville are not.

    In thinking about how special we are, I acknowledged that we may be as corrupt as any city in the country. Preventive action will not work as a deterrent, but will provide for remedies on the books.

    Wells Fargo should not have their contract renewed. In addition to the corruptness of the bank, ProPublica did a story on reverse redlining, which I sent to Mr Duran.
    Search for WF redlining and there are cases in California between 2008 and 2018 including allegations in Sacramento dating back to 90s.

    In all the years that I paid attention, peripherally, to elections here, and later after I moved here, it frustrates me how the issues (too much traffic, not enough parking, too much development) recur every election cycle.

    We must encourage more civic engagement.
    We are stagnant.

  9. I believe Duran won his last election due to the fact that the Russians on the East side always vote for the incumbent. So I disagree with Larry. And I remind him that the majority of the City is not gay men. I think having Duran as Mayor is a smack in the face of the #metoo movement and that D’Amico or one of the two women on the Council should have spoken up. For them not to have is disappointing.

  10. so the majority of weho voters (supposedly gay men who operate like duran?) have no problem with weho’s rep for being corrupt and sleazy. why would they? and about the misogyny, a female friend pointed out that whenever men demean or discriminate against women they apologize to other men when they are forced to apologize to save their own skins. hollow as a trump apology when it happens.

  11. Duran won the election and the voices of the people spoke. The people spoke.
    Steve Martin and Wehoville made this case before the election, during the election, and now after the election and the chorus of noise comes down to a small band of the same people who pretend to have moral authority.
    John Duran is an imperfect individual and in that sense trueky represents the majority of our city. We like that he has fire. We like that he has passion. And some of us were in that courtroom when the city’s independent investigator Steve Rodig, found no wrongdoing by Duran of Owens at city hall. Enough said. Let’s move forward.

      1. “after the election and the chorus of noise comes down to a small band of the same people who pretend to have moral authority.”

        I can assure you that it is not a small band of the same people.

        I wholeheartedly agree with the majority of the points in the article. Further, I’m not sure if “the people spoke” or that they were just lulled into complacency.

        No one is more a polarizing figure on the council than Duran and I don’t believe this to be a “right-wing conspiracy.” Shouldn’t we want better for our city than someone so wrought with controversy?

        I empathize that the job is a thankless one and I do applaud Duran on his previous service to the community. However, I think that his initial good intentions went awry somewhere along the way.

    1. @Larry. Actually, the Rodig report found that: “Based on information obtained during the investigation and after considering the West Hollywood Administrative Regulations [410] pertaining to sexual harassment, RCS Investigators concluded that John Duran did engage in making sexually related comments in the workplace, which were unprofessional and generally violated West Hollywood Administrative Regulations pertaining to harassment. While there may have been no specific intent to do so, Duran’s behavior generally contributed to creating a less than professional working environment at the City of West Hollywood. As such, Allegation “5” is SUSTAINED.”

    2. Larry, I would advise not using the term “we” as you (or no one) can collectively speak for all the citizens.

      1. thanks Steve, it was an generalization.. it seemed obvious to me what people like about him.. unless all those voters who elected him were just grindr buddies.

        1. Larry, it says something that he was re-elected. But it also says something that he had more money to spend on his campaigns than most people running, much of which was through contributions from developers. Haven’t you, yourself, lost to him (I can’t remember what election cycles you were in)? If so, do you think his outspending you had anything to do with it?

          Do you believe that people are elected just because they are “likable,” or does campaign spending fall into the equation, also?

          I’ve said, many times, about some of the things listed above, that if they really mattered to many, one would think people would vote for someone else. Most of these things are far from being public knowledge. I honestly think some voters don’t care, and will vote for him, regardless.

          One other thing to take into consideration is who he was running up against. D’Amico and Meister were active in city politics, and both managed to get more votes than Heilman (for D’Amico, in more than one election). I do believe that voters will support someone who they see as not only having fresh ideas, but the ability and skills to govern, and are capable of beating incumbents, no matter how much $$ is spent.

          So I guess I don’t know what conclusion to draw here, exactly.

  12. Intrigued that duran has chosen to include WeHo’s role in the National Resistance, of which #metoo is a significant part. Given the pathetic lack of voice at that meeting, none of the council have any moral or ethical perch from which to claim a role as a leader of the National Resistance. None. Curious that he called his non-election as mayor “unanimous support”, it’s almost as if donald trump is writing the Facebook post and reinventing history and just making stuff up. I completely disagree with the notion that we should maintain some sort of institutional continuity by retaining incumbents in a representative democracy–maybe it’s a tough learning curve, but there’s institutional continuity through staff. Finally, as I’ve said many times, in a city in which 25% of people vote, and it only takes 10% of registered voters to “win” an election, there is no mandate for those currently serving. VOTE!

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