EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally was published by WEHOville in April 2017. Ed Buck now is back in the news because of the discovery of a dead African-American man in his Laurel Avenue apartment on Monday. This story recounts the history of this prominent white and gay West Hollywood man.
Who is Ed Buck? Those who follow politics in West Hollywood know him as the guy whose successful campaign for a ban on fur sales helped propel City Councilmember John D’Amico into office in 2011. He’s also known for his tenacious digging into City Hall records to make a claim that credit cards were being misused. And he is known for his financial support for local, county, state and national Democratic Party candidates.
Another side to Buck has come to light lately with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department announcing it is opening an investigation into the death in Buck’s Laurel Avenue apartment on July 27 of a young African-American man named Gemmel Moore, who was a self-confessed prostitute. The L.A. County Coroner’s Office had ruled the death an accident caused by an overdose of methamphetamine, a highly addictive and dangerous drug that is popular among some gay men. The Sheriff’s Department says that drugs and drug paraphernalia were found at Buck’s apartment.
That side of Buck has drawn little comment from local political figures, although the Stonewall Democratic Club, an LGBT political group, last week asked Buck to step down from his position on its steering committee. But it has attracted a lot of attention from the right-wing media here and abroad, including publications such as the Drudge Report; TruNews, a Christian news site; Political VelCraft, a right-wing conspiracy site, and Voat.com, a website that promotes conspiracy theories such as PizzaGate. Stories on those sites call out Buck’s financial support for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, his homosexuality, his alleged attraction to young African-American men and his alleged drug use.
Recently LGBT African-American activists also have begun to speak out, calling for an investigation into Moore’s death. Ashlee Marie Preston, the transgender African-American editor of “Wear Your Voice,” an online feminist publication, has written about an odd experience she had with Buck. “Moore’s death is centered around power dynamics, a wealthy white politico and his deadly fetishization of disenfranchised black men,” Preston wrote. And Jasmyne Cannick,a black communications and public affairs strategist, has called out Moore’s death on her website with the headline “Journal Documents How Wealthy Democratic Donor Hooked Young Black Gay Man on Meth Before His Death.”
Edward Bernard Peter Buckmelter (he changed his last name to Buck in 1983) was born into a middle-class family in Steubenville, Ohio, on Aug. 24, 1954. When he was six he moved with his parents, a brother and two sisters to Phoenix, Ariz. “My childhood was uneventful as hell,” he said in an interview with the Arizona Republic in June 1987.
Buck attended a Catholic elementary school and graduated from North High School and Phoenix College. Buck has described his father as a “longtime alcoholic.” As a child, Buck himself was a handful according to his mother, who was interviewed in October 1987 by E.J. Montini of the Arizona Republic. “The dean of boys had a hot line to my phone at work,” she said, speaking of Buck’s high school years. “I’d answer the phone and say, ‘All right, what is it this time?’”
Buck came out to his parents as gay at the age of 16 and, while attending college, won a three-month internship that took him to Yugoslavia. In his profile, the Arizona Republic’s Montini says that a year after that Buck returned to Europe and was offered a spot as an extra in a TV commercial. Buck stayed in Europe for five years, living in Paris and Amsterdam, where he worked as a fashion model and appeared in movies and magazines. He also modeled in Japan for Wrangler jeans. Buck returned to Arizona in 1980 and began working for a friend as a bicycle courier.
In his interview with Montini, Buck said he worked for the Arizona franchise of Rapid Information Services, a business owned by a friend that provided driver’s license information to insurance companies. Despite his lack of business experience, and the business’s poor financial situation (his friend ran it out of a one-bedroom apartment), Buck saw great potential in it. A year and a half after joining and helping build the business, Buck bought it out of bankruptcy for $250,000 and renamed it Gopher Courier. Five years later he sold it for what he said in another interview was “more than a million dollars profit.”
Very wealthy at the age of 32, Buck took risks, opening a restaurant and getting into the pay telephone business, on both of which he lost money. He owned a $280,000 house on top of a hill near Squaw Peak (now known as Piestewa Peak), a mountain outside of Phoenix. He also, according to a story in the Gayly Oklahoman newspaper, had entered into a relationship with a Chippendale dancer.
Diving Into Politics
Buck found new meaning in his life with the election in 1987 of Evan Mecham, a Republican, as Arizona’s 17th governor. Mecham was a controversial figure, not least because of his decision to end Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday for state employees, his claim that high divorce rates were caused by women holding jobs and his description of African-American children as “pickaninnies.” Then there were the accusations that he misused state funds and failed to disclose a $350,000 campaign loan.
Buck launched a successful effort to impeach Mecham, leading the Arizona Republic to describe Buck as a “millionaire, self-acknowledged homosexual and registered Republican” who was “destined to go down in history as one of Arizona’s most unlikely political figures.”
The impeachment campaign was a rough one, with Buck attacked because he was gay. It also resulted in publicity about Buck’s arrest for “public sexual indecency” in an adult bookstore in 1983. Buck pleaded guilty and paid a fine, and the charge was dismissed. He claimed a cop had seen him grab the crotch of a friend. Buck also was called out for trying to get a drugstore to fill a fake prescription for Percocet, a highly addictive drug that contains oxycodone. In an interview in 1988 with the Washington Blade, Buck said he had made a copy of an existing prescription and needed to fill it because of pain from a root canal. Buck was indicted by a Maricopa (Ariz.) County grand jury on a charge of “attempting to obtain a narcotic through fraud or deceit.” A judge agreed to dismiss charges against Buck if he would be tested weekly for drug use for one year.
Given that Buck was openly gay, and that Mecham was known as homophobic (he once said during a radio interview that he would ask for a list of gay state employees, implying he would fire them), Buck became somewhat of an LGBT community hero. In 1989, for example, he was named Grand Marshal of the International Gay Rodeo in Arizona. Yet Buck didn’t identify with some parts of the gay community. In his interview with the Washington Blade, Buck criticized some for their flamboyance. “We dress up, we see guys in their best leather, others in their best dresses, marching down the street,” he said. “These people do not represent the majority of gay people, who would never wear costumes. And it drives the semi-closeted and moderate gay people underground.”
In 1988 at a Republican Party conference in Oklahoma City, Buck called for changes in the party’s “intolerant” stand on LGBT rights in Oklahoma, which included opposition to state-mandated sex education programs in schools. Unable to make major changes in his political party, Buck soon switched allegiances. In an online post in 2010, he explained his decision. “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, it left me. I can remember Barry Goldwater saying ‘out of the boardroom and out of the bedroom’ when referring to the role of government. That’s the GOP I was a proud member of … My principals have not changed, but to keep true to them, my political party had to change.”
Buck continued his political involvement as a Democrat, hosting a fundraiser for the Gay and Lesbian Political Campaign Fund ’90 in 1989 at his Squaw Peak home, with openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as a special guest. He also helped raise money for HIV/AIDS services in Arizona. He also successfully pushed Circle K, a nationwide chain of convenience stores based in Phoenix, to back away from a policy of denying medical coverage to those with AIDS or substance abuse problems.
Moving to West Hollywood
Buck “retired” to West Hollywood in 1991. One of the causes he embraced in WeHo was rescuing abandoned or endangered animals. He is said to have fostered care for more than 40 over a five-year period. In 2007 he made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the City Council. In that campaign, he teamed up with Steve Martin and Heavenly Wilson to challenge incumbents John Heilman, Abbe Land and Sal Guarriello, all of whom were re-elected. In 2010 Buck was featured on CNN and other news channels when he attended a town hall meeting and interrupted Meg Whitman, who was running as the Republican candidate for governor of California. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went face-to-face with Buck and asked him to stop.
Buck put his political energy and skills to work in a campaign to get West Hollywood to enact the nation’s first ban on the sale of fur products. As part of that effort, he backed John D’Amico’s campaign for a seat on the City Council. D’Amico declared his support for a fur ban, something opposed by the WeHo Chamber of Commerce and some local businesses. Buck also helped D’Amico in his effort to position himself as a reformer who would push back against the political establishment, especially John Heilman, who has been on the City Council since West Hollywood was incorporated in 1984.
As part of that effort, Buck demanded access to city records to build a case that City Hall staffers and some City Council members were misusing city credit cards. That campaign focused mostly on Fran Solomon, the deputy to Heilman. In a press conference the day before the March 7, 2011, election, D’Amico and fellow challengers Scott Schmidt, Steve Martin, Mito Aviles and Lucas John Junkin issued a statement saying that ”tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars (have been) wasted on high-end meals and luxurious gifts for City Hall staff, developers and lobbyists.”
A subsequent investigation by the city largely refuted those accusations, noting that Solomon had spent less than $2,000 in 2010 on meals with constituents and people doing business with the city, which was part of her role as a full-time deputy to a part-time council member. Other expenses called out by Buck and the City Council candidates involved payments for awards such as gift cards and ball point pens to city employees who had reached certain employee milestones. The district attorney did launch an investigation into Councilmember John Duran’s spending on lunches but eventually dropped it.
The Death of Gemmel Moore
Buck has kept a relatively low profile since the 2011 City Council election. He has, however, continued to contribute to election campaigns. The right-wing media outlets have called out $2,750 that he contributed to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election campaign. A quick online search shows donations of nearly $30,000 through June of this year to Democratic candidates in state races such as Ted Lieu, Pete Aguilar, Raja Krishnamoorthi and the Getting Things Done PAC. On Aug. 9 he updated the photo on his Facebook page, which he apparently hadn’t posted on for more than a year. Many of his friends welcomed him back.
Buck was back in the news last week after a video was posted online with LaTisha Nixon demanding an investigation of the death of her son, Gemmel Moore, a 26-year-old African-American man, at Buck’s apartment at 1234 Laurel Ave. on July 27. The outcry over Moore’s death prompted the L.A. Sheriff’s Department to announce it was opening an investigation into the incident, which the Coroner’s Office previously had ruled an accidental death caused by methamphetamine use.
While various local and national blogs are posting allegations about the death that aren’t backed up by publicly available facts, lesbian activist Jasmyne Cannick has published photos of pages from Gammel Moore’s journal, which his family recently retrieved from the Sheriff’s Department, that describe a drug using relationship between him and Buck.
“My mind and action change. I am not the same person I was born to be,” Moore wrote in his journal. “I felt as if I sold my soul to the devil — I want to be back in the hands of God. I want to be healed from drugs, poverty and troubles. I want independence. I want my own. There’s so much madness going on in my life. It’s got to be illegal and wrong. The way I was raised to be, you would never expect this.
“I just hope the end result isn’t death. Someone needs to save me soon. The only person in my corner is the person who turned me this way, the way I feel right now. Honestly, I don’t care to live anymore. I do wanna die. I feel like I’ve done way too much that this lifetime allows. If it didn’t hurt so bad I’d kill myself but I’ll let Ed Buck do it for now. Dec. 3, 2016, I miss my grandma.”
On another page Moore explicitly called out his drug use as a problem. “Something is seriously wrong with me and my body. I don’t feel normal. I honestly think it has to do with the injection of drugs. It makes me feel horrible like I’m so tired of living this life.”
WEHOville reached out to Ed Buck for a response to the allegations against him. However, he has not responded to that request.