Last week it was just a whisper, a rustle in the leaves. Now it is taking form. While it is not yet an organized campaign or even a movement, it is a notion that is starting to quietly echo through the community. It is an idea, a hope, that has yet to find its voice. It is the thought that maybe West Hollywood needs a feminist majority on the City Council, a majority consisting of three female members.
In an election that is marked by voter ennui, the politics of gender may spark a revolution in West Hollywood politics.
In light of the recent resignation of Mayor John Duran from the board of the Gay Men’s Chorus amid allegations of sexual harassment from three members, it is becoming increasingly clear that West Hollywood’s gay majority, as currently constituted, has lost its credibility and its moral standing. I do not mean to say that individual council members are not dedicated and hard working or are bad people; it is just that their leadership seems increasingly disconnected and out of touch, perhaps even irrelevant to the changing demographics of West Hollywood and its gay community.
Tainted by connections with Ed Buck, ridiculed for presenting Stormy Daniels the key to the city, nostalgic for the Boys’ Town of their youth, some of the gay council members seem to have forgotten the values upon which this community was founded. The entire notion of a gay male majority seems increasingly irrelevant to a growing number of voters.
For many, the gay majority was West Hollywood’s crowning achievement. It certainly was when the city was founded and we elected the nation’s, indeed the galaxy’s, first gay City Council majority, consisting of Valerie Terrigno, Steve Schulte and John Heilman. It was a historic moment that cast West Hollywood into the international spot light. But that majority was lost by late 1985, and a gay majority did not re-emerge until the election of Jeff Prang in 1997. For a few years we even had four gay members of the City Council. Until very recently, West Hollywood’s gay community has seen this majority as a source of pride, and it remains one of West Hollywood’s defining features.
But West Hollywood’s demographics are changing with the times. In this election we have two hard working female incumbents, Lauren Meister and Lindsay Horvath, as well as two articulate female candidates in the race. This is the first time since the election that founded the city in 1984 where voters will have an opportunity to vote for three credible women for City Council. Thirty five years seems like a long time to wait.
At the candidates’ forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, Sepi Shyne and Marquita Thomas both gave strong performances. But it was Shyne who captured the applause when she decried the fact that in the year 2019 the City of West Hollywood still did not have gender parity in the appointment of board and commission members.
Shyne was correct in her criticism. While I managed to have gender parity in all of my appointments during my two terms on the City Council, none of my colleagues ever attempted to follow my example. I insisted on appointing a female Planning Commissioner simply because for most of the time, my appointment was the only woman on that body. Shyne is correct to raise the banner of gender parity in a city that is so self-congratulatory when it comes to diversity. Given that Shyne has been endorsed by the Stonewall Democratic Club and by U.S. Representative Katie Hill, she is probably the leading non-incumbent in this race.
Of course the election of three women would not mean the end of the gay majority, we would be blessed with both a gay and lesbian majority as well as a female majority. That should be enough to make national headlines.
I am not saying that any of the three incumbents don’t deserve re-election. I am just reporting on what I am hearing. Given the fact that women voters remain highly galvanized, we may see a historic shift on the City Council in the coming election. Due to this unique moment in time, gender may become the defining issue in this City Council race. A female majority on City Council may shake things up in ways we never imagined. As a gay man I would find the changing of the guard a bittersweet moment but if West Hollywood has any constant it is change and re-invention.