Members of the #MeToo and Justice4Gemmel movements joined a West Hollywood City Council candidate and two former members of the city’s Public Safety Commission in a rally tonight calling for John Duran to resign his seat on the West Hollywood City Council.
Duran, faced with growing allegations of sexual misconduct, has said he will not leave the Council or give up his position as the city’s mayor. However, earlier today he did announce that he has stepped down as chair of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, some of whose members also have demanded that he leave that position.
Duran, who is in the hospital being treated for blood clots, cited that as the reason for his decision to resign immediately, which was reported by the Los Angeles Times this afternoon. “Given the current administrative and financial challenges of the organization, the board needs a full-time chair while I deal with my health issues,” Duran wrote in emails to The Times and to WEHOville.
Duran had earlier announced that he would leave that position at the end of GMCLA’s season in July. He has variously said that he had been planning for a while to leave the position, which he has held for years. But he also has said that he was stepping down because of a “toxic environment” in the Chorus caused by accusations that he has engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with several of its young members. Duran has denied the allegations.
Duran said that Vice Chairman Steve Holzer will take his place as interim board chairman and that he will remain on board until the end of the season in July.
In a regular stream of comments that he has posted on his Facebook page while in the hospital, Duran has said “hell no” to calls from him to step down as mayor of West Hollywood. However, the City Council tonight voted unanimously to rescind a decision earlier this month to extend Duran’s 12-month term as mayor from May to September. That four-month extension was made as part of a process to realign the City Council elections and terms with that of the statewide general election, which next takes place in November 2020.
Calls for Duran to leave the City Council were made by a number of people during the public comment period. The speakers included Tai Sunnanon, a member of the city’s Public Facilities Commission; Robert Oliver, who recently resigned from the Public Safety Commission; former City Councilmember Steve Martin; Mikel Gerle, a City Hall employee who has filed a complaint alleging improper sexual comments by Duran; Cole Ettman, a former City Council candidate; Richard Eastman, a cannabis rights activist; West Seegmiller, a West Hollywood resident, advocate for protection for sex workers and a friend of Duran, and John Keitel, a West Hollywood resident who quoted sexually provocative comments that Duran had made to him in texts responding to Keitel’s request that the mayor help him in organizing services for people in need.
Speakers at the rally before the Council meeting who asked that Duran resign included Sepi Shyne, a local lawyer and member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board who is running for City Council; Estevan Montemayor, the former chair of the city’s Public Safety Commission; Jasmyne Cannick, a leader of the Justice4Gemmel effort and other #MeToo and Justice4Gemmel activists.
Speakers at the rally called out the fact that Duran has served as the lawyer for Ed Buck, the white man in whose apartment Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean, both African-American men, were found dead of suspected drug overdoses. Duran has not, however, represented Buck in those matters. They noted that Duran had received $14,000 in campaign contributions from Buck and had publicly discouraged young black sex workers from coming forward to talk with law enforcement about their experiences with Buck, noting they could be arrested if they admitted they engaged in prostitution.
Duran posted on Facebook this evening a response to the allegations about him that was read to the City Council tonight by Marco Colantonio, a local resident who described Duran as a friend and mentor.
“I am always quick with a punch line or a joke,” Duran said. “Humor is my defense mechanism. I often say things that some people say are off color, ridiculous, racy or bawdy. People laugh or stammer. Some cringe. Some wish I wouldn’t. But it is who I am and when I say something improper – I am always quick to apologize if I went too far.
“It seems to me that the current angst has been created by things I have said – one comment sounding to some as racist – and other comments as sexually inappropriate and beneath the dignity of an elected official.
“The comment I made about an Asian-American man who made accusations against me recently in the Los Angeles Times, was not meant to single out his race. It was a rude and hurtful comment about someone’s appearance, and for that I owe him and the community an apology. Some of you know that my family is composed of mixed Latino and Asian heritages. My sister married a Filipino-American and my nephews and niece are beautiful mixed race Latino and Asian. My nephew married a Korean-American woman who is presently pregnant with their first son who will be mixed Asian, Latino, and white. I don’t have any racist feelings towards my own immediate family or anyone else. But my words spoken in anger and haste were wrong – and for that I am truly sorry and I would like to apologize to anyone I may have offended.
“The issue of sexual harassment at the Gay Men’s Chorus was initiated by a local blog who took an internal matter at a nonprofit where I sing with 280 other men and decided to print a story with only partial information.”
Duran’s mention of the Asian-American man was a referral to a comment in which he denied inappropriately touching a young member of the Chorus, noting that he was a “skinny Korean kid with pimples on his cheek.” His mention of the “local blog” was a reference to WEHOville, which first reported the allegations against him and Jonathan Weedman, whose contract as executive director of the Chorus was not renewed.
“I flirt. I crack dirty jokes. I often say things that make some cringe,” Duran wrote. “But I do not threaten or physically assault anyone. Not ever. It is not in my DNA. I will own my human flaws for being and saying inappropriate things. But I will never admit conduct that never occurred. That would be dishonest and done for expediency rather than truth.”
“It is time for a little less heat and a little more light. If we are demanding transparency and process as community core values – than we must extend and exercise those values with patience and forbearance. Or we subject ourselves to the rule of the mob over justice.”
Councilmember Lauren Meister asked that the City Attorney bring back as soon as possible a report on the impact of the allegations about Duran on the city. A complaint in 2015 that Duran had sexually harassed his City Council deputy resulted in a payout of $500,000 by the city to that deputy, Ian Owens.
Councilmember John Heilman, who had placed on the agenda the proposal to rescind the extension of Duran’s term as mayor, praised Duran’s contributions to the city but said “they are no excuse for this behavior.” Referencing Duran’s frequent statements that sexually open behavior is part of gay life and thus part of West Hollywood’s culture, Heilman said “There is not and should not be a different standard within the LGBT community.”
Heilman said he agreed with Meister that someone else should serve as mayor, a position that all City Council members have taken.
Councilmember Lindsey Horvath was explicit in stating that Duran should step off the City Council, a move that is not within the purview of the Council. Councilmember John D’Amico recommended that Duran step down as mayor.
“Our city cannot focus on the work of the people when we have to address new and numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including whether our Mayor used his title to solicit sexual favors,” Horvath said. “Not only has this been a distraction from the daily work that our residents and community members expect and rely on us to do, but it is also a diversion from the gravely serious homicide investigations that are ongoing in our city.”