John Duran, the most controversial member of the West Hollywood City Council in the city’s 35-year history, has announced that he is running for re-election.
In a mass email today, Duran said: “2019 is drawing to a close, and I have decided to make a run for one last and final term on the Weho council (term limits).”
Duran was widely expected to run for re-election, but today’s email is his formal confirmation that he will. The upcoming election will take place on Nov. 3, 2020. “Term limits” is a reference to a proposition passed in 2013 that restricted Council members to a maximum of three four-year terms from that point forward. Also expected to announce is the other incumbent, John Heilman.
Duran took office in March 2001, succeeding Paul Koretz. He had previously served on the city’s Rent Stabilization Commission. He is an attorney who has cited LGBT legal issues as the original focus of his practice, which today is focused on defending people on charges of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Duran also is a member of the board of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.
Duran’s tenure has been controversial since at least 2015, when WEHOville reported that Duran recruited a young gay man to a well-paid job as his City Council deputy after meeting him on Grindr, the gay sex hookup app, and having sex with him. Ian Owens was a controversial figure at City Hall and sued the city and Duran, alleging Duran sexually harassed him on the job. The city settled the suit with a payout of $500,000 rather than let the matter go to trial.
However, a related lawsuit by Council deputy Michelle Rex did go to trial. Evidence presented there included testimony by Owens in which he said Duran talked frequently about his sex life, including his visits to the “glory holes” at the Zone, a sex club east of La Brea Avenue (a “glory hole” is a hole in a wall or partition through which a man can insert his erect penis, allowing a man on the other side to perform oral sex.) And he affirmed a statement by Jill Williams, a lawyer representing the City of West Hollywood, that Duran had made “comments that he had bottomed for you, showed you pictures from Grinder …. That he wanted to have a three-way with your married best friend.” During the trial, Owens also shared an image of an email exchange with Duran in which the Council member characterized the vagina of a prominent female neighborhood leader as “an unused box.”
Despite that, Duran was re-elected in 2017 with the endorsements of prominent figures including Mayor John D’Amico and contributions from real estate developers including the Illoulian family (Jason Illoulian’s Faring is a prominent local developer), and Latham & Watkins, a law firm with offices in Century City and Los Angeles that represents developers with projects in West Hollywood.
The next round of controversy involved Duran’s position as chair of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, a non-profit that solicited and received major donations from businesses seeking to do business with the City of West Hollywood. They include Athens Services, which won a 15-year renewal of an exclusive contract to pick up trash in the city, and recently a number of cannabis companies that were seeking licenses to operate in West Hollywood. In 2018, WEHOville reported that a young member of GMCLA had alleged that its executive director, Jonathan Weedman, had forced the 20-year-old to have sex with him, an accusation Weedman has denied. That expose led to Weedman stepping down and other young Chorus members coming forward to allege sexually inappropriate behavior by Duran, which he has denied.
Duran denied the allegation of sexually inappropriate behavior from one young man, saying he wouldn’t have done that because the young man was “a skinny Korean kid with pimples on his cheek.” That led to condemnations of Duran from organizations such as Stonewall Democrats, Christopher Street West, API Equality-LA, an Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ community organization, and even GMCLA. In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times also condemned Duran for his behavior, saying his excuses for his sexual behavior were similar to excuses from Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. One of GMCLA’s most prominent donors, Ariane Getty, stepped off the board and soon Duran gave up his position as chair and also left the board.
Other young gay men not associated with GMCLA also came forward, accusing Duran of calling using his title as mayor of West Hollywood in soliciting sex from them on online apps. An attorney who spoke with WEHOville on the condition that his name not be used said that Duran had reached out to him on Grindr, texting “Don’t you want to be able to tell your friends that you sucked the mayor’s d-ck?” The man, who took a screenshot of the conversation, declined. “I thought it was tacky,” he told WEHOville.
Demonstrators showed up at West Hollywood City Council meetings to protest Duran’s behavior, also calling out his apparent effort to discourage young sex workers from coming forward to testify against Ed Buck. Buck, a gay white man, is a friend and former client of Duran’s and is known for his donations to Democratic Party candidates, including Duran. Buck now is in federal prison awaiting trial on charges related to the deaths of two African-American men of drug overdoses in his Laurel Avenue apartment.
City Council members eventually voted to censure Duran after he stated in a radio interview that he was the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct because, “Let’s face it. I’m the only, I think, sexually active member of the City Council. I don’t want to besmirch my colleagues, but I mean, I don’t think any of them are having the level of activity I am.” In another interview Duran offered more observations about the sex lives of specific Council members.
In the months since the City Council’s April 1 vote to censure Duran, he has been embraced by some prominent leaders of the LGBT community. On his Channel Q online radio program he has hosted Lorri Jean, the CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center; Richard Ayoub, CEO of Project Angel Food; Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami; Lucia Chappelle and Keith Mozingo of the Metropolitan Community Churches, and Chris Bowen, a member of the Stonewall Young Democrats.
However, some young gay activists have raised questions about the speed with which the LGBT community has embraced Duran, which may prove problematic for his re-election campaign.
“Even before Trump was elected, there was a politician in West Hollywood behaving badly and shamelessly waiting out his various scandals. That pattern continues, and it’s sad that leaders in our community turn a blind eye,” said Robert Oliver, a former member of the city’s Public Safety Commission. “We can’t simply apply a high standard of conduct to those with whom we don’t agree.”
Political insiders do expect Duran to get backing from real estate developers and original holders of cannabis licenses such as MedMen who weren’t granted permanent recreational licenses after an independent city evaluation of applicants. Duran has frequently spoken out against city efforts to regulate development, saying they violate free-market standards. He also has said the city is over-regulating the cannabis business.
With Duran’s announcement, those who have confirmed that they are in the running are:
–Larry Block, a community activist, owner of The Block Party apparel store and chair of the city’s Public Facilities Commission.
–Noemi Torres, a real estate agent and a member of the city’s Public Facilities Commission. Torres also is on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union Los Angeles chapter.
–Sepi Shyne, a local attorney and a member of West Hollywood’s Business License Commission.
— Eric Jon Schmidt and Jack Cline, unsuccessful candidates in the 2019 election, who have told WEHOville that they are likely to run again. Schmidt has said that Cline has affirmed that he can use his drag queen name, Jackie OMG (Oh My God), on the ballot.
Candidates for the Nov. 3 City Council election can begin officially registering on July 13, 2020. The deadline for registering is Aug. 7, 2020. Candidates must contact the City Clerk’s office to begin the registration process. To register, a candidate must obtain the signatures of 20 West Hollywood registered voters on a nomination form that will be verified by the L.A. County Registrar Recorder.