The heat is on!
With only 39 days to go before the Nov. 3 City Council election, email messages have been circulating accusing various candidates of taking unusual (and unlikely) positions, such as one in which Larry Block is purported to confess that he only is running for office to drain away votes from incumbents so that Sepi Shyne can win. (Block is much more a Shyne opponent than a Shyne supporter.)
But at Monday night’s virtual City Council meeting, Block himself stepped forward to call out incumbent John Duran for having campaign signs posted on public property and for saying “experience matters” and “no time for amateurs” on those signs.
“I agree,” Block said in regard to the claim that experience matters. “None of the candidates have experience being asked to step down as mayor. None of the candidates have any experience being censured by their colleagues. All of us have no experience lying to the Human Resources Department at City Hall, or giving Stormy Daniels a key to the city. And I’m guessing most of us pay our fair share of taxes.”
In those comments before the Council, Block alluded to a host of issues involving Duran, the most controversial member of the West Hollywood City Council in the city’s 36-year history, issues that have barely been mentioned in the campaign thus far. While many of the issues have been gotten media attention across the country, Duran’s failure to pay his taxes hasn’t been talked about.
Block called Duran out for having liens filed against him for non-payment of more than $9,000 in state taxes and tens of thousands of dollars in federal taxes, some of which have been paid down somewhat.
In 2015, 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. Duran has said that a private investigator hired by the city reported no misbehavior on his part. However, that investigator did say there was evidence Duran engaged in sexually inappropriate discussions with staff.
In a trial involving City Council deputy Michelle Rex, Owens testified that Duran talked often to his deputy about his sex life, including his visits to the “glory holes” at the Zone, a sex club east of La Brea Avenue. 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 then-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 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 exposé 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 Chorus member, 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 using his title as mayor of West Hollywood in soliciting sex from them on online apps. A young 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.
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 Black 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 after the City Council’s April 2019 vote to censure Duran, he was embraced by prominent leaders of the LGBT community. On his Channel Q online radio program he 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.
In recent months, Duran has gotten the endorsements of State Assembly member Richard Bloom, who represents WeHo in Sacramento, and Josh Kurpies, a West Hollywood resident who works for Bloom. Former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky gave his support to Duran as did former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former California State Assembly Speaker John Perez, and former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver.