Something troubling has been brewing in West Hollywood for quite some time now, and the current campaign season is underlining that fact now more than ever.
Earlier this week, we reported how the West Hollywood Term Limits Committee 2013 moved its kick-off party from one venue to another because of political skulduggery. The committee then felt forced to meet secretly in the dimly lit back room of a gay bar. WeHo News and WeHoVille also reported about accusations of intimidation tactics used against supporters of a City Council candidate.
In a city that prides itself as a nationwide model for the highest kind of liberal politics, we can only think of one question: What in the heck is going on here?
A little background… During our reporting for three L.A. Weekly cover stories — “West Follywood,” “West Hollywood's Fur Ban Could Be a Model for the Nation,” and “Dethroning West Hollywood's Martinets,” — we read numerous articles, various reports, and a history book or two. We also spoke with many community and business people. We know about West Hollywood's past and present.
In 1984, when West Hollywood won cityhood, local leaders and residents had a lofty dream: Show the world — the world — how government could work for the people, not against them.
Also, longtime West Hollywood politicos will tell you, they wanted to demonstrate in a very public way that gay folks — who, in 1984, were not accepted by American mainstream society — could offer that kind of enlightened government.
It was revolutionary stuff, and important. Not only would West Hollywood residents reap the benefits of such a government, but gays and lesbians around the world could take pride in the fact that people like them were taking charge and aiming for something so lofty, and, in various ways, were actually pulling it off.
But over the past few years, things have gone awry. That became crystal clear after we finished our third West Hollywood cover story this past summer. For the third article in a row, we met people who were scared — scared — to talk to us because they feared West Hollywood City Hall would retaliate against them.
In terms of “City Hall,” we're talking about West Hollywood City Council members. They include, in alphabetical order, John D'Amico, John Duran, John Heilman, Abbe Land, and Jeff Prang.
D'Amico, who's only been serving for nearly two years, appears to be trying to change the troublesome political culture at City Hall that we reported about in “West Follywood.” But business owners were still fearful that he may do something to them if they spoke to us about his pet project: the West Hollywood ban on fur retail sales.
Now we come to recent developments. West Hollywood Term Limits Committee 2013 was all set to hold a kick-off party at Micky's, a gay bar on Santa Monica Boulevard. At the last minute, the bar's owner told the committee it wasn't welcomed. Scott Schmidt and other committee members scrambled and found a new venue.
In a WeHoVille article, City Council candidate Steve Martin says Councilman Duran put pressure on the owner to pull the plug. Duran wouldn't comment on the matter with WeHoVille.
In the same WeHoVille piece, it was reported that City Council candidate Christopher Landavazo charged that Duran and Councilman Prang, who are up for re-election in 2013, were “using bullying tactics to keep businesses and residents from supporting his candidacy.” WeHo News also reported similar problems. Duran and Prang refused to talk with WeHo News.
When we went to the West Hollywood Term Limits Committee 2013 party, organizers asked us to not disclose the new location so the owner wouldn't get into trouble with City Council members.
As we stood in the back room of the bar, we felt as if we were spending time with an underground resistance with the prospect of secret police busting into the place at any moment. There was nothing romantic about it. In fact, it was alarming.
If West Hollywood is truly a place for high-minded politics, fear of retribution from City Council members should never exist. Gay folks, who have long been targets in the politics of fear and make up around 40 percent of the city's population, should be particularly sensitive to that — especially since four of the five council members are gay men.
A major problem, though, is that many West Hollywood residents don't vote. But in March 2013, citizens will again be asked to decide what kind of city they want to live in. The buck, ultimately, stops with them.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.