Candidate for West Hollywood city council Sam Borelli spoke with WeHo News for our second in a series of nine interviews with those people running for election on March 5, 2013.
He comes to the Creative City from Newton, Massachusetts, arriving in 2000, settling just below the infamous (and shut down by the city) Dublin’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip.
He said his introduction to big city life via the Sunset Strip, “was a rude awakening for a suburban boy.”
Moving from there to La Jolla Avenue, he gained the full perspective of life in WeHo – the gay cruising alley behind the Circus of Books and Gold Coast bar often called “vaseline alley.”
He called that, “another rude awakening for a suburban boy. For the first couple days I thought I was the best looking guy in the city… Men would be going round the block and looking at me and I would go, ‘how you doin’. I had no idea,” what was really going on.
In fact, that experience was what catalyzed his entry into the realm of public safety. “At that time that lot,” – a LA County parking lot – “was still a hotbed of activity and online sex sites were advertising it…
“But for the neighborhood… it was causing lots of problems,’ he said. “sexual relations in neighbors’ yards, and condoms, needles… So there was a task force started to see what we could do to make the lot less ‘seedy’ and more user friendly.
“You know West Hollywood; we don’t take away these kinds of things, but we try to make it so that it’s more livable.”
He said that attending the meetings reflected his neighborhood focus. “I don’t like to drive; I like to walk… supporting the local businesses and being out on the street. So I got involved in the task force and soon got voted onto the Public Safety Commission.
"I'm a public servant, at heart."
His run for election to council is happening because, he said, “It’s time. I think that, for me, I’m ready [for more responsibility after spending] “eight years sitting on the Public Safety Commission and various task forces, including the Outdoor Smoking task force and the Avenues Streetscaping working group.
“And then there’s the council. We have a great council,” he asserted, “but I believe that it’s time for new leadership and a new generation of West Hollywood to step forward. We’re almost in our 30th year and most of the same players are still on the council – what’s the plan for the next generation?”
Mr. Borelli said that the current council had neglected to prepare the city for a future with new energy and input, as he did with the Trevor Project, a non-agency he was with in its early years.
“I sat on all the different seats, I chaired different committees, I was the vice-chair for a while,” said Mr. Borelli, “but I also brought people in, got them involved, enrolled them onto the board and then I moved on.
“That’s what [the city council] should do, that’s the model that we should have,” he asserted. “We have great commissioners and terrific advisory board members. But most of the time they’re scared to run for city council because of the challenges that they face.”
He laid out those challenges as being, “incumbent backlash” as in the recent firing of John Heilman Planning Commissioner John Altschul for his support of former-Planning Commissioner John D’Amico in his successful 2011 run for council.
Mr. D’Amico put Mr. Altschul back onto the commission soon after taking office.
(John Heilman, after two years, still refuses to speak to Mr. D’Amico, and his deputy, Fran Solomon, has been the subject of a human services personnel inquiry because of her “shrieking and screaming” at the council member inside City Hall, an unseemly display reported by several other staff members on the third floor).
Mr. Borelli said, “It’s disconcerting when advisory board members or commissioner are fearful to endorse or support publicly for fear of losing their seats, or in my case getting phone calls or E mails from incumbents asking, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you supporting him?’ instead of being more supportive of the next generation coming forward and taking a stab at carrying on what they have already begun.”
The candidate said that he and others had begun to shake loose that intimidation, openly talking about it to challenge it, because, “A couple of things have happened in the past few years, beginning with the loss of [former council member] Sal Guarriello. We had an appointment process [to fill his seat with a political and governmental naïf, Lindsey Horvath] that a lot of people in the city, including myself, completely disagreed with…because it was just not democratic.”
He observed that John D’Amico, “a well-respected Planning Commissioner,” also gained election in the aftermath of that appointment, beating Ms. Horvath and her sponsors and slate-mates, Abbe Land and John Heilman handily in his first run for office
“It’s been a long time (if ever) since a commissioner came forward to say ‘it’s time for a change’ and was successful,” he said, characterizing the 2011 election as something of an “Emperor wears no clothes” moment for West Hollywood that showed the shallowness of the incumbent’s supposed power to intimidate.
Mr. Borelli noted that despite Mr. D’Amico’s lopsided victory over the incumbents, “The city is still in good shape, we’re still making money, we’re still bringing in new businesses and we still have our AAA bond rating.”
He said that Mr. D’Amico’s election proved that incumbents are not essential to the city’s health and well-being, that, “over the last few years people have seen it doesn’t have to be the same people who have been here a long time; we can survive and thrive with new ideas.”
He alluded to term limits as another result of the frustration with the incumbents’ seeming lock on power. “Thirty-five hundred residents came forward to force change where it doesn’t always happen,” he said.
Faced with the question of, “since you’re running for office against incumbents, by nature you must run against something about the way incumbents handle themselves – what is that?” he cautiously put forward his points of agreement first.
“ I agree more often than not on a lot of the items and issues that Mr. Prang goes for,” saying, “We are both public safety guys,” and calling him the, “eighth member of the [seven-member] Public Safety Commission” because he can be relied on to focus on the greater good in that area.
He lauded Mr. Prang for attending every neighborhood watch meeting, “election season or not,” and remaining accessible to constituents – his office is arguably the “constituent services” council office, said Mr. Borelli.
On the same theme, he gave John Duran kudos for his work on Gay Rights and the LGBT community, keeping younger people involved in Marriage Equality and on HIV rights and education.
However, he staked out Mr. Duran’s “representation of the city” as a point of major disagreement.
“I think we can be a destination and celebration of a wonderful town to come to,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s something that we should always give away and represent as something it isn’t necessarily.”
He mentioned Go-Go Appreciation Day as one area of disagreement. “I think g-go dancers get appreciation every time they dance. Why don’t we have a volunteer appreciation day?” he asked.
He called it “interesting that the two council members (D’Amico and Duran) who say there are too many events are adding events.”
On term limits, he told WeHo News that he signed the petition because he wants to see it on the ballot, but he does not think that the measure as written will necessarily “fix” the municipal body politic.
“What I struggle with is, three terms, you’re done, don’t come back. What I think would be more democratic is if you served couple or three terms, took a term off, and if you were good at it and people wanted you back you could come back [to the council to serve].”
He does see, however, how term limits can help newbies get past the need for huge campaign war chests granted incumbents by development interests.
“I’m not an incumbent,” he said. “I don’t have the same access and relationships with the developers that people have had for 20-30 years that can write large checks well before the election.
“One of the incumbents,” he noted, “had $30,000 in the bank before June of 2012,” for his race, making it challenging for, “the new upstarts to potentially try to meet that.”
He thought he could raise $80,000 for his race, but acknowledged the leg up incumbents enjoy in fundraising.
To date, he told WeHo News on January 3, 2013, he had “83 contributors who had given his campaign $13, 700.00 (with only one developer contribution).”
He criticized the council for its sometimes magpie ways, saying, “The council easily gets distracted by bright, shiny objects such as Rihanna’s being crowned Carnaval Queen. Too often they have glittery, blingy stars in their eyes.”
For more on the Sam Borelli campaign for West Hollywood City Council, go to samborelli.com.