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WeHo News city council endorsements 2013 - long form
Op-ed by Ryan Gierach, founding editor and publisher of WeHo News, West Hollywood, California
I made a long endorsement last week for city council that seemed to me, after publication, to be defensive and overly explanatory. I removed most of the content from that endorsement and sent it out again to our nearly 3,000 subscribers, but after doing so, I heard from several people that they appreciate the long form much more than the short. Apparently, they felt that too little has been said in analysis of the greater goings on politically in the city and too much leeway has been granted the forces of ignorance in pushing the city's policies.
So here is, without photos or ads, the previously written endorsement in full.
Two years ago we faced a sea change in attitudes provoked by Abbe Land and John Heilman and their arrogance in ignoring and deriding citizen objections to their plans to build senior housing on 1343 N. Laurel (Tara), their gaming the appointment of a political naïf that gave them the third vote they needed to push that project through and their shaking down developers to fund, in Ms. Land’s case her day job at the Saban Free Clinic and, in Mr. Heilman’s case, to fund human rights conferences, educational convocations and other avocational pursuits overseas.
The point I am attempting to make here is that, despite recent claims by some in our community, I am not pro-incumbent – 24 months ago I stood firmly against the incumbents.
This year, people and challengers have charged me with having a pro-incumbent bias, and term limits proponents feel strongly that, because I (and columnists in this publication) ask hard questions about their passionate anti-incumbent “reasoning” and challenge their presentation of supporting “facts,” (more appropriately termed assertions) that I stand against their effort to “throw all the bums out” by process because they have failed to do so at the ballot box.
Unfortunately, that is a corrosive message, especially coming from a news outlet. It relies on guilt by association; it preys on people’s preconceptions about corrupt pols; it fuels prejudice and fears about power and foments dissatisfaction instead of seeking to educate, inform and enlighten.
WeHo News has always stood for reason over passion, for good judgment over prejudicial and knee-jerk reaction, no matter the source. Recently a well-known activist in town wrote me a note saying, “I hope you remember that it’s been mainly us residents that have been your supporters over the years. You’ve been the voice of the people. That’s probably why it’s so hard when it feels like you’ve turned on us.”
I appreciated hearing that I have been seen as the voice of the people, but it also disturbed me, because I have never seen this publication or myself as that.
So far as commentary goes, WeHo News was set up along the lines of an emotional support group in which people could come to say the things they had no other platform for in a safe space and a dignified setting. That is why we have never allowed comments, bur sought out community voices to submit edited op-eds and to write Letters to the Editor that underwent ID verification – those steps have kept calumny and stupidity off our pages while allowing for a lively public discourse.
In the way of news coverage, WeHo News and I have always maintained as strict an objectivity as we can muster. My university training comes from history; the first course required of historians is historiography, which in large part entails the examination, detection and vetting of one’s biases. The idea is that unidentified and unconsidered bias skews all historical research since when dealing with different times and cultures the temptation to take a superior cultural position always threatens the result.
No one, not one single person on earth, is unbiased, and frankly, my biases do not extend to “being the voice of the people.” My chief bias has always been, and this recently came up in a conversation with my mother, with data, research and reason. In other words, when faced with a decision on how to proceed, I ask which course is best for most.
Here is my response to that activist:
Your comment, “conjures memories of being disparagingly referred to by [John Heilman’s deputy] Fran Solomon and Co. as WEHONAnews.com. (WEHONA was/is the group trying to save Tara and other buildings they saw as historic.
“Yet, I never felt that way. I always aimed to provide the citizens who had previously been without voice a platform for their thoughts, and to provide a professionally edited one that could stand up to the inevitable backlash of the establishment.
“Still, beyond making sure that both (or all three or four) sides in any issue were fairly represented, I took no sides. The debates played out on my pages to their logical conclusions because the establishment's activities were exposed as corrupt, or misguided or self-serving.
“You guys, in large part using my publication, made the changes in the city we see today. You guys slowed the growth, prevented Tara's destruction and brought about a new level of transparency.
“I took the side of reason, righteous thinking and open debate. By filtering activists' comments through letters and op-eds, I was able to prevent the most self-destructive behavior of the activists; most had the sense to self-censor.”
Which is the long way of making the point that I do my level best to avoid publishing from my biases and publishing based on the facts as they come across my desk. On to this year’s endorsements and the reasoning behind them. First the context…
West Hollywood’s city council is like all others in that it is charged with determining the city’s budget and allocating funding to enhance the city’s prospects - which are based on economic activity that the council’s decisions on land use and taxation directly affect. Still, WeHo is different from most cities from a few standpoints. It is very small; at 1.9 square miles with 34,500 people residing in it and no room for expansion, it ranks as one of the most densely cities west of the Mississippi river. That makes every land use decision, every decision on what type of business is allowed to operate and how, of vital importance to the city’s coffers and to the residents, none of whom live more than 500 feet away from a commercial district.
Mayor Jeffrey Prang told me many years ago that being a council member boiled done to one thing, deciding how much elbow-rubbing between commercial interests and neighbors could be tolerated by both. WeHo has been a remarkable success story on that count, as it is seen as one of the most desirable cities in which to live and our city is one of only a few in California with a budget running in the black, is the most cursory observation well-off and provides the largest amount of social services per capita in the state (and perhaps nation) to its citizens.
In addition to those economic blessings, the city stands head and shoulders above all others as a beacon of light for the days’ most important civil rights and social issues, looming larger in the state, national and international consciousness than any other city, and certainly any city its size.
I see on a daily basis through my server reports, how important this city’s stance on gay rights, women’s issues, HIV and STDs, senior issues and good government are to a world seeking answers to the quandaries they face but we have already conquered. Visitors to this site come from every single continent every single day, from 150 of the 193 countries of the world every month and from America’s Midwest and East coast every hour.
We have 20,000 readers visit every week, and many of them do come from inside WeHo – I dare say that anyone who lives or works in West Hollywood and has any interest in the news reads our publication. But in a city of 34,500, how many can that be? Most people have lives that get in the way, or do not give a care about a proposed building on the other side of town or bike lanes, or do not even realize that they do not live in Los Angeles.
Supposing that one in three residents (and that might be high) reads WeHo News, that leaves thousands of other visitors who read us. Why do they come? They come because of our coverage of the city, its impact on and the council’s leadership on those aforementioned social issues.
Sam Borelli is a fine man, a passionate public servant and earnest in his desire to do right by the city. In any other year and against any other, weaker incumbents, I would gladly vote for him.
None of the others in the race have the experience, gravitas or knowledge about a city's operations to qualify for my vote - not this year.
My choices are John Duran and Jeffrey Prang, and here's why.
John Duran, on the other hand, is a world-renowned leader on civil rights and HIV matters. His support from activists from across the state and country attest to his 30-year leadership on HIV/AIDS matters. His leadership of EQCA and ability to raise millions of dollars to fight anti-gay laws in California have made him, like the city, an outsized character on the national stage.
Never one to shy from a good conflict (“I’m a trial lawyer – that’s what we do, engage in the conflict of ideas. I’m not afraid to hear your ideas or to express mine,” he says), he provides his detractors with a large and easily discernable target. The LA County District Attorney’s now quiescent (and weakening) investigation into his expenditure of city funds on working lunches and dinners (the DA said last year that if he were to file charges it would be as a “test case” indicating that he was aware of the tenuous nature of the accusations) has been the basis of many people’s (and one publication’s) charges of unethical conduct by Mr. Duran. Further investigation, however, shows him to be an ethics stalwart and recovery superstar, a public face of the good stemming from adherence to a program that emphasizes absolute honesty, integrity and of leaving behind self-serving actions to better be of service to others.
Since making a public split from the Heilman/Land machine on these pages and in the two years since John D’Amico’s ascension to council (in which he played an important role), he has become the “swing vote” on a council that can now be characterized on development questions as “considered” or “slow-growth.” He takes seriously such under-the-radar issues as long-deferred maintenance of the city’s older apartment housing stock while also keeping in mind that economic growth must be encouraged, not discouraged.
Mr. Duran keeps the creative fire on the Creative City burning brightly by maintaining active involvement as a member of the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Choir (the only council member with a creative or artistic avocational pursuit) and his efforts to nurture artistic and cultural endeavors, particularly success such as the Sunset Strip Music Festival. He expressed disappointment to me after the council forum that he was unable to talk about these issues, given the format and the need to defend against the questions’ and challengers’ focus on the nuts and bolts of running a city, not how splendid the ride after building the convertible luxury roadster that is WeHo.
Jeffrey Prang has come in for little direct negative campaigning, with complaints about him that carry credence only if one is predisposed to think ill of incumbents. The chief complaint he faces, that he is “wishy-washy” and fails to take courageous stands early on issues, awaiting the windsock’s clues before taking a position, makes sense if you don’t like incumbents or politicians. If however, you ascribe to the tenets of representational democracy, his “waffling” looks like the exercise of strong listening skills, adherence to the idea of heeding constituents’ input and wishes and reserving judgment until he has a sense of the public’s desires, which he then weighs against the greater good and his specialist’s knowledge of the workings of civic government before making a decision.
He is derided as being a Democratic Party functionary, yet those detractors fail to grasp how important it is to the functioning of the city to have a direct line to people in power, such as California State Assembly Speaker John Perez (whom he has known since Mr. Perez’s time as a labor organizer) or Eric Bauman, the openly-gay chairman of the powerful and influential LA County Democratic Party – the largest in the nation.
If you want Governor Jerry Brown to take your phone call, yet have never raised a dime for him or for your fellow Dems nor have supported them with endorsements in their election bids, you may as well talk to your sofa for it will respond more loquaciously than the Governor (for whom Mr. Bauman acts as a chief advisor).
Mr. Prang stood virtually alone against Mr. Heilman and Ms. Land and with Allegra Allison and WEHONA on the efforts to save Tara. He has been a solid voice of reason on development issues, calling for more green space, answers to parking, more and better used community input and advocating for more attention to residents’ concerns. If a resident asks for constituent services of the council offices, their requests in John Heilman’s and Abbe Land’s office’s – more often than not – get filed in the circular file under the desk. Not so with Mr. Prang – he is known as Mr. Pothole for good reason. He sees himself as residents’ conduit to city services, the means by which the residents can gain access to the right department head to get help with whatever they need.
For those reasons I will be voting for Mr. Prang and Mr. Duran.
All that said, regardless of how you vote, DO VOTE. I will.