In West Hollywood, two longtime council members, John Duran and John Heilman, lose bids for reelection
West Hollywood residents have ushered in a new era by voting out the two longest-serving members of the City Council.
John Heilman, a councilman since the city incorporated in 1984, and John Duran, a colorful figure who has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations, lost to two newcomers who promised a fresh perspective for a governing board once dominated by longtime incumbents.
Sepi Shyne, a 43-year-old attorney who runs a holistic healing business for humans and pets, and John Erickson, the 35-year-old director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, were the top two vote-getters among 11 candidates on the ballot in last Tuesday’s at-large election.
Both had previously been appointed by Heilman to city commissions.
In an election where turnout was high and many voters cast their ballots early because of the contentious presidential race and the COVID-19 pandemic, Shyne came in first place with 7,850 votes.
Erickson came in second place with 7,118 votes and Heilman was third. Duran, who has been on the council since 2001, came in fifth behind retail store owner Larry Block, according to unofficial results from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.
“People are ready for change, with everything we have gone through, with the social justice movement, the pandemic,” Shyne said. “People have awoken to want evolution on every level.”
Both incoming council members said they would prioritize economic recovery amid the pandemic and would increase protections for renters. Shyne noted that she didn’t take any donations from developers.
Shyne, who is Iranian American and lesbian, is the first queer woman of color ever elected to the West Hollywood City Council and was one of only two women on the ballot.
When she takes office next month — joining Erickson, Lindsey Horvath, Lauren Meister and John D’Amico — the council will be majority female for the first time in the city’s history.
When West Hollywood was incorporated in 1984, it grabbed headlines with the nation’s first gay-majority City Council, including Heilman, who is gay. One of its first acts was an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Politics was never something I thought I was going to do, honestly,” said Shyne, who unsuccessfully ran for the council last year. “But in November 2018, after the blue wave, the rainbow wave, the women’s wave, for the first time ever I started seeing myself in office. As a queer Iranian woman, I had never seen myself [reflected].”
Shyne’s family fled Iran after the Islamic Revolution when she was 5, settling in the Bay Area. She was in the country without proper documentation until she was 16.
A longtime advocate for women’s and LGBTQ rights, Shyne serves on the West Hollywood Business License Commission and previously was on the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory board. Heilman appointed her to both. She and her wife, actress and director Ashlei Shyne, live with their three rescue cats and mixed-breed rescue dog, Chloe the Queen of WeHo.
Erickson, who ran for office for the first time, will be the youngest member of the City Council. He said he represents “new leadership for new times.”
“It was time for people who look like me, people my age, to run for office,” he said.
Erickson, a gay man and LGBTQ advocate who has lived in West Hollywood since 2010, got his start as an intern for the City Council and later worked as a deputy to former Councilwoman Abbe Land. He is a member of the West Hollywood Planning Commission.
He said it is bittersweet replacing Heilman, who appointed him to the planning commission and is “a personal hero of mine.”
Erickson was appointed in 2017 by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. He credits his late grandmother, Gladys Hritsko — who brought him as a child to civil rights rallies for seniors, women and veterans — for his interest in politics.
“When people ask, ‘Why am I a feminist?’ I say, ‘I was raised right,’” said Erickson, a native of Wisconsin.
If Heilman and Duran had won reelection, it would have been the final term for both.
In 2013 — when all but one City Council member had been in office for more than a decade — residents sent a mixed message by voting to establish term limits yet decisively reelecting longtime incumbents Duran and Jeffrey Prang, now the Los Angeles County assessor.
In 2015, Heilman briefly lost his seat before winning a special election three months later.
“I’ve served my community for 36 years, and it’s been an incredible honor and a pleasure,” Heilman, 63, who teaches at Southwestern Law School and the USC Gould School of Law, said Monday.
In recent years, allegations against Duran, an attorney, have roiled West Hollywood, with protesters packing council meetings to call for his ouster.
In 2016, the city paid $500,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Duran’s former council deputy, whom Duran said he hired after meeting on the Grindr app and having sex with him. He was reelected after that scandal.
Last year, several current or former members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles accused Duran of crude sexual comments and unwanted touching.
He said at the time that he had an unapologetically bawdy sense of humor, as a gay man who lived through the sexual revolution. He relinquished the title of mayor, which rotates annually among council members, but cited health reasons for his decision, saying he was hospitalized for blood clots.
On Monday, Duran said that he and Heilman “have been the faces of WeHo for decades.”
“When we both lose our seats at the same time, it’s a sign voters want something new,” he added.
Duran said he is proud of the work he has done for LGBTQ rights and alcohol and drug recovery, as well as the financial health of a thriving city “with huge surpluses.” He now is working on a screenplay about the HIV and AIDS crisis of the 1980s, told through characters now living amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every time I sneezed, there was a story ... about it,” said Duran, 61, of the recent controversies. “I was constantly in the public eye, constantly in public scrutiny. I feel I’ll get a little bit of my privacy back.”
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