Political consultant Steve Afriat, lobbyist and advocate for gay rights, dies at 68
Lobbyist and longtime campaign consultant Steve Afriat held a lifelong fascination with politics, one that led him to work on campaigns as a teen, run for state office twice and spend decades offering behind-the-scenes counsel to the region’s elected officials.
Afriat worked with politicians in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and elsewhere on dozens of campaigns. He represented real estate companies looking to reshape the the city’s skyline. But he was especially proud to have been the first openly gay man to run a Los Angeles City Council office, said former Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who employed Afriat as his top aide from 1983 to 1985.
At that time, gay men who came out risked losing their jobs and their families, Yaroslavsky said. Afriat left the post to open his own lobbying and consulting business.
As an openly gay man, “he was a trailblazer, not only as a chief deputy, but in his business,” Yaroslavsky said. “He was hugely successful at a time when — in the ‘80s and ‘90s — people tiptoed around issues of sexuality, especially in the business community, which was a more socially conservative world than my office was.”
Afriat, 68, died Dec. 28 of complications from a heart condition, following a brief hospitalization, said Aaron Green, president of the Afriat Consulting Group.
Afriat was born Nov. 20, 1952, at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and grew up in the West Hills section of the San Fernando Valley. He became interested in politics at an early age, becoming president of the San Fernando Valley Young Democrats at 18 and managing his first campaign a year later, said attorney Alan Bail, a longtime friend of Afriat.
“He showed me how to interact with powerful people, how to speak with voters, how to meet people where they are,” Bail said.
During those early years, Afriat volunteered for such candidates as Joel Wachs, then making his first run for City Council, then-Assemblyman Henry Waxman and George McGovern, the Democrat Party’s presidential nominee.
In 1976, Afriat began teaching social studies at Valley Alternative School. Partway into his tenure there, he grew alarmed by the campaign for the Briggs Initiative, a ballot measure that would have allowed school boards to fire teachers for being gay or supporting those who are.
The measure was defeated. But the fight over the initiative helped inspire Afriat to run for state Assembly two years later, Green said.
Afriat lost that campaign and was defeated again two years later. But those campaigns put him in contact with Yaroslavsky, who soon hired him as his top aide.
In 1985, Afriat helped launch the AIDS Walk Los Angeles, just as HIV was becoming a major health crisis for gay men across the city. He also served on the committee that worked to incorporate West Hollywood as a city. Over the following decades, he joined several other government panels, including the county’s Civil Service Commission, where he served as president until his death.
As a lobbyist, Afriat advocated for the approval of real estate projects in Hollywood, Century City, Warner Center and many other neighborhoods. As a consultant, he helped win voter approval for bond measures that generated more than $2 billion for the construction of new libraries, park facilities, recreation centers, animal shelters, fire stations and police stations, Green said.
While Afriat represented an array of elected officials, he also served as a sounding board for those looking to get involved in politics, particularly those who were gay or lesbian, said John Duran, a former West Hollywood City Councilman, who relied on Afriat to manage two of his campaigns.
“He would always take a meeting or a phone call, or make an introduction,” said Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, who first won countywide office in 2014, a campaign also run by Afriat. “He shared his knowledge, his experience, with anybody who wanted it or needed it.”
Former L.A. City Councilman Mike Hernandez retained Afriat as his political consultant in 1993 and 1997, winning reelection in both of those years. After he stepped down in 2001, Hernandez — who had struggled with drug addiction while in office — turned to Afriat for help staying sober.
Afriat responded by going with him to AA meetings in the San Fernando Valley, Hernandez said.
“He guided me during those moments of uncertainty,” he added.
In recent years, Afriat focused more on his lobbying work and less on political consulting. He bucked his allies in the business community by endorsing Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15. And he remained a mentor to those interested in politics, friends and colleagues said.
“He was decent and kind throughout his life, including in his professional life and political life,” said Bail, the attorney and longtime friend.
Afriat is survived by his husband, Curtis Sanchez; sisters Bonnie Noveck and Sari Afriat; his sister-in-law Debbie Liekkio, and a niece and nephews.
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