Interview #113: West Hollywood, CA Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

John D’Amico is in his seventh year on the WeHo council and he is not afraid of wading into controversies. From Donald Trump’s Hollywood star to bad behavior by council members, he discusses the importance of speaking up when necessary.

Q: When did the idea enter your mind that Donald Trump should no longer have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and that you should do something about it?

A: When that star was vandalized again, it occurred to me that we were spending our time thinking about it and more importantly, the city of Los Angeles was spending tax dollars to replace it. And I was just thinking, why are we doing that? Why are we not speaking out? Why am I not speaking out? What very quickly occurred to me next was, why does this person–this sexist, quasi-fascist actor–have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Q: Yeah.

A: I received hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails. I responded to every single one with an email back that had my phone number at the bottom. Only two people called me. They were truly amazing people living in the middle of the country. We agreed that we were not gonna see this in the same way.

Q: On August 6, you introduced an actual resolution asking the Los Angeles city council and the chamber of commerce to remove the Trump star. As you might imagine, there were some strong opinions. One man even called you a “bad strategist” for not waiting until after the primary elections to send the letter. How worried were you that your actions may have affected the Wyoming governor’s race or the Alaska state senate primaries?

A: Well, not at all. I’m fairly certain that what we did here in West Hollywood had zero effect on elections across the country. That effect was generated by this president. He earned this “blue wave.”

Q: I can see that commenter’s point, though. This president loves to take legitimate criticism of him and convert it into fuel for immigrant bashers and media haters and mail bombers. Did you consider what might have happened if he had tweeted about you and what that might have meant for your safety or your city’s image?

A: Here’s what I thought: I’m not gonna live in an America where the president targets people. We can’t live in a country where you can say, “well, if the president tweets at you, you might be harmed.” That is not okay!

West Hollywood, CA Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico

Q: You do have a reputation for bringing matters out into the open. I’m thinking especially of the meeting of March 7, 2016, when you called out Councilmember John Duran for his inappropriate behavior in council meetings. What prompted you to go public with that information?

A: I’m not always the most eloquent speaker. I don’t always get it right. But I will say that I do think that silence is often tantamount to complicity. I will say that Mayor Duran and I have very much repaired our relationship. He has changed dramatically as a council member and now mayor of our city. But my side of that was that I wanted our residents to know that I am paying attention and I am not afraid of speaking my truth on their behalf.

Q: Do council members need to be trained to recognize when something is out of whack? If they see something, to bring it up right away and not let it loose in a council meeting two years after the fact?

A: Sure, I guess that would make sense. But council members have bosses. That’s the public. We do not report to each other.

Q: Well, the constituents rely on someone to sound the alarm, though. Would you not agree?

A: Fair enough. Absolutely.

Follow Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico on Twitter: @ourWEHO


Interview #30: West Hollywood, CA Mayor Lauren Meister (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

West Hollywood–or “WeHo” if you’re cool–is a progressive, strongly LGBTQ community in LA County. Its city council meetings are well-attended and are well-corralled by Mayor Lauren Meister. We talked about why she thinks council members shouldn’t be on electronic devices and about the time she evacuated the chamber!

Q: In the April 2016 council meeting, you became mayor and were sworn in by a drag queen! Why did you decide to do it that way?

A: We are West Hollywood, so we don’t always do things the usual way!

Q: You only give people 90 seconds to public comment. As someone who watches a lot of city council meetings, I think you’re doing the Lord’s work. I think you can get a decent argument out in 90 seconds.

A: If there are a lot of people, my goal is to try to get as many people in–if not everyone. The rest of the meeting may go until midnight. If they have more to say, they’re welcome to stay until the end of the meeting and to speak again. We’ll have 15, 20, 25 people come in to speak.

Q: When you do go that late, do you notice people’s attention and patience start to drop? Do you feel fatigued?

A: Definitely. I come with my triple-shot Starbucks, that’s for sure.

Q: In May of last year, you proposed banning electronic communications–like council members using cell phones or tablets–from the meetings. Why?

A: It just doesn’t look good if people are busy texting. During a public hearing when you’re supposed to be listening to the public–even if you’re just texting your mom, it just doesn’t look good.

Q: Do you have a “no cell phone rule” at the dinner table?

A: [Laughs] No! I guess some people are multi-talented and can do all these things at once but I think we should be paying attention.

West Hollywood, CA Mayor Lauren Meister

Q: If you had to describe your style of running meetings in three words, what would you say, other than “speedy” or “efficient?”

A: Well, you’re taking away all my words! I’d say I try to run a tight ship.

Q: Do you have any memorable moments from the WeHo city council meetings?

A: It was actually at that meeting when we were talking about electronic devices, there had been a robbery and the suspects had driven to a neighborhood. And there ended up being a lockdown. I wasn’t getting any of the texts because of course I had my phone off!

Q: Oh, the irony! That’s why you need the cell phones, mayor!

A: Another [time], we were in the middle of a discussion and the fire alarms went off. It was 11 o’clock at night and I had a really good run where I was getting us out at 11. We ended up adjourning the meeting outside! Everything was fine. It was just someone who was doing steam cleaning in the garage.

Q: Do you ever have any movie stars come in to the meetings?

A: We have had one or two. Actually, recently we had someone who spoke at public comment.

Q: You had Marisa Tomei from My Cousin Vinny at the last meeting.

A: Yes, that is correct. I still gave her only 90 seconds, by the way!

Follow Mayor Lauren Meister on Twitter: @meister4weho