Seeking higher office, WeHo councilwoman scrubs WeHo from her bio

·10 min read
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 10: Lindsey Horvath is running for supervisor in Los Angeles County's District 3. Melrose Place Farmers Market on Sunday, April 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Lindsey Horvath, a member of the West Hollywood City Council, is running for Los Angeles County supervisor. Her campaign website has been stripped of references to West Hollywood. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

As she seeks higher office, Lindsey Horvath might be expected to tout her nine years on the West Hollywood City Council.

But her campaign website for Los Angeles County supervisor leaves out one thing: West Hollywood.

The flashy little town — the famed mecca of LGBTQ culture and home of the Sunset Strip, where there are rainbow-colored crosswalks and more TMZ tour buses than school buses — is referred to, simply, as "the city."

The lack of a geographic identifier makes for strange reading.

"In 2009, she was appointed to serve as a City Councilmember following the death of a long-serving Councilman," her online bio says. "She returned to the Council in 2015, was sworn in as Mayor in April 2015 and again in May 2020."

A Google search turns up Horvath's official page on the West Hollywood city government website, as well as her Twitter account describing herself as a #WeHo councilmember.

So what was the point of scrubbing the city's name from lindseyhorvath.com?

Some in West Hollywood are wondering if Horvath's ambition has led her to shy away from the proudly liberal city synonymous with its LGBTQ population.

They figure that might broaden her appeal in the vast 3rd District she is vying to represent, which includes conservative-leaning parts of the San Fernando Valley. But it risks alienating the constituency that helped launch her political career, at a time when LGBTQ rights are being targeted by right-wing politicians nationwide.

In a politically engaged place like West Hollywood — a 1.9-square-mile city of 35,000, with no shortage of drama or gadflies — people tend to notice.

"Lo and behold, when she wants to get to higher office, we don't matter anymore," said Jerome Cleary, a 36-year West Hollywood resident and former City Council candidate.

Cleary, who is gay, said it seems like Horvath is trying to disassociate herself from West Hollywood, "that moniker which means, to so many people who are conservative, gay and debauchery and Sodom and Gomorrah."

In running for county supervisor, Horvath, 40, is seeking to join a board whose members are sometimes called the "five little kings," because they each represent 2 million people and control an annual budget of more than $38 billion.

She finished second in the June 7 primary to a state senator, Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who has a deep political base in the Valley. The two are facing off in a runoff election to replace Sheila Kuehl.

When Horvath launched her campaign, her website contained the usual references to her West Hollywood accomplishments. The WeHo scrub happened earlier this year, her campaign said.

According to screengrabs captured by the Internet Archive, the changes occurred between Feb. 1 and March 3.

The inaugural West Hollywood Pride parade on June 5 on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The inaugural West Hollywood Pride parade on June 5 on Santa Monica Boulevard. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Language about Horvath's progressive bona fides also disappeared from her website, which had previously cited her "long history of civic and social justice advocacy" and "her work advancing the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people," according to the Internet Archive.

The changes were first reported last month by the Acorn, which covers Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Westlake Village. The story was picked up by Wehoville, a gossipy hyperlocal blog that is widely read in West Hollywood.

In a statement to The Times, Eric Hacopian, Horvath's campaign strategist, called any focus on the website "a distraction."

"It's no secret Lindsey is a West Hollywood City Councilmember. But Lindsey is running to represent all of the 3rd Supervisorial District, not just one part of it," Hacopian said. "The 3rd District is as diverse as Los Angeles itself and, as such, Lindsey must earn every vote by speaking to as many residents as possible."

Campaign spokespeople said they want to focus on Horvath's plans for tackling issues like homelessness and public safety, and "her life story."

Last December, in a once-in-a-decade process, a citizens' committee redrew the boundaries for the five supervisors' districts.

The 3rd District, which stretches west to Santa Monica and Malibu, still contains some liberal bastions, but the addition of San Fernando Valley communities like Porter Ranch and Chatsworth creates challenges for a West Hollywood-based candidate.

Kuehl, who has endorsed Horvath, said last year that the new lines were intended to make the district more centrist and "a much easier district for a man who’s been salivating to run for the office but found himself in need of an electorate more closely tailored to his politics.” She did not name the male politician.

Horvath, an advertising executive and Ohio native, was 26 and had lived in West Hollywood for less than two years when she was appointed to the City Council following the death of longtime member Sal Guarriello in 2009.

The selection of Horvath — a young but accomplished progressive activist for women's rights and reproductive freedom — upset some residents, who believed the seat should have been filled by voters in a special election, not through an appointment by sitting councilmembers.

Horvath, who is straight but has cultivated relationships in LGBTQ circles, lost her first election for the seat in 2011. Voters gave her a chance in 2015, and she has been a councilwoman ever since, including two stints as mayor.

As a member of the City Council, Horvath has helped usher in bold but controversial change, including approving the nation's highest minimum wage of $17.64 an hour.

In a highly polarizing decision on June 27, she voted to incrementally reduce the number of deputies in the West Hollywood sheriff's station and to increase the number of unarmed security guards patrolling the streets.

Hertzberg
Horvath finished second in the primary to state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who has a deep political base in the Valley. The two are facing off in a runoff election to replace Sheila Kuehl as county supervisor. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

It is normal for candidates to hone their message and emphasize different issues — for example, shifting from student loan forgiveness in the primary election to health insurance in the general, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and political expert.

But Levinson said she does not know how often candidates simply omit parts of their qualifications. Horvath's campaign, she said, might have surmised that some voters would have a strong reaction against references to West Hollywood and to LGBTQ rights.

"She may be concerned about people's preconceived notions about her if she includes that language," Levinson said. "People may have reactions that aren't favorable to her, linking her to things that may be unpalatable for them."

Horvath's supporters have tried to downplay the online changes as petty fodder for the blogosphere.

Kuehl sent a fundraising email for Horvath last week in which she blasted "a somewhat despicable rag published in Lindsey's hometown of West Hollywood" — seemingly a reference to Wehoville — for "pushing a non-story about her not sufficiently touting her LGBTQ ally credentials in her campaign."

In an interview, Kuehl said she was reminded of her own run for state Assembly in 1994, as an openly lesbian candidate.

“I was one of the few gay people running, and I was attacked by the petty bloggers in the gay community that I didn’t put that I was a lesbian in every piece of mail,” she said. “What I had discovered is what constituents care about is their issues. … It’s, ‘I know you are a lesbian, but what is your stance on education?’”

But locals say Horvath's website sends a message.

"People are definitely talking about it," said former West Hollywood Councilman Steve Martin, who has endorsed Horvath for supervisor. "It's like biting the hand that feeds you."

West Hollywood
Lindsey Horvath, third from left, attends a news conference for reproductive rights May 3 at West Hollywood City Hall. Mayor Lauren Meister is speaking. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Martin said the city's quirky reputation is outsized — it's a place where pet owners are officially called "guardians," where the sale of fur is banned and where there used to be an official Go-Go Dancer Appreciation Day. That can be a double-edged sword when vying for larger office, he said.

The City Council for years was embroiled in controversy over sexual harassment allegations against former Councilman John Duran, who hired an aide after meeting him on the hookup app Grindr.

Horvath had nothing to do with that — but it's understandable why she might want to create some public distance from a city with too many scandalous headlines, Martin said.

“I can understand why Lindsey doesn't want all that baggage that she didn't create," he said. "It's annoying, but I get it."

In West Hollywood last week, residents told The Times they were aware of the controversy and were struggling to understand Horvath's motivations.

As he walked his dog Willie down Santa Monica Boulevard, Daniel Byrne said he found the wording changes "peculiar."

"I felt it was very selfish and self-serving of her to do something like that," said Byrne, 62, an accountant who has lived in WeHo for more than two decades.

He said he is tired of seeing members of the City Council try to use the position as a steppingstone to larger office, when complaints about things like worsening traffic seem to go unheard.

In recent years, former West Hollywood Councilman Jeffrey Prang was elected L.A. County assessor, and Duran ran unsuccessfully for supervisor against Kuehl.

Byrne said he will probably vote for Hertzberg because of the state senator's many years of experience.

Dave Jacobson, a consultant for Hertzberg's campaign, sought to draw a contrast between Hertzberg and Horvath, saying the state senator is "running on his record."

"He's not going to run from his record of standing up and fighting for people," Jacobson said. "He has never gone through a metamorphosis for the general election. What you see is what you get."

Hertzberg — who has the financial backing of multiple law enforcement unions — is widely seen as the more moderate candidate and has been blasted by progressives for his record on environmental bills, including declining to vote last year on a bill that would have banned fracking.

In Sacramento, Hertzberg earned the nickname "Huggy Bear" for initiating unwanted hugs that led to a reprimand from the Senate Rules Committee.

Horvath's campaign strategist, Hacopian, has referred to him as "a problem called Grabby Bob Hertzberg."

In ads, Hertzberg has highlighted his role in launching one of the first solar manufacturing companies in Los Angeles. He also has apologized for making people feel uncomfortable with his hugs.

West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem Sepi Shyne, the first queer woman of color elected to the City Council, called the changes to Horvath's website "a nonissue" and described her as a "true ally" to women and LGBTQ people.

"I'm pretty sure all of L.A. County knows she is a very active, progressive councilmember in the city of West Hollywood," Shyne said.

Elsewhere on the internet, Horvath's WeHo credentials are easy to find.

On Twitter, where her bio has retained a reference to the West Hollywood City Council, she calls herself "Mom to Winston of WeHo."

Winston, a goldendoodle, has his own Instagram, "winston_of_weho."

On Horvath's campaign website, the dog is simply "Winston."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.