Sepi Shyne’s term as mayor began Jan. 9, 2023 with a promise to illuminate — to “eradicate the toxicity and darkness that has pervaded our social fabric, especially in politics.”
But her term will end today with West Hollywood citizens left in the dark about their mayor and the mysterious events during her final months in office that led her to seek a workers’ compensation claim against the city and a workplace violence restraining order against a man somehow involved in her trip to the emergency room last fall.
She’s kept as quiet on the matter as she has about additional security measures taken during recent City Council meetings and why the top floor of City Hall is now reportedly off limits to the public.
Silence as a shield, for better or worse, has proven to be an effective defense mechanism for Shyne, and a tool to keep the narrative under control.
It took more than a month after she became mayor for Shyne to reveal she was also running for Congress, already an open secret that had been written about in the news.
Throughout her entire term as mayor, she has worn two hats: 1) that of the up-and-coming progressive Democrat in tune with big national issues and 2) that of the small-town mayor dealing with less exciting bread-and-butter problems in WeHo. It’s a tricky dual role she sometimes struggled with.
Shyne got flak for skipping a council meeting to rub shoulders in D.C. and for sneaking off on a secret, all-expenses-paid trip to the Holy Land with Councilmember Chelsea Byers intended to endear them to Israel’s causes. Since the war with Hamas began, Shyne has walked a precarious fine line voicing support for the Jewish state and denouncing antisemitism at home while not alienating the crucial progressive voter bloc standing firmly on the side of the Palestinians.
But her critics never landed a knockout — the recall fizzled, and her positions were rarely swayed by public outcry.
The brightest moments of her term were those when she was willing to compromise her notoriously firm stances — on restoring the sheriff’s budget and agreeing to a citywide survey before determining the fate of the scooters.
Yet she kicked the can on a desperately needed reassessment of the controversial wage and paid-time-off policies she championed.
“Crime is going to happen,” Shyne told ABC in April, still touting the replacement of sheriffs with security ambassadors. “It’s worked, because crime has gone down. Priority for us is safety and we are safer than we have been in the past.”
And her public attacks and attempts to silence members of the media over unflattering reports should concern voters deciding whether to hand her greater power this March — particularly in light of accusations leveled at the current congressman over censorship of dissident voices and government overreach.
But her term may ultimately be remembered for projects whose full impact won’t be felt for years, including the bike lanes on Fountain Avenue, the homeless facility replacing the Holloway Motel, the Builder’s Remedy loophole that lets developers violate height restrictions and the long-term strategic plans that will codify hefty amounts of diversity, equity and inclusion into the city’s future.
Returning to her role as a councilmember, Shyne will hit the campaign trail for the first time without the weight of her responsibilities as WeHo’s top elected official and de facto spokesperson — but also without the publicity perk of being able to say she’s mayor.
While she leaves office with debatable progress made in bridging the divide or lifting the mood of politics in WeHo, her term as mayor offered many personal lessons — the need for transparency and diplomacy, dealing with a fragmented constituency and belligerent critics, how to navigate no-win situations — that will prove invaluable should she become a congresswoman.
Will Sepi Shyne heed those lessons? Will she ever enlighten us as to what’s going on behind the curtain?
There’s only one person who knows, and her lips are sealed.