Vice Mayor Robert Garcia is tantalizingly close to becoming the first Latino and openly gay mayor, as well as the youngest in Long Beach history.
García, 36, garnered 11,873 votes in the April 8 Long Beach primary election, among 10 candidates with 25.24 percent of the vote.
Were the electorate not split between the high number of Democrats running for the office, he might have outright won the election without the need of a runoff.
But Signal Hill political consultant Jeffrey Adler, of Adler Public Affairs, says the real story might be the election turnout.
“I find it very interesting and very discouraging that in Afghanistan last weekend 58 percent of the electorate turned out to vote under threat of death by the Taliban,” said Adler, soon after the primary election. “Here, less than 15 percent turned out to select the mayor and the council that will set the course for the city in the next four to eight years, and no one’s life was being threatened.”
Adler was referring to the initial numbers put out by the city clerk that showed that about 40,500 voters showed up to vote April 8, which is a little more than 14 percent of the registered voters. Those numbers have since changed. Actually, 49,870 people voted out of 285,029 registered voters, which is about 17.5 percent. Still, in a city with a population of more than 465,000 people, Long Beach seems to have a minority within a minority choosing the mayor.
García will be facing off Republican entrepreneur Damon Dunn, who garnered 10,637 or 22.61 percent of the vote. The winner between Garcia and Dunn will be the one who will be able to get the most votes in a low turnout.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who came in third in the race for mayor, received about 9,227 votes or 19.62 of the vote. Her error may have come from her campaign strategy, Adler said.
“Bonnie ran a campaign that wasn’t honed on a low-turnout Long Beach election,” he said. “She ran a campaign [more befitting of someone] running for the Assembly or Senate, than for mayor of Long Beach.”
Then, there was the gaffe of a mailer put out by her campaign, which showed a photo of San Diego, instead of Long Beach, below a motto that read, “Getting things done in Long Beach.”
The campaign was off target, Adler said. She played off her Democratic endorsement, some of whom may have hurt her campaign rather than helped, such as now suspended state Sen. Leeland Yee, Sen. Rod Wright and Sen. Ron Calderon.
“She played into that and less into being local, local, local about Long Beach,” he said.
Adler said that Dunn may have less of a chance winning because he is a Republican in a largely liberal city. Dunn has an uphill run. He has to look behind him because some Republicans may scrutinize him as a Republican in name only, while finding a way to win the votes of Democrats in a heavily Democratic city. While Dunn has stressed that he is a reformer, his campaign is a product of special interests, such as the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. So, he is running hollow,” Adler noted.
“All Robert has to do is coalesce the Democratic vote that Bonnie Lowenthal got, Gerrie Schipske got and Doug Otto got,” Adler said. “All he has to do is to stitch the Democratic blanket back together and he should win.”
In a recent interview García discussed his decisions as a councilman, his plans and his vision for the city if he were to become the city of Long Beach’s next mayor.
Zamná Ávila: Why did you decide to run for mayor?
Robert García: Long Beach needs a mayor that’s going to be positive, who’s going to be forward thinking [and] who’s going to have a progressive vision for the city. I’m excited about having taken the city from a budget deficit to a budget surplus. And, crime is at a historic low but I think we can still grow. So, I’m going to be moving forward on ensuring that we are restoring the environment the right way, protecting it, making sure that we create and attract good jobs and ensuring that we partner with our educational institutions.
I actually have no interest in going to Sacramento. Those who want to go to Sacramento, I think it’s great but, it’s not for me. I love being here at home too much.
ZÁ: What do you bring to the table?
RG: What I bring to the table is a proven track record of fiscal responsibility, of making sure that the city is balanced and on the right track. I think I bring innovative ideas. I bring a vision of a future Long Beach, not stuck in the past, but really one that thinks about tomorrow and big ideas. I represent all of Long Beach.
ZÁ: What would you change from Mayor Bob Foster?
RG: Mayor Foster and I are two very different people. The next mayor is going to have to bring positive change to city hall in a different way. Every election brings new ideas and it’s time for new ideas. It’s time for a different way doing things. I’m a consensus builder. I do my research to bring people together. That is my style. I am very positive and I like to work with people. I think that’s going to be what I do.
ZÁ: What do you want to continue?
RG: To be fiscally responsible, to make sure that we are not living beyond our means and to make sure that we are always looking for ways to reform government that are for the taxpayer.
ZÁ: How have you changed since you took office 5 years ago?
RG: I’m older. I know more how government more. When I came into the city council I had to learn a lot about how the city worked. I was an educator, so I came with that skill and that perspective. But now I know how the city works. I know every department. I know the people. I know the council members. I know other elected officials from across the region and the state. I have the network. I know people in Washington. I know people in Sacramento and I’m ready to start on day 1 ready to go. I don’t need any on the job training.
ZÁ: Why did you vote for the removal of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners President Thomas Fields back in November of 2013?
RG: He has been a strong leader in our community and I have a lot of respect for him. For me the vote hinged on a different question and for me the vote was about, “Should the mayor and should the mayor’s political appointees — should there be a relationship between the two — and should they both believe in the same vision. Should the mayor’s appointees be supportive of the authority that appointed them?”
What we didn’t need at the port was six or seven more months of friction between the mayor and the head of the harbor commission. And so, I believe that a mayor should have the ability to have his appointees reflect his leadership view. So, if the mayor and him were clashing, I think that the mayor has the right, in the charter, to ask for that person to be removed, and he did. Now, did Tom serve the city well? He has, but I don’t think we wanted a situation where we would be at war for six months. That’s in nobody’s best interest.
ZÁ: There are some who will say that increasing minimum wage without an increase of revenue would lead to a loss of jobs and a loss of business — especially small businesses. What do you say about that being that you supported the passage of Measure N?
RG: That generally is not the case when you specifically focus on larger corporations or businesses.
Where we’ve done minimum wage increases in Long Beach — at the convention center, the airport, at hotels — 2013 was a great year for hotels, rooms booked and everything was all up from 2012…. So, our hotel business isn’t hurting because of Measure N. What we’ve done instead is we’ve lifted people out of poverty and we are helping people bring themselves up a little bit. The same thing can happen in other places. We are not forcing minimum wages on small businesses.
Over time, minimum wages have to go up, at minimum grow with inflation. Today’s dollars are worth less. So, we should be advocating for minimum wage increases. There is federal. At the federal level they are trying to advocate for a $10.10 minimum wage. At the state level they did the right thing to raise the minimum in the next couple of years. Those are the kind of effort that we should…. That kind of increase is going to help everyone in the city.
There are always challenges when you have wage increases. In the long run people need can’t be making poverty wages. There are protections in place in some of these laws to ease in wage increase that are meant to assist small businesses…. Obviously, there is tax breaks for all sorts of things that are in place. We should all be supporting small businesses but minimum wages as a policy, modest increases over time is good for the whole economy.
ZÁ: This past year the Long Beach Police Department had high number of officer involved shooting incidents. What are your thoughts on the matter
RG: I support what’s happening. The chief has called for a pretty aggressive internal investigation committee and team to review our practices. He just named all the committee members earlier this week —a very diverse group, including the ACLU. He’s doing the right thing. I support that process. If you look at the name of the people he’s put on that commission, they are absolutely going to be pretty vocal. They are going to have very strong opinions. They will have bite…. If we are deficient in an area, then we should implement those. The group he put together is a much different group. This is specifically looking at the officer involved shootings and the procedures within the department.
ZÁ: What type of tech companies would you like to recruit for the city?
RG: Long Beach could be the Silicone Valley of the south. Long Beach has everything that we need in place to create this kind of hub in downtown…. We have a downtown by the water; we have rail, blue line right into downtown LA; we have an airport just 10 minutes away; the port; we are close to LA; we are close to Orange County. We have everything that we need as a starting point. I’d like to see high tech companies. We just need to be at the table. We got to be aggressive. There is a lot of grow in high tech in Venice and Santa Monica right now, and there is no reason why that kind of growth shouldn’t be happening here.
ZÁ: Who would you bring in to be part of the Commission on Technology?
RG: It’s going to similar commission in the city to see how the city can improve its technology but also bring ideas from other tech entrepreneurs and join them with the city so that we are able to work on some civic properties to connect together and bring ideas to the city and vice versa. There has to be that kind of stronger tech connection. That’s part of why the commission was formed.
There are no people on the committee yet. A public commission takes about 6 months. I would imagine, surely sometime this summer that the members of the commission will be selected.
Bringing in tech ideas, reviewing the technologies that we have in the city, helping us on better solutions to the way we do things by using technology. I authored the legislation that created the “Go Long Beach” application smart phone app, and that was just to make something simple, reporting broken sidewalks. We can now report something easier via smart phone.
ZÁ: How do you want to promote more job training?
RG: The community colleges have to do more job training and tech training, and have to do a better job of keeping vocational courses and programs in place versus eliminating them.
The city has a huge roll in advocating propositions. We don’t have anything with the state minimum wage, but we set a federal legislative and a state legislative agenda that goes out and promotes certain policies. So, the city does have a role in outside groups. We have a roll at the community college. We meet with trustees, we advocate for positions, we make statements [and] we have a joint use committee on education, where we meet with school board members, even though we don’t have obviously oversight of the school district. We meet together once every other month and talk about joint issues.
Now, that aside, the city does its own job training. So, we have a huge program, out of our economic development, out of our job center that we have. We have a couple, but particularly the one on Atlantic. We do a lot of job training, everything from how to write a resume to retraining to interview skills. So, we have a huge job training at the port, learning how to become a truck driver or learning to do different skills. The job training that we can advocate is the training we do every day for the city.
ZÁ: What would the job of the economic development ombudsman be?
RG: There should be always someone who is advocating within city hall to get things done. So, sometimes you might have a business that might want to open up somewhere and they are running into road blocks — a fire inspection or a permit they need. And sometimes you don’t know where to go to. We are going to have someone in the city who can go in and help that person solve that problem and walk them all the way through the process. We don’t do enough of that in Long Beach.
It could be one person. It could also someone’s job within the economic development department. There could be a variety of models. It would be general fund positions.
ZÁ: In re-funding the Long Beach Arts Council, would you include a caveat to require that there is a greater local artist presence?
RG: I would be open to that. I think they’ve done a better job in the last five years of including more local artists and giving grants to local artists. One of the challenges with the arts council is the balance between the larger civic organizations like the Opera and the Symphony, versus small grants for small local artists or performance art. The city should look at ensuring that a piece of that money goes to Long Beach local artists.
ZÁ: There are some people who fear that the breakwater might bring more traffic and pose a danger to nearby homes. As strong advocate for bringing down the breakwater, how do you respond to that?
RG: We first need to have all the data and the science correct, and that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to make sure that we complete the study and the study, at the end, will tell us what we can and can’t do exactly. So, I’m hopeful the study will tell us that we can still reconfigure in a way that we can still protect all of our coastal assets and, most importantly, our homes. But also, restore some of the shore and bring back some tidal flow and wave activity. And, if we are able to do that, it will be a huge economic benefit to the city and environmental benefit.
Four years ago, we actually did the first study, so there is a two study process. The first study is a reconnaissance study. That’s completed. The second study is a federal government breakwater study, Ecosystem Restoration Study. That is done by the Army Corps of Engineers. That study is going to start this year in 2014. That study will take, per the federal government, three years. And, that is not done by us. It’s done by the feds.
ZÁ: Where do you see the city going in the next 5 years?
RG: I see the city becoming more diversified in the economy. I see us having growth in different sectors. I see us more of a high tech city. I see us more of a city that works more with our educational partners. I see us more of environmentally progressive city. I see us more of a city with a restored ocean and beach front with more wave activity. I see us as a city that is safer, that has less poverty… a city that supports other ones and has seen revitalization in some our more difficult neighborhoods that still have challenges, like parts of central long beach and part of north long beach.