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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Long Beach 1st City Council District Endorsement

Some time ago I spoke with Robert Garcia and asked him if he was going to run for the 1st District Council seat in Long Beach; at the time Bonnie Lowenthal still held the seat and had made no announcement concerning her pursuing the seat she now holds in the California Assembly. Garcia, in his affable manner, gave a chuckle and said something to the effect of, "We'll see what the future holds." I knew then he would pursue the position when it became available. Not long after that Garcia contacted several friends and colleagues and indicated he would be running for the seat, either if Lowenthal (Bonnie) was elected to higher office and vacated the seat, or when she would be termed out. At that time I told Garcia I supported him.

My relationship with Garcia goes back several years to when he participated in the Leadership Long Beach program, at the time working as the assistant to my friend Gina Rushing, President of St. Anthony High School in Long Beach. As I came to know him better through the years my first impressions of Garcia were hardened, he is very bright, he is extremely friendly, he cares about Long Beach, he is a great guy and a good man. All of these are great character traits, ones we want in our friends and ideally our leaders; but when it comes to electing our policy makers good character, while important, should not be our sole determining factor.

Last week I saw news that the union that represents approximately 4,000 of the employees of the City of Long Beach (International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers --IMA) was interviewing the candidates for the Long Beach 1st District Council seat for the purposes of making an endorsement. As part of the process the IMA was requiring candidates to sign a "pledge" (posted here on candidate Rick Berry's site) which among other items has the signer to pledge to support the non-democratic process of "card check" to establish unions, and to encourage and support unionization of businesses in the city. By signing the pledge an individual is aligning him- or herself with the union's ideology and practices, essentially forming an alliance with the union. Once signed it seems the union would have a right to use the pledge as an instrument at a later date to influence, or encourage, an elected individual to stand by their word and signature--whether they endorsed that individual or not. Robert Garcia signed this pledge, and therefore agreed to align with the IMA and those principles laid out in its pledge.

Because of his signing of this pledge, along with his solicitation of the IMA endorsement to accompany the endorsements he had previously received from both the Fire and Police Associations in Long Beach, I cannot support Garcia's candidacy for the 1st District seat.

The City Council is the employer for the City of Long Beach, while the office of the City Manager negotiates the contracts with the various unions and individuals, ultimately it is the City Council that approves contracts and budgets that are impacted by those agreements. As such members of council, and members of the city negotiating team(s), must have an adversarial relationship with those whom they employ to ensure they are doing their job: negotiate the best possible position for the City of Long Beach and its residents. Members of council are not there to represent and work for the employees of the city, they are not to negotiate and approve contracts that in the best interests of the employees, they are there to represent the voters and citizens of Long Beach and negotiate and approve contracts that are in the best interest of those citizens.

By accepting union funds for campaigns and pandering to them for political endorsements (which come with volunteers and free campaign mailers, phone banks and other campaign efforts) candidates are aligning with the employees and tacitly telling the citizens when it comes time to vote their interests lie with the employees not the citizens. The majority of our current council, and previous councils, have had these same endorsements, and voted for budget after budget increasing salaries and benefits that have strapped our city financially. It is time to break the cycle and not elect the candidate with the city employee union’s support.

The political history of our city shows a stepping stone of city council members creating labor-friendly legislation and votes subsequently getting support and contributions from statewide labor organizations to win their seats in Sacramento. From Lowenthals (Alan and Bonnie), to Oropeza to Richardson those who have the backing of the labor unions win elections--just ask Jenny Oropeza who lost her bid for Congress because of one vote in Sacramento that was against the unions’ wishes; they then supported Richardson with significant donations and she won the seat.

Political calculus and term limits suggest that Garcia is set up perfectly to run for Lowenthal's (Bonnie) seat in the Assembly in eight years when both are termed out, if elected, and can do so with the support of the labor unions--if he plays his cards right. With a very bright political future can Garcia not afford to keep his eye on future donations from the single biggest predictor of election victory in Long Beach, labor union support?

Long Beach, like the State of California, is facing serious financial deficits – deficits which will require cuts in programs, funding of projects and employment costs. Long Beach cannot afford more members of council who are beholden to their employees for their offices--we must have independent members of council if we are to solve our financial problems.

Because he did not sign the pledge, and also because of his views on the purpose of City government, the ideas he has to improve our fiscal standing and his relative independence from interest groups in the city, I endorse Rick Berry for Long Beach 1st Council District.
I encourage those in the 1st Council District to show the rest of the city that "change" really is what will happen in this election--vote for the candidate who is not like your previous member of council, is not beholden to the same special interests that directly benefit from the budget he will be voting on, is willing to challenge the status quo at City Hall. Vote for Rick Berry for 1st District City Council.

There are those cynics who will feel my endorsement of Berry and not Garcia is somehow connected to my leaving the Long Beach Post. Let me assure you the two are unrelated, I have had no conversations or communication with Garcia about the Long Beach Post since perhaps late November. This decision was made after, and independently of my decision to leave the Long Beach Post.

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