Leadership Long Beach alumni who are running for office in Tuesday's election
Leadership Long Beach, an independent non-profit organization designed to “develop and connect principled leaders to strengthen the community” will celebrate its 25th anniversary in style this year as nine of its graduates vie for votes in tomorrow’s election.
When voters go to the polls Tuesday, more LLB alumni than ever will be listed on the ballot. Graduates of the organization's ten-month institute are running for mayor, city attorney, city council and the boards of both the Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach City College.
Although LLB has a rich history of graduates being elected to public office and a stronger presence than ever this year, LLB Executive Director Jeff Williams says that putting people into politics isn’t the program’s main agenda.
“The purpose of our program isn’t to create elected officials but it is an outcome,” Williams said. “The purpose of it really is to take people who want to step forward and get more involved and work with other like-minded folks and make Long Beach better.”
Williams has presided over the organization since he was named executive director in 2011. He admits that even though some might link LLB and becoming a public leader in the city, that conclusion might not necessarily be a bad thing. The values and principals that have been taught since the formation of the group in 1989, as well as the ethics course that is required for all members, is something that Williams jokingly said could benefit all potential politicians.
“If we can take them through a year of showing them everything, talking about principals and the needs of the community…that’s a great thing,” Williams said. “I wish all of our candidates would go through that.”
LLB alumni running for office this year are Robert Garcia (mayor), James Johnson (city attorney), Rex Richardson (city council, 9th District), Carl Kemp (city council, 5th District), Stephen Bello (city council, 3rd District), Jim Lewis (city council, 3rd District), Uduak Ntuk (school board, Area 1), Stella Ursua (LBCC trustee, Area 3) and Dr. Virginia Baxter (LBCC trustee, Area 5).
Richardson, 9th District city council candidate and current chief of staff to 9th District Councilmember Steve Neal, recognized the importance of LLB as a way to get involved. Born on an Air Force base in Illinois, Richardson, a 2010 alumni, lived in several states across the country before landing in Long Beach. He enrolled in the program and purchased his home in North Long Beach in the same year.
Richardson has served the 9th District for the last three years and if elected, would be the youngest city council member on record. He said from an educational standpoint, LLB's programs are helpful for all residents, but for those running for office, the benefits are immeasurable.
“In my class, I had people who are conservative, people who are progressive…I’ve got people of all different ethnicities and backgrounds,” Richardson said. “They really help you understand the diversity of Long Beach--points of view, culture, cultural sensitivity--those are all qualities that are essential in a public leader.”
Throughout the diverse range of alumni, the non-partisan group itself has always refrained from endorsing candidates. In fact, the 3rd District city council race features two LLB alumni going head to head and Williams says that neutrality has been and always will be the policy of the organization.
“It’s not really about ‘Hey, that’s our guy we hope he wins,’” Williams said. “We’re proud that they’re stepping up in leadership and putting themselves out there and we support that effort.”
Because LLB is a non-profit organization, it relies on past graduates to pay it forward and volunteer time to help teach classes and speak to current enrollees. With that also comes a valuable commodity to people who do know they want to enter into public office: mentorship. Rubbing elbows and being guided by those who have run the gauntlet of a successful campaign is priceless to aspiring civil servants or to those curious about how the city operates.
Dr. Virginia Baxter, Executive Director of the Long Beach City College Foundation and candidate for LBCC trustee in Area 5, graduated from the program in 1991. Her experience was different from Richardson’s, as there were nearly two decades of predecessors available to Richardson. And unlike Richardson, Baxter never envisioned running for office until long after her stint at LLB, but still appreciates her time as one of the inaugural LLB classes.
“I think the greatest benefit I got through Leadership Long Beach is meeting people I never would’ve met,” Baxter said. “So many people are very insular in their jobs and institutions and being involved in Leadership Long Beach and volunteering allowed me to meet a lot of new people and learn about the city.”
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The ten-month Institute course introduces participants to the local economy, government and social services by connecting them with existing public leaders, and encouraging them to develop projects that demonstrate their vision and commitment to bettering the city.
Williams, a graduate of the program in 2008, watched his LLB project materialize into the annual Long Beach Mardi Gras in Shoreline Village. The course has set a foundation for so many past elected officials in the city and potentially a few more come Tuesday.
A 25th anniversary is a big milestone for any entity, but with the limited resources and volunteer nature of the organization, Williams is especially proud of what LLB has been able to accomplish. Preparing the future leaders of the city, informing the public and inspiring civic involvement is something that he hopes will continue through the organizations programs.
“There are leadership organizations all across the country,” Williams said. “Most cities have one but we’re kind of unique because we’re independent and nonprofit and we always have been. I think it’s a huge accomplishment that this idea has resonated for a quarter century [that people are still saying], ‘Hey, we need to promote and give an avenue to develop leadership for the city.’”