In a culmination of ten years serving as the Second District Councilwoman in Long Beach, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal was presented with an array of gifts, praise and touching tributes from her colleagues and the public during her last meeting behind the rail.
The seemingly endless waves of praise and anecdotes of how Lowenthal not only served her community, but often times changed the lives of those she served, took nearly two hours to complete, and even then, it required Mayor Robert Garcia to close the speakers’ list. Lowenthal was cast as many things during the ceremony, a champion for the city, a fierce and respectful defender of her position and compassionate steward of the community.
She was praised by her colleagues for challenging them to be better elected officials by being so prepared and passionate in the defense of her positions on topics, but equally applauded for her patience and welcoming to the newer members on the council.
“Although you had a decade of experience or so you still treated me as a peer and I really appreciated that as a new member of the council,” said Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson, who was elected to office in 2014. “You were the first person to ask me ‘council member, what do you think?’”
Lowenthal has been a champion for many things. Whether it was the Downtown Plan, improved bicycle infrastructure or more recent issues like marriage equality, medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage. When the council was divided or seemed poised for inaction she would often times step in with an elegant hammer, gracefully and eloquently asserting her influence and position with her “off the hook” vocabulary.
Inside her slender frame was a fierce but respectful advocate who often went to bat for those who are voiceless in this city. The heels she wore on her feet were metaphorically compared to a steamroller, one that never had to be deployed due to the grace and dignity with which she served the city.
Department heads joked about the vice mayor’s propensity for creating additional work for them. Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) Chief Robert Luna said he couldn’t think of another council member that gave the department more work than Lownenthal, but added that it was in an effort to make the city better.
City Attorney Charles Parkin shared that sentiment, jokingly thanking Lowenthal for her items regarding the Queen Mary, downtown entertainment district and plastic bag bans that kept his office equally as busy.
“I think that you pointed out that if you’re not expanding, and you’re not reaching and you’re not striving then we’re not doing the right thing,” Parkin said to Lowenthal. “I say that in jest, but really, thank you for your time and dedication to the Second District and to the city.”
The nearly two-hour ceremony to honor Lowenthal was not limited to city officials thanks and praise as many from the community she served for the past decade also packed the council chamber to send her off as his term comes to an end. Local business owner and Long Beach resident Giovanna Ferraro thanked Lowenthal for creating an “awesome sauce” city then teared up when describing the impact that the vice mayor has made on her life.
“On a personal level, you’ve made me a better person,” an emotional Ferraro said. “Strength and integrity is what you show, and that is what I walk away with. You’ve given me more of that than people that share my bloodline.”
The younger generation took notice of her achievements, too.
A recent Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) graduate was among those who waited in line to personally thank Lowenthal for her service to the community. She said Lowenthal had been in office for nearly half her life, but although she was just a child she remembered the push that the vice mayor made to recognize the Cambodian people that call this city home and the impact it had.
“I remember when I was a little girl you fighting really hard for the designation of Cambodia Town,” the woman said. “That really meant a lot to me as a young girl and to my family and our community, not just to the Second District, but to Long Beach as a city.”
In a prepared statement, Lowenthal chronicled her own ascent from immigrant to now being on of the most respected city leaders in recent history. She thanked her colleagues for being able to find a way to work through differences to come to decisions that would benefit the city in the present, but also move it forward for future generations. She asked that the council continue to do the work with the same conviction and dignity that she’s seen in her time with them.
“We have worked to get our city right as if our very survival depends on it,” Lowenthal said in closing statements. “For this, I could not be more grateful to have walked hand in hand with you, every step of the way, breathing life back into the heart of this city, breathing emotion back into our public space, creating our public living room and restoring her life and ours. Thank you for taking this beautiful journey with me.”