The Backroom is a column by the staff of the Long Beach Post with notes and analysis, along with bloops and blunders, from the city’s political scene. It runs every Thursday. To contact us, email [email protected]. For questions or concerns, please contact Managing Editor Melissa Evans: [email protected] or 562-437-5814. 

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, spring is nigh, and The Backroom is in love. With life, with poetry—we tried to write a haiku, but couldn’t agree on whether it should rhyme—and of course, with our primal passion, childish politics.

It was a weird week in the run-up to the March 3 election, with awkward race-baiting exchanges and an ugly lesson for one incumbent seeking reelection: Do not cross labor.

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We’ve visited this subject in The Backroom before: Councilman Al Austin, who spent 30 years working for and advocating for labor organizations, cast the deciding vote against an item being pushed by Unite Here Local 11 and other groups that would have enacted protections for housekeepers at non-unionized hotels.

Though the item failed at the City Council level in 2017, it ultimately passed a year later by voter-referendum under the guise of Measure WW, when his vote became a moot point.

But labor hasn’t forgotten Al’s trespass.

When we last wrote about this backstory in late October, Austin—then having been snubbed by several major labor groups and colleagues on the council for endorsements—promised us it would be a nasty campaign leading up to March 3.

And it has been.

And wait, there’s more!

The race for the 8th District took another anti-Austin turn last week, with a group of roughly 50 women (and originally a few men) penning a letter for publication in the Post outlining, essentially, an argument that Austin disrespects women.

Chief among the complaints was his vote in 2017 against the hotel protections law dubbed “Claudia’s Law.”

Austin may have made mistakes in judgment—buying toy panic buttons for the women on the council shortly after the vote was probably not the best move—but four other people voted against the law in large part because it would have exempted unionized hotels.

None of those other four—including two women—have been equated with Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter or his creepy stalking of Hillary Clinton on the debate stage, as the letter-writers allege with Austin.

We surmise that the reason for the wrath against Austin is his long ties to labor. In their view, he’s a turncoat. A traitor. And, we guess, being made an example of to anyone with ideas to try something similar.

Just look at the money: Someone with Austin’s pedigree would seem to be a shoo-in for labor support. Financial disclosures released this month, however, show that a political action committee supporting one of his challengers, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, has raked in $125,000 from three unions, including $50,000 from Unite Here Local 11.

Austin, to be sure, has been propped up with financial support, including from developers and hotel operators. (And here we must pause for a mandatory disclosure: John Molina, a founding partner in the company that owns the Post, donated $7,500 to this cause.) Austin’s also received endorsements from some labor groups.

But even if he wins reelection, will labor ever again support Austin’s political career going beyond the City Council?

Forum fracas

We weren’t sure how to feel after last week’s candidates forum for the 6th District, hosted by the Post. There was plenty of debate about the issues, which is a good thing.

There were also some race-related exchanges that left us a bit flummoxed.

For context: Cambodians have been seeking more clout in city governance for years. Many in the community see the March 3 election as their best chance yet at accomplishing that goal, with a well-funded and well-endorsed candidate Suely Saro running against the incumbent Dee Andrews.

At one point in the debate, Sharifah Hardie, who is black, asked Saro about what some see as race-based campaigning, specifically Saro’s catering to the Cambodian community in her literature and public speaking. Saro, seated next to Hardie, turned to her and said somewhat nervously that she’s proud of her heritage … “just as you are with … Happy Black History Month.”

A few minutes before that, Andrews, who is also black, credited himself for being there for Cambodians—more than Saro was—when they needed support in the wake of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the mid-1970s.

“Where were you?” he demanded to know.

Saro, who is 39, wouldn’t have been born yet.

Please, watch the debate (scroll to the second half for the good stuff). Tell us your thoughts.

Our next forum from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight features the candidates for the 8th District—Al Austin, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk and Juan Ovalle. It’s sure to be a donnybrook.

The Oregon Trail

Long Beach City College President Reagan Romali has all but warned us that she is a free bird, and this bird you cannot change. After several successful years as LBCC boss, she was asked to interview for the presidency of Miami Dade College in Florida, where she might’ve perhaps overdone it with her effusive gushing over Miami when she told that college’s students, faculty members and administrators,  “I have watched you for 20 years and have wanted to be a part of you.”

And before we could recover from a rattling case of heebie-jeebies, Romali over-egged the brûlée with, “Everybody has their dream and Miami is my happy place.”

We haven’t heard how it went during the interview process at her job-hunt at Albany, Oregon’s Linn-Benton Community College, but she is one of three finalists for the top job, according to a press release from the college, which also goes by LBCC. The fact that she won’t need new business cards could be a selling point in her job interviews.

The finalists were announced by Linn-Benton’s Board of Education in a special meeting on Feb. 6.

“LBCC [the one in Albany, not Long Beach, though it could also be said of Long Beach City College] has a strong reputation as a champion for student and community success, and it showed in the number of distinguished candidates who applied for the position,” said Board of Education Chair Jim Merryman in a press-release from the college. “I am delighted to take the next step with these three outstanding individuals.”

Thou shalt not swipe yard signs

Remember how you occasionally forced your mother, through your own behavior, to declare she’d “just about had it” with your antics? (Your dad, on the other hand, had “about had a bellyful” of the same misbehavior.) Yeah, well we’re giving the candidates for City Council District 2 the same searing stare that once accompanied your parents’ declarations of being over-sufficiently peeved with your mischief.

Run a better campaign, go ahead and go door-to-door educating the electorate of your unassailable platform. Hold meet-and-greets at the local diner. Do whatever you need to do to endear yourselves to high-propensity voters.

But, please, can you take a break from stealing your opponents’ yard signs between now and the March 3 Election Day?

The Backroom’s Gripe Line has been on fire from CD2 candidates’ accusations of yard sign-stealing (though we’ve heard very little on the subject from the candidates in other even-numbered districts who are doing their political brawling by employing various other strategies which while ferocious and unpretty manage to not involve theft).

After the latest round of he/stole-she/stole accusations, we called our local lawman, Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, who told the Backroom that, while his office hasn’t opened an investigation into CD2 sign theft, he won’t hesitate to pounce if someone gets seen stealing a sign. He warned that the L.A. City Attorney prosecuted a sign-stealer a few years back and anything L.A. can do, we can do better.

“Candidates spend a lot of money on those signs and when they put them up they expect them to stay up until the election.”

We do too, but as soon as the polls close on March 3, for God’s sake, take them down and throw them out.