An open Congressional seat could lead to big changes in Long Beach politics

Thursday’s announcement that incumbent Congressman Alan Lowenthal will not seek reelection in 2022 is likely to set off a series of political maneuvers and announcements that could upend Long Beach’s upcoming City Council and mayoral election, with reverberations potentially even reaching the California legislature.

The 80-year-old Lowenthal’s decision to not seek a sixth term may have opened a significant opportunity for his Long Beach-based seat, with rumors circulating for weeks that Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia intends to run. Multiple sources, who asked not to be named because they were revealing private conversations, said Garcia will announce his campaign by the end of the year.

“The worst kept secret in the city,” said one source, who pointed to the mayor’s social media activity and noted the increase in Garcia’s posts cheering on federal legislation and the Biden Administration.

Garcia did not return phone calls or messages Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. When asked about his potential run last week, Garcia only said he’d be making an announcement on his political future in the coming weeks.

Outside of Long Beach, Lowenthal’s departure has also set off speculation in the national press about Garcia’s future.

Garcia is eligible to run for a third term as mayor but has not pulled papers or declared his candidacy. Candidates for city races have until March 11 to officially enter.

Given the likely new boundaries of Long Beach’s congressional district, the race is almost tailor-made for a Latino with local name recognition to fill the void left by Lowenthal’s departure.

Lowenthal represents California’s 47th Congressional district, which, for now at least, includes much of Long Beach and parts of Lakewood, but also stretches east to include Orange County cities like Westminster, Garden Grove, and Cypress.

However, California’s statewide redistricting commission is in the process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries for the California Legislature and Congress, and the 47th district is poised for big changes.

The first iteration of new maps released in November lopped off the Orange County cities and pushed the district north into Downey and Bellflower. That affected the composition of the district by increasing its Latino voting-age population from 29.6% currently to 40%.

A new map released on Monday further increased the Latino voting population to over 52%.

The commission is expected to approve the final maps sometime before the end of the year.

The new proposed Long Beach congressional district (left) compared to the current 47th Congressional District (right).

The new district’s potential boundaries also includes much of the old 40th Congressional district, a seat that has been occupied since 1993 by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress.

California lost a Congressional seat for the first time in history this year due to a suspected undercount in the 2020 Census leading to a shakeup of district boundaries that has Roybal-Allard’s district combined with much of the old 47th District.

In a statement, Roybal-Allard said she was disappointed that Lowenthal would not be seeking re-election because “he has made tremendous contributions to our country and his district.” Roybal-Allard added that his talents would be sorely missed in Congress.

A spokesperson from Roybal-Allard’s office said that as of Thursday the congresswoman intends to run for re-election in 2022, but it was unclear if she would pursue the new Long Beach-based district or another Los Angeles-area Congressional seat, such as the one currently held by Rep. Karen Bass, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles. Members of Congress are not required to live in their districts.

If Garcia were to enter the race, it would undoubtedly shake up local City Council races and potentially free up a seat in the California Assembly. Both 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell have been rumored to be interested in a run for mayor if Garcia left for higher office or a position in the Biden Administration, as has been the speculation for some time.

Last year, neither ruled out a run for the office, with Richardson telling the Post he was focused on finishing his current term that ends next December, but adding that “the future is unpredictable.” O’Donnell was more direct, saying he’d “absolutely” take a look at running for mayor if there was a vacancy, noting that he’s laid the groundwork for a mayoral run by essentially winning a citywide election every time he’s been elected to the State Assembly.

O’Donnell’s 70th Assembly District includes all of Long Beach except for a small part of the city’s 8th City Council district and the entire area that Richardson represents.

When reached for comment Thursday morning, Richardson said his thoughts were with Lowenthal, whom he described as a progressive champion for Long Beach and someone whom local politicians looked up to and learned from. Richardson declined to speculate on what Lowenthal’s announcement meant for the congressional seat considering the maps are not finalized yet. He said his focus remains on getting re-elected to the 9th City Council District seat.

“But if there’s a vacancy in the mayor’s office, that’s something I’d have to consider,” said Richardson, who is the only person currently declared as a candidate for the 9th District.

O’Donnell did not immediately return a call seeking comment about what Garcia’s announcement could mean for his political future.

Garcia, for his part, has been fundraising for a potential 2026 run at California’s lieutenant governor’s seat for some time now, and records filed with the California Secretary of State’s office show he has a balance of nearly $255,000 as of July. If Garcia’s ultimate goal is to run for higher office in California, being a Congressman could help his fundraising.

As a mayor, Garcia is currently limited to raising just $900 per person in a calendar year. But Congressional fundraising limits are much higher with individuals able to donate as much as $2,900 per election, and candidates are eligible to receive as much as $5,000 per election from PACs and state, national party committees.

While Federal Election Commission rules bar candidates from transferring funds raised for statewide campaigns to federal races, they do not bar the transfer of funds raised for federal office being transferred to future state office races.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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