Council candidate alleges former Mayor Beverly O’Neill was coerced into endorsing his rival

A candidate in the 2nd District City Council race has accused Mayor Robert Garcia of elder abuse in an incendiary opinion article that alleges Garcia coerced former Mayor Beverly O’Neill into supporting an opposing candidate.

Robert Fox, who is pitted against Cindy Allen in a heated run-off, said Garcia “forcefully” influenced O’Neill to endorse Allen, and when she declined, “Garcia kept pressuring her until she finally just gave up and ‘said’ OK.”

“How dare anyone use this wonderful, wonderful woman to their political advantage,” Fox said in a phone interview Thursday morning.

However, O’Neill, who turns 90 on Tuesday, gave a different account. In an interview Thursday morning, she said Garcia did not call her, and that the mayor didn’t ask for her endorsement of Allen.

O’Neill said she did get phone calls from two men touting Allen—she doesn’t recall who they were—and that she had a “nice conversation” with Allen. O’Neill said that even though she initially didn’t know who Allen was, she decided to endorse her.

Garcia, who has backed Allen, did not immediately respond to questions about his involvement.

Allen said in a message that she’s “incredibly grateful for Mayor O’Neill’s endorsement and the advice and time she’s spent with me.

“I am disgusted by Robert Fox’s shameful attacks. He’s a pathological liar and this is another example of his character.”

Fox made his allegations in an op-ed submitted on Wednesday to the Post. Because the article argued that Garcia committed a crime, the Post chose to treat it as a news story and sought to get responses from those involved.

Fox, who starts the op-ed by defining elder abuse, said he learned second-hand that the mayor and another man approached O’Neill and told her Allen was running against an “evil, horrible man who will destroy the city.”

Fox said he’s been friends with O’Neill for years, and he called her after her endorsement was announced.

“She had never met Cindy Allen and did not know anything about her,” Fox wrote. “Why then did you endorse her I asked. She immediately apologized and said she was so sorry and that she had broken her pledge to herself that she would not make any more endorsements.”

O’Neill, who has acknowledged that her short-term memory is at times spotty, confirmed that she has made it clear that she would not endorse in political contests unless she had directly worked with the person. “I got myself in trouble,” she said Thursday.

Fox writes in the op-ed: “My friends, we have come so low in our local politics that the City Hall Machine is willing to abuse a 90-year-old woman of great soul, to force endorsements from everyone else on false pretenses, and pervert any semblance of honor and integrity in our system.”

Fox and Allen are seeking to replace incumbent Jeannine Pearce, who is not running for reelection. The election is Nov. 3.

Staff writer Tim Grobaty contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Cindy Allen’s response.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.