Screenshot taken from the Historical Society of Long Beach’s Long Beach Mayors Oral History Series: Mayor Ernie Kell and The Maturing City. 

Ernie Kell, Long Beach’s first directly elected mayor, died Saturday at age 88, according to an announcement from the office of Mayor Robert Garcia.

“Mayor Kell and his love for Long Beach will be greatly missed,” Garcia said in a statement. “He leaves a great legacy of leadership and progress for our City. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Jackie, and the Kell family.”

During Kell’s tenure as mayor, from 1984 to 1994, he helped plant the seeds, fostering the Long Beach known today. The convening of the city’s first Homeless Task Force in 1987, the expansion of the Long Beach Convention Center and the beginning of the Seamless Education Partnership, now the Long Beach College Promise, were all implemented under his leadership.

“Ernie Kell will be greatly missed,” Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell said in a statement. “He left his mark on Long Beach and the world. He was an accomplished family man, a pilot, a motorcycle rider and a successful entrepreneur in the construction industry. He knew that the success of a public servant was measured not by headlines, but by the number of potholes that were fixed, the trees that were trimmed, and the ball fields that were maintained. He stuck to the basics and it served this city well. My heart goes to Jackie and his entire family. May they be comforted in knowing that he lived a great life and left a great and positive impact on this city.”

The title of Mayor was established in 1908, after the equivalent position had been referred to as President of the Board of Trustees from about 1888 to 1908. It wasn’t until 1988 that the vote for mayor was expanded outside of a city council vote to create a full-time, citywide elected mayor, according to the City of Long Beach.

Kell, a North Dakota native and Army veteran, won in 1988 against Councilmember Jan Hall, and won again in 1990 against Councilman Tom Clark. In 1994 Beverly O’Neill was elected, ending Kell’s tenure as the first mayor elected by a citywide vote. 

Kell served as a councilman for 13 years, representing the 5th District, since his election in 1975. Kell’s wife, Jackie, served as the council representative of the district from 1998 to 2006, according to the city.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].