Cambodian community leader announces bid for 6th District council seat in 2020

The first Cambodian woman candidate will seek a seat on the City Council—potentially against one of Long Beach’s most famed sons, no less.

Suely Saro, who has served the Long Beach community in various capacities over the years, announced Wednesday her campaign to run for the 6th District council seat up for grabs in 2020.

The seat is currently held by Dee Andrews, a Poly football alum who has held the seat for 12 years, and could possibly seek another four years. He said he will announce whether he is running in the summer.

Saro said in a statement this week that she’s running to “bring people together” and “make positive changes.”

“I understand the importance of listening, working in partnerships, and building consensus to ensure all voices are represented in decision making,” she said.

A current social work professor at Cal State Los Angeles and commissioner for Long Beach’s Citizen Police Complaint Commission, Saro has worn many hats in her service to the community, including roles focusing on Central Long Beach and its Cambodian community.

She was the first Cambodian executive director of the local organization Khmer Girls in Action and part of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles’ Health Access Project. She is the founder and board chair of the Cambodia based Women for Women Foundation, which is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization. She’s also the board chair of the Asian Pacific Islander American Professional Network based in Long Beach.

Saro was a field representative for state Sen. Ricardo Lara until he became the state’s insurance commissioner. She is still working in the 33rd Senate District until the position is filled, according to her spokesman Derek Humphrey.

Born in a Thai refugee camp to parents who survived the Cambodian genocide, Saro eventually settled in Southern California, according to a release. She earned her bachelor’s degree in molecular cellular developmental biology from UC Santa Cruz, her master’s in public administration from Cal State Long Beach and her doctorate in education in organizational leadership from the University of La Verne.

She currently lives with her husband and two children in the Wrigley neighborhood.

Saro is the first Cambodian woman candidate to run for a city council seat in Long Beach, according to Humphrey. She is also believed to be only the second Cambodian American to ever run for a council seat in the city.

Her announcement marks another step in the local Cambodian community’s emerging political power over the last year.

After back-to-back victories, Long Beach Cambodians look to 2020 for more representation

In November, voters passed Measure DDD, a redistricting charter amendment that could potentially see a more unified Cambodian community in a single council district. The galvanized community once again came together in January to elect two Cambodian women as delegates representing the Democratic Party’s 70th Assembly District.

The 6th District seat is currently filled by incumbent Councilman Andrews who won as a write-in candidate in 2016. He could potentially run again (and be in office for a total of 16 years) after voters approved Measure BBB last November—including members of the Cambodian community.

Measure BBB, which was one of the most contentious proposals on the ballot last year, adjusts term limits to allow a council person to run for a third, four-year term. Previously, council members could only run for two terms and then appear on the ballot as a write-in candidate indefinitely.

Andrews told the Post in an email that he will announce his decision for his future plans in the summer.

“Over the Summer, I will make a formal announcement about my plans for the future, but right now the most important thing I can do for the Sixth District as their Councilmember is to focus on the work in front us, and that’s what I am going to do,” Andrews said.

Community volunteer and businesswoman Josephine Villaseñor told the Post she plans to run for the 6th District council seat as well. She ran against Andrews and two other candidates back in 2016.

“We need somebody that lives in the community, that has invested in the community,” Villaseñor said.

Besides owning the party supply business Long Beach Balloons & More, Villaseñor also volunteers with multiple organizations, including the Wrigley Community Neighborhood Watch (which she founded) and the Long Beach Community Emergency Response Team.

The 8th District council seat will also go before voters next year. In that race, nonprofit executive director and wife to Long Beach City College Board of Trustee Uduak-Joe Ntuk, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk announced last month that she plans to run for the seat. It is unclear if incumbent Al Austin will seek re-election. Austin recently dropped from the state Senate race to fill Lara’s seat.

The 2nd and 4th District council seats will also be up for grabs next year but no candidates have formally announced their intent to run.

The primary election is scheduled to take place March 3, 2020.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.
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