Mayor Robert Garcia will face off with challenger James “Henk” Conn in April for the mayoral seat in Long Beach.
Updated 1/18/17 9:27AM: A previous version of this story contained a link to a website that was believed to be Mineo Gonzalez’s but is not an official website linked to his campaign. The story has been updated to eliminate that error. The site appeared to concede defeat to incumbent Rex Richardson; the source of the site is being investigated by the Post.
With the filing period closed last Friday for those vying for an elected position in Long Beach this year a clearer picture of who voters will be deciding between in April has come into full view.
There are five council seats, a number of school board and college trustee positions and several citywide posts like auditor, prosecutor and attorney up for grabs. But those were all set to be overshadowed by the mayoral race.
Then Friday happened.
One day after community leader Robert Fox—the leading voice in attacking the city’s land use element (LUE)—pulled paperwork to potentially run against Garcia, the two met and had a discussion, according to both men, that ultimately led to Fox not following through on his intent to run for the city’s top spot.
How that process played out is murky, documented only through a series of emails between Garcia’s office and ones Fox sent to supporters.
Fox, a rental-property owner in the city, originally announced he was pulling out of the race after extracting major concessions from Garcia including the opportunity for further revisions to the LUE, pulling the LUE from the February calendar while a series of mayoral roundtable discussions are held and Garcia publicly coming out against rent control.
Fox later put out a second email that stated he didn’t force Garcia into the concessions, but many of the elements included in his original email to supporters were included in the mayor’s statement regarding his meeting with Fox prior to the filing deadline.
In that statement Garcia confirmed the roundtable discussions and publicly came out against rent control, something that Fox and other landlords had railed against during several public meetings last year.
“We [he and Fox] have been discussing ways to ensure that we focus on housing production in the Downtown, including affordable housing for seniors,” Garcia’s statement said. “We don’t believe that rent control works, or is the right solution. Just look at rent controlled cities like San Francisco, the most expensive market in the country.”
Garcia’s lone opponent, James “Henk” Conn, is running on a platform that specifically focuses on rent control as a means to ease the housing crisis that has gripped Long Beach, and much of the state. The 50-year-old substitute teacher who holds a masters degree in social work from Cal State Long Beach says citywide rent control is “a frontier of civil rights”.
“In the end, we must acknowledge the injustice,” Conn said in his candidate statement. “We can be visionaries, furthering our continued mission of equality for all. With me as mayor, The City of Long Beach will adopt citywide rent control. We will not be swayed from fear and make the city stronger for all.”
His grassroots campaign will likely face an uphill battle against Garcia’s war-chest that includes a reported fundraising total that is approaching $400,000. Conn is hosting a meet-and-greet event at Bixby Park this Sunday where he hopes to enlist volunteers for his campaign.
Postponing the LUE from coming to the council floor could have impacts on the council races citywide as it was expected to play a major part in all of the candidates’—both incumbents and challengers—platforms.
If the LUE vote is pushed back past the primary election on April 10 it could put voters in a situation where they don’t know what they’re voting for in regard to density and development in the city as the council has yet to take up a full discussion on the LUE or request their own revisions.
First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez will be immune from the uncertainty surrounding the LUE vote, as she’s running unopposed. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson has a challenger in Mineo Gonzalez who previously ran for mayor in 2014 and garnered less than half a percent of the vote.
Incumbents Laura Doud, Charles Parkin and Doug Haubert are also running unopposed for the three other citywide positions (city auditor, city attorney and city prosecutor respectively) after the filing deadline Friday.
Here’s a look at the rest:
Third District City Councilwoman Suzie Price is running on achievements reached in the past three and a half years including improvements to infrastructure, the development and improvement of multiple parks and increased police numbers patrolling the neighborhoods. She’s been an advocate for crime prevention and has been the loudest voice opposing marijuana dispensaries returning to the city.
Kajer, a 30-year resident of the city and former sustainable city commissioner is running on a platform that is critical of the LUE and promises more transparency in how new taxes are passed and how policies are made.
Savin wants lower campaign contributions ($100 limit for primaries), a limit of two terms in office—doing away with the current rule allowing candidates to run for a third term as a write-in—and is open to residents’ requests for other policy positions.
Like Price, Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo is running on the progress her district has seen with the help of Measure A dollars that have helped repave sidewalks and streets, patch potholes and also graduate over 140 new firefighters and police officers.
The developments at and around Douglas Park have led to thousands of jobs being created, and perhaps more critically, the council voting to receive and file instead of approving an international terminal at Long Beach Airport could play big in her re-election campaign. She’s pledged to fight against proposed density in the district and continue to fight for dollars to ensure police and infrastructure remains a priority in the Fifth.
Her challengers are Rich Dines, a former harbor commissioner, community activist Corliss Lee, and John Osborn II, an army veteran and business owner.
All three have vowed to vote against density, increase transparency within the city’s policy-making and spending, and to keep the community safe. All three also cite their individual experience in managing budgets in various capacities, pledging to help right the ship in regard to the city’s projected fiscal deficits in the near future.
Incumbent Councilman Roberto Uranga who is seeking a second term as the Seventh District representative after being on the LBCC board of trustees, touts the district’s investment in parks and street improvements made possible through Measure A.
Uranga was also critical of the international terminal prior to the council’s vote to shelve the discussion, something that could help him during the campaign as it was a big issue for the district’s residents that live under the takeoff path at the northwest corner of the airport.
He faces the largest field of challengers of any of the incumbents with four residents vying to replace him as the district representative.
Oscar De La Cruz, Chris Sereno and Kevin Shin are among those challenging Uranga. His biggest test may come in the form of Jared Milrad, a non-profit leader and former Obama campaign operative, who is well-connected through his work in film and has already garnered one Hollywood endorsement.
Milrad, who lives with his husband in Cal Heights, has a detailed platform including stances on housing, land use—and reasonable measures to protect neighborhood character—the regulation of short-term rentals and a call to balance development with environmental needs.
On election night, those races with three or more candidates that don’t see one take over 50 percent of the vote in April will see the top two vote getters advance to a runoff in June.
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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