The Backroom is a column by the staff of the Long Beach Post with notes and analysis, along with bloops and blunders, from the city’s political scene. It runs every Thursday. To contact us, email [email protected]. For questions or concerns, please contact Managing Editor Melissa Evans: [email protected] or 562-437-5814.
Last spring the city scored a major coup in landing the California Democratic Convention, where the party in mid-November will endorse for statewide offices—and high profile presidential hopefuls will participate in a nationally-televised forum.
For Long Beach’s ambitious mayor, Robert Garcia—who recently opened a campaign fund for lieutenant governor in 2026—the fall gathering is a big deal. Sources tell us he has made clear to all department heads and anyone with anything to do with the Downtown waterfront area: Don’t #$%& this up!
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Handle security. Tart up the convention center. For godsakes get the audio right.
And—this is big—appease the unions, who are happiest when they’re standing on sidewalks with bullhorns and pots and pans at Downtown hotels.
That is the context for a late-added agenda item on Tuesday’s City Council docket regarding the ability of food and beverage workers to unionize at the convention center.
With little fanfare, the City Council approved an agreement that would extend a contract with the company that operates the convention center, SMG, by one year. In exchange, SMG is agreeing to enter into a labor peace agreement with Unite Here Local 11 so that the union can begin talks with employees—even though SMG doesn’t have to take such a move until 2022 when its original contract expires.
It wasn’t mentioned during the meeting, but the reason for the urgency is the Democratic convention Nov. 15-17. The state party is now chaired by Rusty Hicks, former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The deal for the fall convention in Long Beach was inked before Hicks, a long-time labor advocate, became chairman of the party. It’s not clear whether Hicks threatened to move the convention over the union issue; a spokeswoman for the party did not return our call. Garcia told us no threat was made, but he said the city was in communication with the party over the issue.
Assistant City Manager Tom Modica told us, as well as the council on Tuesday, that the city is losing out on other convention business because it is not union.
Asked before Tuesday’s vote whether the city was worried about labor demonstrations during the November convention, Modica said, “That’s a possibility.”
Next in line
Last week we speculated about the candidates to fill the huge vacancy that will be left when City Manager Pat West steps down on Sept. 20.
One of them was obvious: Modica, who is next in line, per the city charter.
On Tuesday, city leaders in closed session decided Modica should step in as acting city manager when West leaves. We’re not sure whether this helps or hurts the odds that Modica will land the permanent job. Or whether it will dissuade candidates from outside Long Beach to bother to apply for the job.
When West’s predecessor Jerry Miller announced his retirement in 2007, then-Mayor Bob Foster lobbied the council to name an interim city manager who would not be a candidate for the job, arguing that to do so would discourage strong candidates from outside the city, especially with Long Beach’s reputation for hiring from within. The council agreed and then-police chief Anthony Batts, who, like most of us, had no interest in becoming city manager, was named interim city manager until West was hired later in the year.
Foster’s unofficial policy has generally been followed with the hiring of department heads in the city, until now.
If Modica is ultimately chosen to fill the position of city manager, it will further Long Beach’s reputation for hiring from inside its own City Hall. In recent years, city managers West, Miller and Henry Taboada were all hired from within the city and while James Hankla, who was city manager from 1987 to 1998, was hired from L.A. County, where he was chief administrative officer, he had worked in Long Beach as director of community development and executive director of the Redevelopment Agency (positions which West had also held) before moving to the county.
There are now eight candidates vying for the City Council’s Downtown/Alamitos Heights District 2—enough to field a coed softball team.
And the election isn’t until March; we’re still months away from the deadline to file candidacy papers with the city clerk. The Backroom is near-certain there will be additions to this already long list.
Jeannine Pearce, the incumbent, has put her supporters in an awkward situation. Aside from the drama with her former chief of staff, she’s still in hot water over conflicts of interest related to her work with marijuana businesses and the Queen Mary.
More to come on this. We promise.
Eight people are also vying to become the next District 1 representative, which will be decided in a winner-take-all contest on Nov. 5.
The Post will be interviewing the candidates ahead of the election, but if you can’t wait, our friend Antonio Ruiz, publisher of Palacio Magazine, has been interviewing them on his podcast. A few are already posted.
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