The Backroom: Sit down, relax and have a slice of shade cake

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.

Welcome to the The Backroom, where we shine a light on the curious, amusing and (sometimes) banal happenings in Long Beach politics. We’ve got a lot to cover in this inaugural edition: A special election in the fall, a citywide election in the spring, an awkward moment on the City Council dais and a cake frosted with shade.

Let’s get this out of the way: The special election that will likely happen in November to replace Lena Gonzalez, Long Beach’s new state Senator, in the City Council’s District 1.

This is a weird one. Because of the short timeline (the election that necessitated this race hasn’t even been certified yet), it’s a winner-take-all with no runoff for the top two vote-getters, meaning the victor could win with a few hundred votes (yes, total) and less than a majority.

Turnout rates are already low in Long Beach; a special election in an off-year won’t help.

Neither Mayor Robert Garcia nor the local Democratic party have yet bestowed an endorsement, which will be critical in a race just months away. However, some say it will go to current Transit Board Director Mary Zendejas, who announced her candidacy on Friday, June 7.

March 2020. Deep breath. The citywide elections are close to 10 months away, but political jockeying is in high gear for the even-numbered council seats (as well as Long Beach City College and Long Beach Unified’s board; more on those races next week).

District 2 (Alamitos Beach, Bluff Park, waterfront) Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce held a campaign kick-off June 6 for a second term. Pearce has at least two challengers, and is perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent seeking reelection after a recall effort and recent revelations about her consulting work for a key figure at the Queen Mary (in her district). So far two opponents have filed paperwork: Jeanette Barrera and Richard Harrison. Robert Fox, one of city hall’s loudest antagonists, is mulling a run—though he’s being coy about it. When asked this week, Fox would only say that “we have a problem here and someone has to solve it.” He told The Backroom he expects to make a decision next week.

District 4 (the Los Altos area), is so far a snoozer: Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who won in a special election in 2015, is still unopposed.

In District 6 (Central Long Beach, Cambodia Town), Councilman Dee Andrews (in office for 12 years), a major beneficiary of Measure BBB, has announced he will seek another term—and unleashed a long list of endorsements, including Garcia’s. This will be an interesting one to watch. Andrews has two competitors: Suely Saro and Steve Meng, both of whom have deep ties to the Cambodian community, which has long sought more of a say in city governance. Saro, a professor who serves on the Citizen Police Complaint Commission, announced her campaign in February. Meng, who lost family members in the Khmer Rouge genocide, sent an email to The Backroom this week with his press release and qualifications, which are impressive. For now, the basics: He works as a loan officer, and has a long history of community involvement.

In District 8, Councilman Al Austin is seeking a second term, and announced the endorsement this week of Garcia. When it comes to policy, Austin is not generally seen as someone in the mayor’s clique. We have a theory about this—just a theory—that perhaps the mayor did a solid in exchange for Austin dropping out of the race in February against Gonzalez for the 33rd Senate seat, clearing the field of Long Beach opponents. Austin told The Backroom this week that that is not the case, that the two never discussed it; the mayor, who was in Sacramento Thursday for Gonzalez’s swearing in ceremony, could not be reached. (If only there was a way for people to take their phone with them when they leave the city.) Austin’s lone competitor thus far is Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, wife of Uduak-Joe Ntuk, who pulled off a huge upset in 2018 for a seat on the Long Beach City College District Board of Directors against four-term trustee Jeff Kellogg. Can his wife do the same?

Cake time

Enough election news. Let’s get to the fun stuff. City Council!

Tuesday was Gonzalez’s last meeting, and she was sent off to Sacramento with speeches, mementos—and a teeny bit of shade. On election night, the Post tweeted out a picture of her opponent’s admittedly sad-looking “victory” cake (he lost in a landslide); the mayor last night presented Gonzalez with an almost identical cake, and tweeted it out for good measure. Petty? Sore winner? Tell us what you think ([email protected]).

And lastly, the Most Awkward Moment Award goes to … Dee Andrews. The longtime councilman is alleged to have threatened Gonzalez roughly a year ago, telling her to “stay in her lane” or she might “get hit and killed by a bus.” When Dee’s turn came to wish Gonzalez well, he said the two had “ups and downs,” then said (with a chuckle) that he’d learned “how to stay in my lane.” No feedback necessary on this one; it was cringe-worthy.

What’s coming up?

  • You have two days—two!— to comment on the city’s draft Climate Action & Adaptation Plan. Send feedback through July 15, then read the Post’s exhaustive series on the same topic, which explores, in depth, the frightening events to come.
  • The new Civic Center is a mere weeks away from opening, and the City Council canceled its July 23 meeting to pack boxes and walk a few blocks to its new shiny headquarters on Ocean Boulevard—a project nearly four years in the making.
  • On next week’s agenda: the City Council will vote whether to denounce abortion bans in Georgia and Alabama, including suspending travel, contracts and other business with the states, if the bans become law. That’ll teach ’em. The council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday at 333 W. Ocean Blvd.

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