There’s never been a better time to be unethical

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. 

Remember the city’s Ethics Commission? It was brought to life in the fall of 2018 as part of a slate of charter amendments championed by Mayor Robert Garcia.

Voters passed all four charter changes, including establishing the Ethics Commission and a new Redistricting Commission ahead of the 2020 Census, and strengthening the city auditor’s duties—all of which served as a sort of bubble wrap protecting the fourth and most controversial measure, an extension of term limits for elected officials.

The first four members of the Ethics Commission were appointed in August, and the commission held its first meeting in November. We understand not much serious business being conducted in the first meeting, but we did expect the commission to by now be scouring campaign finance forms, nitpicking travel receipts and Dumpster diving behind City Hall.

Or at the very least, to have a meeting.

Just the second gathering of the group occurred on Wednesday in a second-floor conference room at City Hall.

City officials said the delay in getting started was caused in part by the process of “onboarding” the current members. Does this position require Top Secret clearance? Do the members have to remove their shoes?

We understand the current members still need to select three additional people, but by our count, the commission already has a quorum. It’s time to don the hip boots and start mucking around. We expect to see them at the Dumpster at zero-dark-hundred.

Nasty season

Our mailbox has become so vicious we’re afraid to stick our hand in it. It’s Election Season, when our mail turns feral and ferocious.

The most red-meat-eating mailer of the season has to be the one sent out by the Teachers Association of Long Beach taking aim at Tonia Reyes Uranga, the former District 7 councilwoman who is seeking a seat on the Long Beach school board’s District 2, facing opponents Erik Miller and John Mathews II. The winner inherits retiring board member Felton Williams’ seat.

And if TALB’s mailer is to be believed, a Uranga victory would signal the death of learning in Long Beach, with such language as “She can’t be trusted to represent our community!” because of a “history of unsound and untrustworthy decisions,” such as filing for bankruptcy while her family still owned four cars “(including a Cadillac and a Mercedes)” and, while a councilperson, she  accepted $2,800 in gifts from special interest groups, “including the fossil fuel industry,” and “losing nearly $130,000 in assets as head of a nonprofit organization.” Finally, the TALB mailer urges the recipient to “Vote No on Tonia Reyes Uranga.”

Put aside the fact that your March 3 ballot, while potentially confusing, doesn’t allow citizens to vote no for elected officials.

Uranga has a certain amount of defenses against the accusations, which she characterizes as “throwing [expletive] against the wall to see what sticks.” We always heard it was spaghetti against a refrigerator to see if it sticks. In our experience, when you throw [expletive] against the wall, what sticks is [expletive].

The loss in assets, Uranga asserts, stems from her leadership with the Miguel Contreras Foundation, which Uranga was chosen to lead in 2011. Her reason for the loss: She hired a staff. Prior to her leadership, there were no paid employees, and she hired some, the foundation made less than it did when they had to pay people.

As for gifts, “I don’t even know what that means,” Uranga said. “Jewelry? A TV? The most money you can accept is $400. And ‘fossil fuel?’ What does that mean?”

The mailer has enraged Uranga, who maintains she is a friend of teachers and says she has teachers who support her. The mailer, she said, is going to make some voters angry. “People know me,” she said. “They know what I stand for and they know how involved I’ve been with schools.”

OK,  but when she and her and her husband, 7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga, filed for bankruptcy in 2011, they did list four cars, including a Mercedes (but a C Class. Ewww.) and a Cadillac Coupe DeVille.

But what hurt us most is the fact that elsewhere in their list of personal possessions, the couple included a German shepherd, which they valued at “$0.00.”

It’s not fair 

Little things can have big effects on election results: A home sports team winning a championship in the days before an election (which favors incumbents), or bad weather on election day (which favors Republicans).

Here’s another one: Voting machines that can’t display more than four candidates per page.

The Backroom is entirely agnostic when it comes to which candidate voters should select in the March 3 election.

But we can say one thing with certainty: Cindy Allen is really lucky.

California for decades has randomized the order that candidates appear on the ballot. Allen, who already has the backing of the city’s Political Machine for the District 2 council seat, landed on top of a pile of seven candidates.

Voters who aren’t schooled on the candidates in local races, but show up to vote for president in heated election years (like this one), often pick the first name they see. In one study, going from last to first on the ballot made a difference of roughly 10 percentage points.

This year, however, Los Angeles County is throwing another wrench into the election gearbox: New voting machines being debuted this season only display four candidates per page; voters will have to click a button to see the additional names—a Herculean effort, to be sure.

And, as luck would have it for Allen, her two biggest competitors—Robert Fox and Jeanette Barrera—are stuck in the backseat on the second page. Understandably, neither are happy about it.

The city thus far is shrugging its shoulders, saying only they’ll “keep an eye” on a lawsuit filed by the city of Beverly Hills over the issue.

We wonder … Would the city be so indifferent had Allen wound up in the second tier?

One day more

The Backroom goes to the hills when our heart is lonely. They are alive, after all, with the sound of music.

Our heart wasn’t too lonely this week, which means we only made it as far as Twitter, where we found this gift tweeted by our mayor.

Please—put your hands together for the LeBaron family, who took an after-dinner break to belt out the best rendition of “One Day More” from Les Miserables we’ve ever heard. It’s rare that social media fills our hearts with this much joy.

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