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. 

It feels like decades ago that we had an election. The Backroom had long planned a voyage on the Carnival Panorama to the Mexican Riviera the day after voters cast ballots, giving ourselves a much-needed respite from middle-of-the night phone calls from campaign surrogates dishing grade-school gossip, social media sniping and late-night (sometimes early morning; we often lose track) binging on dairy products.

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Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve canceled our plans, as has most of the city, as the coronavirus closes in on our hometown. We’re not overly panicked—though we are screaming verbal salutations at each other in a tepid bath of Tito’s vodka and refraining from all unprotected contact with humans and farm animals.

That’s left us nothing to do but feverishly scan our mobile devices and fume at the realization that the coronavirus, shockingly, is all our fault: Media hysteria! #FAKENEWS!

We realize “the media” includes everything from 24-hour news networks to grocery-store tabloids to basement bloggers. We can’t possibly vouch for “the media” as such—we’d like to distance ourselves a bit from a screaming tabloid headline we saw at the grocery store while waiting in line with a pallet of three-ply Northern Quilted toilet paper: “Coronavirus Will Infect 100 Million Americans With 7 Million Deaths—Riots, Famine, Economic Collapse…”— but we do get cranky when local readers accuse us of making stuff up just for clicks, especially when we’re in the midst of what experts agree is a public health crisis.

And the spread of this virus, for which there is no vaccine, is being treated as a crisis by everyone from the mayor to those poor souls scrubbing invisible fluids from charging stations and napkin holders at the Long Beach Airport. Long Beach declared a local health emergency; and for godsakes, it activated The JIC! We still aren’t sure what that means, but we imagine it’s sort of the city’s version of The Backroom, except with even more chainsaws and elbow bumping (about the only ray of sunshine to come from all of this is the death of the unsolicited office back-rub).

The Backroom, for all its snark, does agree: This is a time to shut up and follow directions.

Next in line

If there’s anything positive about a crisis, it’s that way it has of making everything else feel like a quaint bedtime story. But then, we do like bedtime stories—like the one about a local superintendent-president abruptly canned amid salacious accusations of self-dealing, retaliation and general corruption by the people in charge of an institution responsible for educating 25,000 members of our future workforce, which, all things considered, is a lot less scary than the more sinister If I should die before I wake prayer.

The college’s Board of Trustees, having turned the page on Reagan Romali, is now considering who will replace her, both temporarily and permanently. We all know the interim is going to be Lou Anne Bynum, a former LBCC executive vice president and harbor commissioner. Long Beach is terrible at keeping secrets.

A few other names we’ve passed along to the powers-that-be in conversations on barstools spaced a coronavirus-safe 6-feet apart:

  • Dr. Mayor Robert Garcia. Educator, public servant, journalist, dare we say, all around Superman (but, always, an educator first). We suspect he’ll want out of City Hall when the Measure A extension fails after election results finish trickling in.
  • Chris Steinhauser, the outgoing superintendent of Long Beach Unified, who will need a job come July. There’s no one better at clamping down on external communications, which LBCC desperately needs right now.
  • Sharon Landers, the city manager of Carson. We hear she’s been making a lot of friends around town.

The board is expected to make it official in coming weeks.

The eternal election

This is the election that never ends. The county still has half a million ballots left to count, with at least one critical local contest still very much in play: The indefinite extension of the Measure A sales tax, also known this time around as Measure A.

As of March 10, the measure, which brings in about $60 million a year in sales tax revenue, was losing by 469 votes. We’ll be watching that one closely.

The council district races, meanwhile, are pretty much a lock. All will head to a run-off in November, with the top two candidates in each of the races clear—though the first and second finishers in districts 2 and 8 are still a tossup.

We told you last week that the third and fourth places finishers in District 2 race will have enormous power in the outcome between Robert Fox and Cindy Allen.

The same is true in District 8 with Juan Ovalle of the ever-affable Long Beach Reform Coalition, who claimed about 30% of the vote. He remained 261 votes south of a run-off shot with miles to go before a final tally will be available in this year’s new and disorganized election process.

Should he fail to catch up with the front two candidates, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk and incumbent Al Austin, those two candidates we think will be slobbering over endorsements from two of the most influential former council people in the district: Jeff Kellogg, who served from 1988 to 2000, and Rae Gabelich, who held the office from 2004 to 2012.

It’s difficult to say how golden those endorsements could be since both backed Ovalle in the April election. But even so, their political weight might be credited with having helped the grassroots candidate come so close in a race against a couple of candidates financially fueled by big labor, out-of-town interests and Scrooge McDuck.

At any rate, endorsements from Gabelich and Kellogg are going to be difficult to come by for either Austin or Thrash-Ntuk, because it would be an understatement to say that neither of the former councilmembers expressed much enthusiasm for the choices.

Kellogg told The Backroom he is “very proud of the campaign [Ovalle] ran. Regardless of the outcome, I’m proud of him.” As for throwing his political capital at either Austin or Thrash-Ntuk, Kellogg said he won’t be endorsing either one of them. “Neither of them share my values, so why support someone who I don’t think would be good for the district? The amount of money the frontrunners spent is just absurd. I think if I did end up endorsing one I’d have to learn to sleep with one eye open.”

Gabelich, too, is withholding any endorsement and said she might eventually take the same position as Kellogg.

“I’m sad for the district that Juan is behind,” she said. “I believed he had a really good chance to win. But to answer your question, there are some things that have bothered me about Al, but a lot more things bother me about Tunua.”

And she, too, expressed her outrage over the role big donations from labor and other groups played an outside role in this election.

“If I’m going to give an endorsement, they have to earn it,” she said. “I’ve heard people say that it’s a matter of four more years of Al, who we know, versus possibly 12 years of Tunua, which could be really bad.”

And, after a lifetime of covering city councils in Long Beach, the prospect of things getting really bad makes us want to explore whether The Backroom should just pivot to covering sports.