Suzie Price wanted a crosswalk so her two boys and other children could safely get to concerts and events at Marine Stadium.

The deputy district attorney, who at the time prosecuted vehicular homicides, wrote a letter to the city’s traffic engineer, asking for a marked crosswalk to be installed on Eliot Street between Marina Vista Park and Marine Stadium.

Weeks went by before she heard back, and it was disappointing when the response came: The data, officials said, didn’t support a crosswalk in that area.

It was around that time that a group of fellow “PTA moms” convinced her to run for City Council. The 3rd District, they noted, hadn’t been represented by a woman, or a Democrat, in some time.

In 2014, she won the seat representing Belmont Shore, Naples and Belmont Heights, and became one of five freshmen council members who were elected that year.

The Eliot Street crosswalk was completed in April 2015, less than a year after Price took office.

Her quest for the crosswalk is a cornerstone of Price’s stump speech as she seeks to become the city’s mayor in the Nov. 8 election, positioning herself as a grassroots, hands-on leader who gets things done.

She is facing a tough opponent in Rex Richardson, 39, her colleague on the council who was also elected as part of that freshmen class in 2014.

Though she is endorsed largely by business groups and law enforcement, Price is the political outsider in this race—and the underdog. She and Richardson emerged as the top two vote-getters in the March primary, but Richardson, who represents North Long Beach and is supported heavily by labor, bested her by 7 percentage points.

Though the current City Council is generally amicable and often casts unanimous votes, Richardson informally leads a more liberal coalition on the City Council, and they currently have a 5-4 majority—with the possibility of adding even more votes after the Nov. 8 election.

Price, 49, acknowledges she’s on the outside looking in and has embraced that reality.

“At the end of the day, it’s about service, not who thinks you’re cool on any given day,” she said. “I’m a public servant, not a politician, at my core.”

Price has been described as compassionate, hyper-analytical and pragmatic by neighborhood leaders, staff members and her council colleagues. Her opponents, meanwhile, say she can be unyielding and difficult to work with on important issues because of her tendency to dig in on her position.

Those positions have also landed her in trouble at times, including having coffins placed in her front yard over her refusal to reduce police funding and her stance on renters’ rights and other programs meant to help the city’s low-income residents.

Gaby Hernandez, executive director of the Long Beach Immigrant’s Rights Coalition, still remembers Price’s 2018 vote to oppose establishing a city fund to defend undocumented residents with criminal records against deportation.

“That was my first memory of her,” Hernandez said of Price. “It really confirmed this idea that you may have folks that look like you, an elected official of color, but that doesn’t mean representation because the values don’t align.”

A textured life 

When Price tells people on the campaign that she’s led a “textured life,” it doesn’t really capture the obstacles she has overcome.

Price was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Iranian parents. Her dad was working toward a graduate degree at North Carolina State and her mom, Minoo, worked at a doctor’s office before the family moved back to Iran before Price turned 1.

Her journey back to the United States was significantly more harrowing.

In 1979, the 7-year-old Price fled the country with her mom during the Iranian Revolution. Price recalled being the last student to be picked up from school that day, hiding under a desk with the principal as her parents navigated closed roads due to protests.

Price’s mom made the difficult decision to flee the country without her father or her younger sister.

“We got out because she had a conference in Switzerland,” Price said of her mom, who worked as a nurse. “She could bring one person and she brought me.”

When she arrived in the U.S., Price didn’t know English. She and her mother had to live with her uncle, moving across the country as he changed jobs.

Price remembers walking to elementary school in Iowa with a huge unibrow, frizzy hair and her house key dangling from a plastic rope necklace her mom made her wear to school.

She said her mom is her hero and helped her realize the value of being a public servant. But her career in public service almost never happened.

As a self-described latchkey kid, she struggled through high school, both in terms of her grades and finding a sense of belonging. In contemporary times, Price said the trauma of her childhood likely would have landed her in therapy, but the unresolved emotions instead slowed her academic development.

She applied to Cal State Long Beach and barely got in, but that was one of the moments she says changed her life.

She finally felt like she belonged and discovered that she was very good at organizing. She served in smaller elected positions on campus before entering the race to become associated student government president, which she won by six votes.

After moving to Long Beach in 1990, Price graduated from CSULB with her bachelor’s degree in 1994 and received her master’s degree from CSULB in public policy and administration in 1996.

She earned her law degree at Santa Clara University Law School in 1999 and began as a deputy DA in Ventura County, then moved back to Long Beach in 2003 and worked in private practice before joining the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in 2006. She lives in Belmont Heights with her husband Mark and two sons, ages 18 and 14.

In 2008, Price was selected to head up the OCDA’s vehicular homicide division, and later successfully prosecuted the high-profile case against Andrew Gallo, the drunken driver who sped through a red light in 2010 and murdered three people, including 22-year-old Angels pitcher Nicholas Adenhart.

Richardson, her opponent, has called attention to Price’s association with Orange County DA Todd Spitzer, her boss, after Spitzer questioned Black’s men’s dating habits while discussing a case with attorneys—comments Price called “unacceptable and offensive.”

Price in February took over supervision of the case at the center of the controversy.

And last week, in another scandal related to her workplace, the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division issued a 63-page report finding that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and district attorney’s office systematically violated the constitutional rights of defendants through the use of jailhouse informants for roughly a decade. Price said she has never used jailhouse informants, and said the DOJ report made clear the sheriff’s department was the driving force behind the illegal behavior.

The report, however, says the OCDA’s office, where Price is a top supervisor, is ultimately responsible for the use of informants in prosecutions and still hasn’t put in the necessary systemic safeguards to prevent their misuse.

‘Some questions are unfair’ 

Richardson and others in the community also called out Price for her questioning of the city’s Black health officer, Dr. Anissa Davis, during a City Council briefing related to the pandemic.

During the meeting, in December 2020, Price asked Davis to explain her background and credentials. The councilwoman said she had received pushback from the community about some of the health orders restricting business and requiring masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19—concerns Price said were unfounded—and, in pointed, prosecutorial style, wanted to establish Davis’ credentials to order such restrictions.

But Richardson hinted there was something deeper to the exchange, saying, “Some questions are unfair.”

Price later said she quickly apologized to Davis behind the scenes, but that didn’t end the public condemnation.

The next day, a coalition of a dozen prominent local Black women had signed an open letter calling Price’s questioning “unprofessional, disrespectful, and discriminatory.”

In response to their letter, Price said in a statement that her intent was to showcase Davis’ sterling abilities and background, apologizing if anyone “may have misinterpreted my comments as challenging her qualifications or expertise.”

Perhaps more than any other councilmember, Price was under pressure from constituents during the pandemic. Many in her district, one of the most pro-business and conservative in the city, were vocal in their opposition to city health orders that shuttered businesses.

“There was a lot of tension and a lot of pressure and there was some confusion over the role of what the City Council could and could not do,” Price said, noting that the council did not have authority over the health orders.

Price did support Davis’ health orders, and pushed back against attacks on the health officer and others in the Health Department.

She, along with Daryl Supernaw and Stacy Mungo—the councilmembers in the 4th and 5th districts, which are also conservative-leaning—was targeted by a bizarre stunt in which U-Haul trucks were parked in front of their homes. The organizer of the stunt said he targeted those councilmembers because he thought they were the most likely allies in removing restrictions on businesses.

In November 2020, the three councilmembers—who represent the entirety of East Long Beach—supported a proposal to lobby the state to allow indoor dining, but pulled back on that idea when COVID-19 cases rose.

When restaurants and other businesses were forced to stay closed or limit their business through the winter, Ryan Choura, a local business owner, organized a protest that saw business owners and their employees march down Second Street in Price’s district.

Choura said that he thought there was pressure on councilmembers not to support the protest, but he believes that if that pressure didn’t exist that Price would have shown more support for the business community. That is a problem that Choura said is changing the politics in the city.

“In Long Beach, everyone goes to a collective middle because nobody wants to stick their neck out, because of what the retribution might be if they did,” Choura said.

Saying ‘no’ 

Not being “fluffy,” in Price’s words, has earned her some adversaries during her time in office.

Price says she prefers honesty with people. As a prosecutor, she said she’s also internalized people’s ability to tell when another person is lying.

“You can’t give the jury fluff,” she said. “They’ll see right through it.”

But some residents say they won’t vote for her because of her support for projects like the Belmont Pool and Aquatics Center, which has been criticized for its cost—now at $100 million—and proximity to the coast amid the threat of rising seas due to climate change. The California Coastal Commission also delayed approval over questions of equitable access, given its location in one of the city’s most affluent areas.

Price has championed a project that is impractical due to the high cost—and she will not reconsider or listen to concerns, said Melinda Cotton, a Belmont Shore resident who’s been outspoken about multiple projects in the district.

“She’s very difficult to deal with, because you can’t deal with her,” Cotton said.

So far the city has set aside about $68 million in Tidelands funds for the project, and those funds are restricted to the coastal area, Price said. She said she would be open to building the pool elsewhere, but the city doesn’t have money in the general fund for this kind of project.

Price said not agreeing on everything is part of the process. Saying “no,” or “not now” is part of being a responsible leader, she said—to not overpromise and underdeliver. Price recently joked on the campaign trail that if someone agrees with her on everything they should get married, because she doesn’t even agree with her husband all the time.

And her chief of staff, Jack Cunningham, said Price’s office fields about 85 calls or emails a day, and their goal is to answer them all within 24 hours—even if it’s to tell the person they can’t help with a certain issue.

For those who have worked with her for the past eight years, her authenticity is a big part of the reason they respect her.

Dede Rossi, the former executive director of the Belmont Shore Business Association, said what people might say Price lacks in being “warm and fuzzy” she makes up for in her dedication to serving constituents.

“You would not be a prosecutor if you didn’t have passion for the victim, and that’s what she has,” Rossi said. “She has taken that job and put it into this job, and the passion is what we need in this city.”

‘People are tired of promises’ 

Though she has been criticized for her support of police funding—and has been endorsed and supported financially by the Long Beach Police Officers Association—Price led efforts to finally equip police with body-worn cameras for accountability, something she counts as one of her biggest accomplishments.

She was critical of the department during the discussion of body cameras, saying in 2019 “it is completely unacceptable for a police department our size to not have body-worn cameras deployed throughout the agency.”

In 2016, she was also the only councilmember to vote against awarding a lease to the Queen Mary to Urban Commons, a company that is now in bankruptcy after neglecting essential repairs to the ship. More recently, she voted in favor of spending $2.5 million in city funds for critical repair work aboard the historic ship, but said the city was going to have to make difficult decisions related to the ship.

Though the mayor and most others on the council have backed salvaging the ship as a tourist attraction, Price in 2021 said the expense of true historic preservation “is an unrealistic expenditure for the city at this time.”

Price said she prefers to take a business-like approach to public governance; in fact, she wrote her master’s thesis on the topic of municipalities being more “customer-service” oriented.

Price said her upbringing, her schooling and her career as a prosecutor have prepared her for public office.

“Every day for the last 23 years I walk into court I say ‘Suzie Price, on behalf of the people,’” Price said. “And I think that’s my philosophy in terms of everything as a public servant. I literally serve the people for the people.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.