Every year, we reach out to our readers and ask who you think are the most powerful people in Long Beach. And each year, it seems, the list is released full of traditional power-weilders—politicians, big business owners, locals who have been lucky enough to dine with the Queen of England. After hearing your responses to our latest call for nominations, we felt like placing many of the same people on the list for yet another year would not only be a little redundant, but would again leave out those who may possess more non-traditional power in this City—small business owners, historians, medical leaders.
Yes, many on this list still somehow possess an economic power, but not in the ways one might think. Even more have exhibited cultural power, knowledge-as-power and the power to shape how residents move through and utilize our city’s quickly changing neighborhoods. Despite a national recession, this year was a positive one for the cultural and financial health of the City of Long Beach and below, we recognize those whose power contributed to 2012’s positive aspects in non-traditional ways.
Words by Brian Addison and Miles Jason Nevin with additional reporting by Sarah Bennett.
10. Maureen Neeley
Owner, HouStories and Reference Librarian (Substitute), City of Long Beach
It is more than just knowing about our city’s past—it’s about bringing it to life. And Maureen Neeley continued her work this year in doing just that. A well-established local librarian and historian, Neeley grasps onto Long Beach history in a way that not only keeps it going, but also keeps it alive. She has been a vocal opponent against the demolishing of our school district’s historic buildings—ranging from Geroge Kahrs’s 1935 art deco masterpiece that is the Roosevelt Elementary School to Kenneth Wing’s 1956 Cecil B. DeMille School—as well as our city’s leader in discovering the base, background and operations of buildings via her HouStories company.
This year, her research was a vital component in two recent presentations on how to further develop key areas of Long Beach—its Civic Center and the Pine and Ocean intersection. Her historical analysis has not only shown us how such spaces used to be prosperous and well trafficked, but how reflecting on the past could perhaps guide us into the future to gain that civic activity back.
Neeley keeps our history accessible and alive—an endeavor which has created for her an unusual power that cannot be second-questioned.
9. Darick J. Simpson
Executive Director, Long Beach Community Action Partnership
As the executive director of Long Beach Community Action Partnership (LBCAP), Darrick Simpson’s job is to empower others. One of 1,100 like-minded organizations in the United States, LBCAP gives broad support to low-income individuals and families with the goal of helping them achieve self-sufficiency. Providing free services for youth, job seekers and families in need of energy assistance are just part of Simpson’s daily duties. He is effective at utilizing a grassroots approach to deliver vital services to those in need, ensuring economic fairness within impoverished communities that simply makes people’s lives better.
For a man raising twins, running a large organization, publishing poetry and instructing college courses on the side, assuming more responsibility may seem laughable. But that is exactly what Simpson did this year when, after three years of public access absence, LBCAP assumed control of the Long Beach Public Access Digital Network (PADNET). Once again, Long Beach residents have access to public television through a studio currently being built at LBCAP’s facility. This accomplishment is significant for residents seeking a local television outlet, but just another day in the life for this humble servant.
8. Blair Cohn
Executive Director, Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association
Bixby Knolls is a part of Long Beach that is all-too-often forgotten—despite its sprawling homes and affluent residents, this northside neighborhood is often overshadowed by its Downtown and coastal counterparts. As Executive Director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, however, Blair Cohn has begun to enormously alter that perception, mostly due to his willingness to experiment with new ideas for engaging local residents with his district’s small businesses.
His First Fridays art walks have become one of North Long Beach’s most successful community events and a model for other area art walks. His Literary Society is popular—800 members and counting—and consistent. His community bike rides draw families from around the city. His “cash mobs” never cease to attract.
But beyond these ideas, Cohn’s harnessing of North Long Beach’s potential even supersedes hard times—his re-activation of the neighborhood has survived the dissolving of the RDA and the slashing of budgets citywide.
“We had to give them a reason to support the local area,” he once told the Post. “Lots of people wanted an active, vibrant neighborhood but needed a way to tie it together. I saw our role as being the conduit to connect the area together.”
7. Mario Cordero
Commissioner, Federal Maritime Commission | Member, Board of Harbor Commissioners
Anyone chosen by the President of the United States to oversee the regulation of America’s entire oceanic shipping operations is someone with legitimate power, but Mario Cordero is more than just that. As one of five governing board members for the Port of Long Beach, Cordero spearheaded its Green Port Policy and monitored the management of the nation’s second-largest seaport—one that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs locally and millions of jobs nationally. Appointed to the board by Mayor Beverly O’Neill in 2003, and then reappointed to a six-year term by Mayor Bob Foster in 2009, he served also as the Port’s vice president and president before stepping down in 2011 for his federal position. He serves with experience from his 20-plus years as a Worker’s Compensation Defense attorney, offering strategy and critical thinking to highly sensitive local and national trade and transportation issues.
Cordero’s Green Port Policy—the unprecedented initiative that began in 2004—has led to the Clean Trucks Program, the Vessel Low-Sulfur Fuel Program and the Technology Advancement Program. Most importantly, it now serves as a model of sustainable leadership to ports across the United States and beyond. For his ability to lead the city’s largest public institution down this positive path, Cordero has made our port a world-renown operation.
Though sworn into his latest position serving on the Federal Maritime Commission in 2011, Cordero spent the entirety of 2012 as a locally powerful leader in the everyday life of all Long Beach residents, as well as residents across the United States.
6. Steve Goodling
Chairman and CEO, Long Beach Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau
There is good reason the City Council unanimously approved another annual contract with the Long Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau earlier this month—under the stewardship of Steve Goodling, the CVB has maintained (and more importantly, expanded) the City’s tourism business in a time when most other destinations are seeing declines.
Not only has 2012 been one of the city’s most successful convention and event years for Long Beach, but Goodling has done well to ensure that is a re-occurring statistic. Beyond the prestigious TED conference—which brings tens of thousands into town annually—the CVB this year brought to Long Beach the California Women’s Conference as well as the nation’s most prominent alternative mobility conference—the Pro Bike Pro Walk Pro Place Conference—which only added to city’s moniker of being the most bike-friendly city in the nation and further cemented Long Beach’s place as one of the forefront thinkers in urban mobility.
And to further secure Long Beach’s place as a competitive alternative to nearly Los Angeles and Anaheim, Goodling has also overseen the currently underway reconfiguration of the historic Long Beach Arena, which will make the space more adaptable, more accessible and more attractive for potential convention planners.
Beyond having the power to fill the Convention Center with important conferences and events, though, Goodling is also in charge of making outsiders think differently of Long Beach. His positive representation of our beachside amenities and his focus on driving commerce back into our urban core puts Long Beach in a national spotlight in a way not many other people can.
5. Long Beach’s Small Business Owners
It is obvious that corporate executives wield considerable power, but ironically, the misuse of that power has created a unique opportunity for small business owners to further substantiate their value in local economies. Long Beach is no stranger to the national recession, but more than most other cities its size, it has maintained a robust local economy thanks to the growing number of small businesses owners who are changing not just neighborhoods but also local buying habits.
Venerable marketplaces have staunchly maintained a commitment to executing their role in the city’s cultural and financial fabric. Second Street in Belmont Shore and 4th Street’s Retro Row are the proverbial roots for this growing tree; but new branches are growing. There is a slow yet steady resurgence of small businesses in Bixby Knolls, Downtown, the East Village and elsewhere in town where family-owned joints are continuing to pop up despite financial hard times. The City is even prioritizing small businesses, most recently with a streamlined permitting process designed to help them open more quickly. Look to the success of establishments such as Shortnin’ Bread, Beachwood BBQ and Brewing and Esquire Grooming Barber Shop as examples of these new small businesses finding immediate success.
These small businesses are part of our culture, our everyday experiences and our newly energized neighborhoods. They have kept this city together, both culturally and financially, and are a collective giant in supporting the health and well-being of every resident. Their power is clear and present, yet still growing. For their role in economic development, and saving our city from further harm, we recognize Long Beach’s inimitable small business owners.
4. Dr. Diana Hendel
CEO of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital and Community Hospital of Long Beach
Diana Hendel was selected in 2009 to take the helm of Memorial Health Care’s Long Beach operations and she has since helped complete the main hospital’s site plan as well as crafted strategic initiatives that will lead Long Beach’s already award-winning hospital into the future of healthcare. Almost four years into her tenure, Hendel has proven up for the challenge. Not only does she run the largest healthcare company in Long Beach, but has simultaneously overseen that company’s major expansion of Miller Children’s Hospital and the adoption of nearby Community Hospital of Long Beach.
Hendel is a skilled leader, and one yielding great power in the realm of local health. Serving as a high profile executive in a fast-moving company requires much skill, but like any successful leader, combining skill with an altruistic vision for the consumer results in a profoundly powerful product. This is the essence of Hendels’s leadership. For a non-profit healthcare system dramatically expanding its services to children and cancer patients while simultaneously adopting a nearby community hospital on the brink of bankruptcy, increasing profit is low, if not totally nonexistent on her agenda. Delivering high-quality medicine to those in need is what trumps all other goals.
Hendel is a remarkable woman running one of Long Beach’s largest healthcare operations, and for that alone she could have made it to this list. But her objective to meet a greater mission of serving, healing and saving lives is one to be even further commended.
3. Mario Rodriguez
Executive Director, Long Beach Airport
When Mario Rodriguez took charge of Long Beach Airport operations in early 2009, the historic regional flying field was a functional landmark full of history but lacking in vision. Since then, he has launched a nationwide branding campaign to put Long Beach’s airport on the map while overseeing the implementation of a $140 million modernization plan, the crown jewel of which—a state-of-the-art concourse—will be opening ahead of schedule this December.
Instead of shrinking down an LAX-type airport model for the future LGB, Rodriguez’s plans called for the restoration of the airport’s historic art deco terminal—including the recently discovered mosaic floors hidden for decades under dingy carpet near the check-in desks—as well as a series of expansion projects that will soon posit the facility at the forefront of air travel.
In the last year, Rodriguez saw three consecutive quarters in which LGB not only had the cheapest airfares in the state, but the second-cheapest in the entire nation. All as the airport prepares to open a partially solar-powered 14,200 sq. ft. concourse that will generate more than a hundred new jobs and house Long Beach-only businesses.
By simultaneously respecting the past and crafting a vision for the future, Rodriguez’s power to give LGB a vision has made Long Beach’s once-overlooked local airport into a regional air travel gateway, one that will continue to be an economic force for the City without being detrimental towards the aura of what makes Long Beach Long Beach.
2. Laura Doud
Long Beach City Auditor
In a time when the not just the City but our nation as a whole faces economic and monetary uncertainty, the role of reviewing the City’s finances becomes pivotal. And since becoming City Auditor in 2006, Laura Doud has not just stepped up to the task, but has unwaveringly steered the City towards responsibility and balance.
During this year of service alone, Doud and her office have uncovered millions of dollars that the City is losing—and provided outlines on how it can be fixed. In April, she displayed that the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department was losing a large chunk of its $6.6 million in annual revenues. In October, she uncovered that several years of over-estimated budgets by the Long Beach Water Department led to a staggering backload of excess reserves. Her call for an updated system for processing parking citations is helping the City collect the nearly $18 million the City has lost in uncollected parking tickets. And in May of this year, a former Long Beach City employee was arrested for embezzling public funds, partly due to Doud’s analysis of the way in which Animal Care Services reconciles their accounts.
Her positive use of power to keep civic funds accountable while protecting our public treasury will not only strengthen our financial future, but allow our City to grow under proper fiscal stewardship.
1. The Hotel Worker
Though it might sound hyperbolic, November’s city Measure N battle was truly a David and Goliath match. The hotel workers fighting for what they saw as a living wage had a small community organization and equally-as-small businesses behind them—their only stronghold being the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Opponents, meanwhile, consisted of the most powerful economic and local opinion pillars in the city—hotel executives, the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Long Beach Associates, the Long Beach Business Journal, the Press-Telegram, the Gazettes—who saw the measure as everything from an example of how “outside influences were controlling our community” to an ordinance with good intentions that doesn’t “necessarily end up with good results.”
Despite criticisms, Measure N passed with 63 percent of the vote, ending with good results for those fighting it for it most: the hotel workers themselves. And regardless of whether or not one can call this a fall of Goliath—hotels can avoid the wage ordinance if they bargain with their employees—there is no question that this year, David at least got the giants to listen up.
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