Six candidates vying for Long Beach’s 6th District sounded off in a forum hosted by the Long Beach Post on Thursday, touching on issues including crime, homelessness and affordable housing.
The Midtown seat has long been held by incumbent and Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, who is running for his fourth, four-year term in the March 3 election. Andrews, a 79-year-old educator, won his current term as a write-in candidate, before Long Beach’s new law eliminated the write-in option but added an additional term for council members. The law allows him to run for a final term.
This year, he’s squaring off against five other candidates, including one challenger, Suely Saro, who’s won endorsements from three of Andrews’ fellow council members, as well as other elected officials.
Kicking off the forum at the Long Beach Post offices Downtown, Andrews said he plans to continue his legacy in the district by focusing on homeless and housing affordability.
But other candidates, like Saro, a 39-year-old social work professor at Cal State Los Angeles, said it’s time for a change.
A refugee from Cambodia, Saro said Andrews’ office has been slow to respond to residents on community issues.
“I think I could do better and I can be more responsive,” she said. “I can actually get things done in an expedited manner.”
At one point, sparks flew when candidate Craig Ursuy, 31, a Santa Ana College professor, asked Andrews about his many campaign donations from political action committees and gas and oil companies that have contributed pollution in the city.
Andrews in response said he doesn’t vote based on his campaign donations and isn’t aware of any recent donations from gas and oil companies.
“Well it’s worked out quite well for them,” Ursuy responded.
When asked how they would promote business in the district without displacing longtime residents, candidates had various answers.
Sharifah Hardie, a 43-year-old business consultant, said the district has plenty of empty spaces for new business.
“I would love to see larger corporations come into this district and create jobs with a living wage,” she said.
Saro said she would like to see more small business programs in neighborhoods and responsible developers who would show a specific commitment to improving the community.
“We don’t want to create gentrification,” she said.
On the issue of crime, candidate Josephine Villaseñor, a 38-year-old a small business owner who started a Wrigley neighborhood community watch program, said police are not doing enough to engage the community.
While crime in other parts of the city is down, crime in the 6th District is up, she added.
“The community feels (the police) are not there to protect and serve them, they’re just there to do their jobs,” she said. “We’ve seen crime increasing. We need more community outreach.”
Andrews, however, insisted that crime is down in the area compared to historic crime rates and that the situation can further improve by teaching neighborhood children to respect police officers.
“When I was a kid we were taught to respect your police and your fire department and I think they’re doing a great job,” he said.
On the issue of housing affordability, Ana Arce, 31, an employee benefits coordinator and life-long resident of the district, said the city should explore more options to get people on the pathway to home ownership in addition to focusing on lower rents.
“I want to know that in 20 or 30 years my children and future grandchildren will still be able to afford to live here,” she said.
The candidates were also asked individual questions.
Andrews was asked about his recent flip-flop on a proposed $298 million affordable housing and homeless services bond for the Nov. 3 ballot. Andrews had originally signed on as co-sponsor of the initiative but ended up voting against the item, which the council ultimately shot down.
When asked about his change of heart, Andrews said he was initially on board with the plan but later questioned fellow Councilman Rex Richardson’s survey that 76% of people in the 6th District supported the measure.
“When I did my own walking and talking with people in my district that wasn’t the truth,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to burden homeowners with more taxes. “I got a lot off slack from it, but it’s OK.”
When asked about his community involvement in the district, Ursuy said he hasn’t been traditionally involved in community groups in the area but works to engage residents in a more “subtle” way.
Ursuy said the district needs a new representative who won’t be influenced by outside donors.
“We need to ask ourselves why we have to stick with the old,” Ursuy said. “Because it hasn’t gotten us anywhere in our community.”
Recorded versions of the forum can be found here.
The Post is not endorsing a candidate in the March 3 election.