Guest Perspective by Randy Gordon
Long Beach Chamber President Responds To Publisher’s Opinion About Candidate Endorsements
(This guest commentary is in response to Long Beach Business Journal Publisher George Economides’ perspective in the April 24-May 7 edition about the Long Beach Chamber Political Action Committee. For those who missed it, it appears online here.)
May 8, 2012 – I want to thank George Economides for his opinions about our Chamber’s involvement in the recent two city council races. He states that “The Chamber does not have a good track record when it comes to city council races.” Well George, your memory is short so let me remind you that since we started endorsing city council races 15 years ago, we have won twice as many races as we have lost. You forget the fact that we endorsed the following candidates twice and won twice: Gary DeLong, Frank Colonna, Jackie Kell and Val Lerch. We endorsed and won with Robert Garcia, Del Roosevelt, Rob Webb and the list goes on.
We raised more money than ever thanks to many business owners who want changes on the city council. They want more business-friendly councilmen, not candidates who are owned by the unions, who would be beholden to those special interest groups for potentially eight years! We supported the best two candidates. Both would have been great representatives to both the residential and business communities. Neither had any desire to run for a higher office, unlike the winner in the 8th and likely winner in the 4th who are using this council as a stepping stone to larger political aspirations.
Our candidate in the 8th District, Lillian Kawasaki, had a broad range of endorsers and supporters including State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, former Mayor Beverly O'Neill, current Mayor Bob Foster and County Supervisor Don Knabe. She was well funded and had a great background to be a solid councilmember. Unfortunately, a very low voter turnout of only 15 percent on Easter week really hurt her chances and made the efforts of the police union, (who paid their officers $100 per day to walk and $50 to call) and other unions on behalf of Al Austin, much more significant to the election outcome, especially on Election Day.
In the 4th District our candidate, John Watkins, lost by 39 votes to incumbent Patrick O'Donnell, who ran a write-in campaign for second place and trailed Daryl Supernaw by 13 votes. The negative press John got on the front page of the Press Telegram two days in a row about a contractor dispute that happened 20 years ago obviously cost him votes. Also, very negative ‘hit pieces’ by the AFL-CIO union called him a racist tea party member, which was below the belt. Yes, the Chamber had some strongly worded mailers, but nothing like the 7-8 malicious union mailers aimed at Watkins.
We are not going to just stand aside without fighting back. Our mailers focused on the fact that if O’Donnell wins in June, he will only serve two years and then run for the open seat in the California State Assembly currently occupied by Bonnie Lowenthal. Patrick had originally announced a run for the assembly and had risen over $60,000 principally from the unions. O’Donnell quit and decided to run as a write in for city council to get around the term limits. If O’Donnell wins in June, he will run for the assembly in 2014, and he will cost the taxpayers $130,000 in special election costs.
George warns us that The Chamber “cannot afford to be viewed or perceived as anti-council.” Well, we would much rather be viewed as doing what is right by recruiting and supporting business-friendly councilmembers. Just because we lost these two races doesn’t mean we will give up and stop endorsing future worthy candidates. I would like to ask George this question: “If the Chamber doesn't stand up and fight the anti-business unions, who will?” Should we just sit back and let the unions continue to place in office candidates who will continue to vote for every pension hike, project labor agreement or living wage proposal in exchange for the promise of future political gains?
George wants our PAC to reexamine its role and review our future direction. To that I say this . . . If not us, who? If not now, when? The Chamber was put on this earth to fight for business and that is what we will continue to do. These losses stung, but we will learn from them and come back stronger than ever. With a new approach we will figure out how to ensure that pro-business candidates get elected, not the union supported candidates that continue to dig this city into an even deeper fiscal hole. We will not stand by and watch. We’ll be back.
(Randy Gordon is the president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.)