In less than a month, the residents of Long Beach will swear in their new mayor. The outgoing mayor, Bob Foster, will leave behind an eight year legacy of service, with major accomplishments under his belt; cutting $200 million from the city’s bloated budget, bringing new fund to Long Beach, and adding fifty officers to the police force. But as community advocates prepare themselves for the next four years of new leadership, they reflect on the mistakes of the Foster administration and what holes they hope the new mayor, Robert Garcia, will fill.
“I thought that he [Foster] represented only one segment of Long Beach – eastside and the developers,” said Dr. Alex J. Norman, co-founder of Rethinking Greater Long Beach, speaking on his own behalf. “I think they [fixed the budget] at the expense of the neighborhoods.”
Norman added that he thinks Long Beach needs their new mayor to focus on reaching out to the poorest neighborhoods and working with different cultural and ethnic organizations.
Other local advocates echoed the need for the mayor’s office to engage the community more often.
“We’ve found him [Foster] to be a person that really does not want to include more people in the democratic process,” said Kerry Gallagher, executive director of Housing Long Beach. She added that Foster often walked out of the chamber when residents voiced their opinions.
Gallagher said because of the gap that Foster left behind, Garcia has his work cut out for him.
“It is absolutely a challenge for mayor-elect Garcia to not just open the space but actually go to the community and say ‘Hey, it’s going to be different this time. You’re welcome here. You’re wanted here. We need your voice.’”
Jeannine Pearce, Director of Long Beach Hospitality for LAANE, says she predicts the mayor-elect will succeed in restoring the ties between the mayor’s office and the community.
“I think there’s a lot of policy work that community members would like to see that they’ve been working on for a long time and I think Robert Garcia is open to sitting down and having these conversations with community folks,” said Peace, who also serves on Garcia’s transition team.
Pearce added that she believes Garcia will prioritize bringing in ethnic, gender and age diversity to the commissions and boards. “I hope that we can also strengthen commissioner’s ability to influence some policy,” she said.
There is at least one group that Foster is leaving satisfied.
Executive Director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Center, Porter Gilberg said Foster has been a supporter of the center during his entire tenure as mayor.
“Mayor Foster has been assertive and vocal and really, a strong leader with a very strong voice in our community and I’m certain that Mayor-elect Garcia will absolutely rise to the challenge and continue to provide tremendous leadership to our city.”