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Long Beach Area Chamber PAC Announces Endorsements For Three 2014 Races

Long Beach Jobs Political Action Committee Votes To Support Dunn For Mayor

By George Economides - Publisher

June 18, 2013 – To those who keep an eye on local politics, especially during an election cycle, it came as no surprise that the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, known as the Long Beach Jobs PAC, has endorsed Damon Dunn to be the city’s next mayor. A successful business executive, Dunn and the chamber have had a close association since late last year when he announced his intentions.

What was somewhat of a surprise was that the PAC made its decision almost a year before the election (April 8, 2014) and seven months before the filing deadline (January 10). Not so, said Randy Gordon, chamber president and CEO and a voting member of the 14-member PAC, 11 of whom, according to Gordon, were present last week to vote on the citywide seats up for grabs. The chair of the group is LaDonna DiCamillo of BNSF Railway Company. She is the incoming chair of the chamber board of directors, taking the helm July 1 (the annual chamber installation banquet is June 27).

In a phone interview, Gordon strongly defended the timing of the PAC endorsements, noting that even though Mayor Bob Foster had not announced plans on a write-in campaign for a third term (which the Business Journal expects him to do in September), he was invited to come before the PAC for an interview. Foster declined, as did another candidate well known in the community, Doug Otto, who evidently was out of the country at the time interviews were being conducted. The chamber did interview mayoral candidates Gerrie Schipske, 5th District councilwoman, and Jana Shields, who has previously run unsuccessfully for city council.

“We feel that it’s not fair to the candidate that we choose [to wait on issuing an endorsement],” Gordon said. “We want to give our candidate as much time to use our good name as he’s campaigning, and we didn’t feel like we wanted to wait until everybody had decided. We feel that any good, serious candidate for a citywide race, especially a race that’s as important as the mayor, would be out there nine months out. In other words, other than Bob Foster, I am very, very doubtful that anybody would come forward as a serious candidate for mayor less than nine months out. The bottom line is, we don’t think that’s too early in a citywide race. Now, we are waiting until the fall on the city council races [odd-numbered district have elections next April].”

The PAC also endorsed Doug Haubert to be reelected as city prosecutor and Assistant City Attorney J. Charles Parkin to succeed Bob Shannon as city attorney. Gordon added, “We did invite [City Auditor] Laura Doud to interview, but she’s not ready to declare. But we did give her the opportunity, just in case you were wondering.”

“Damon Dunn is a registered Independent who has made creating jobs in Long Beach his number one priority, and he is committed to working with both business and labor to realize Long Beach’s potential,” DiCamillo said in a press release. In the same release, Gordon added, “Damon Dunn’s campaign is different . . . it’s focused on listening to the voters and creating neighborhood-by-neighborhood plans to improve public safety, restore cuts to libraries, the arts and recreation services.”

Dunn, who is co-founder/partner of the real estate development and investment firm Tricor/Aventine Corp., moved to Long Beach about two years ago, following an unsuccessful campaign for secretary of state. Previously a Democrat, Dunn ran as a Republican against Debra Bowen in that 2010 statewide race. The mayor’s race is nonpartisan, but he did re-register as an Independent. “The next mayor needs to focus on creating jobs and rebuilding our community,” Dunn said in the chamber announcement. . . . “goals better advanced as an Independent, not a partisan. Every local resident cares about public safety, better schools and more transparent government regardless of political affiliation.”

The Long Beach Chamber’s 2012-13 Board of Directors consists of approximately 50 members, including Dunn. Several members are from the public sector. A majority of PAC members, according to Gordon, are also on the chamber board. But the board doesn’t report to the PAC and vice-versa. By law they are separate and independent groups, and monies raised by one group cannot be comingled with monies raised by the other. Yet, it is difficult to separate the two: a PAC endorsement is usually perceived by the community as a chamber endorsement.

Gordon said the PAC vote was by secret ballot, but would not reveal the names of the PAC members nor the final vote for each of the three endorsements.

The chamber’s relations with Foster have been strained since the mayor pulled the annual State of the City Address from the organization several years ago. The event was a major fundraiser for the chamber, but Foster felt it should be free and open to the public. The chamber also supported port staff relocating (due to seismic issues) to the World Trade Center office building, rather than the airport site Foster supported and harbor commissioners chose. More recently, the port’s harbor commissioners (appointees of Foster) have been playing hardball with the chamber in renewing a $30,000 annual membership package. Commissioners did, however, approve a $20,000 membership package with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, which recently made a presentation to commissioners.

In picking Damon Dunn, 37, the chamber PAC is supporting an individual who is the least known of the four top mayoral candidates, who has been in town only two years, who has twice changed his party affiliation, and who likely has the most catching up to do on important local issues. Gordon pointed out that Dunn is a Stanford graduate, earned Academic All-Pac 10 honors as a standout football player, played briefly in the NFL and has a track record as a successful businessman “The PAC believes Dunn is the best choice to move the city forward,” Gordon stressed.

A Look Back At Voter Turnout And What It May Mean For 2014 Primary

Voter turnout for April primaries that featured a mayoral race ranged from a low of 35,609 in 1998 to a high of 49,932 in 1994. As might be expected, the number of people on the ballot and any accompanying local propositions or charter changes drive turnout higher.

The high turnout mark of 1994 featured 13 people running for mayor – including six well-known individuals – and two proposed charter changes. On the low end in 1998, there were four relatively unknown people up against popular incumbent Beverly O’Neill.

In 2002, O’Neill successfully ran for a third term as a write-in candidate, challenged by six candidates including two councilmembers. There were also two propositions on the ballot. The turnout was 38,974.

Four years later, in 2006, the mayoral seat was open and featured Foster and two former city councilmembers: Frank Colonna and Doug Drummond. There were no local measures, but voter turnout improved to 43,236. In 2010, with Foster opposed by just one 21-year-old student, only 36,067 people voted, or less than 17 percent of the registered voters in the city. Foster received 84 percent of the vote.

April 8 of next year could feature the lowest turnout in two decades. With no local measures on the ballot (nothing has been discussed) and little if any competition in other citywide seats, there’s not much to drive voter turnout. More importantly, when Foster was first elected, Long Beach, like other cities across the country, faced difficult economic times. Foster convinced most city unions to pay more into their pensions, which was a major achievement, saving the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars; sought and won voter approval to switch oil revenue from the harbor fund to the tidelands fund; and fought city councilmembers who wanted to spend rather than control costs. Now the city has nearly $57 million in one-time funds available to spend next year on much-needed items such as infrastructure.

While anyone can win in any election, if Foster is able to hold just 60 percent of the 30,000 votes he received four years ago, he will be extremely difficult to beat – even as a write in candidate.

Chief McDonnell To Stay Put

In other local political news, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announced June 11 that he is not running for Los Angeles County Sheriff in next year’s election. In a statement, McDonnell said, “After speaking with friends, family and many people knowledgeable about the political demands of a challenge to an incumbent, I have decided that I will not be a candidate for sheriff in 2014. I am very appreciative and humbled by the level of support and positive input that I have received from so many people over the past few months. I considered the demands of running for office, in a county as large as this one, from a perspective of both the time required and in raising the substantial funds necessary to be competitive. I believe that I would not be able to focus the proper attention on my family, my duties here at the Long Beach Police Department and other professional responsibilities. I have spent my entire adult life working to help make the Los Angeles Region a safer place and I feel very privileged and fortunate to lead such an outstanding organization. The men and women of the Long Beach Police Department are a great team of dedicated professionals, who work diligently to keep our community safe.”