Balancing Long Beach’s ever shrinking budget, promoting business growth and enhancing local community infrastructure were some of the hot-topic issues discussed during the March 22 fourth district candidate forum hosted by the Stearns Park Neighborhood Association.
The forum, which was conducted at Tucker Elementary School, allowed incumbent Patrick O’Donnell, who is running for a third term as a write-in, and challengers Daryl Supernaw and John Watkins to provide their platforms and address issues within the city. Each candidate was given seven minutes to introduce himself to the crowd of over 60 in attendance.
O’Donnell, who dropped out of a bid for state assembly in early January, said he is running for a third term because constituents have asked him to run. “They know me,” said O’Donnell. “With me, you know what you’re getting.”
At the time of his write-in announcement, the councilmember had said he would raise the bar for his re-election effort and make the push more challenging. In addition to maintaining a focus on the budget, he said he would continue to host his monthly meetings to reach out to the community, ensure that zoning requirements are changed to open up more opportunities for business growth and continue to help get business license fees lowered. He also said the City has shortened the timeline for opening up a new business to increase the presence of small businesses.
O’Donnell is a high-school teacher who has taught government for more than 18 years. The husband and father of two said he would also maintain his focus on improving community parks and the modernization of the Long Beach Airport.
“I’m working to represent my community [and] listen to your concerns,” O’Donnell said.
Supernaw touted his background in business and marketing as his reason for running for office. “I feel this is a critical time in our city’s history to elect councilmembers with strong business-management skills,” Supernaw said.
The Stearns Park resident is the founder of the Atherton Corridor Neighborhood Association and is a member and former chairman of the Long Beach Sustainable City Commission. Some of his goals if elected include building a strong sense of community throughout the district, creating even more transparency with city government proposals and actions, and achieving all this while being nonpartisan.
In reference to O’Donnell’s write-in campaign, Supernaw said, “I will commit to serving my entire term, and I will not seek higher office or use the council seat to further my political career.”
Supernaw added that he is the only candidate who has not received any kind of expenditures from election committees and that funding for his campaign is coming entirely from donations.
Retired police officer Watkins was straightforward with this platform and stated he would focus on public safety and business infrastructure. “Public safety is a priority,” Watkins said. “Technology is not the answer for the lack of police presence in the streets.”
Watkins administered handouts that broke down crime statistics for those in attendance. Other remarks given by Watkins included attributing small businesses with being the economic engine for the city and taking a stand for those residents who have told him that the city focuses too much on downtown projects. “We have a potential need right now in our own neighborhood,” Watkins said. “We need to bring in more small businesses.”
Watkins has been in the spotlight lately for the recent discovery of the State of California’s revoking his contractor’s license in 1995 and for being a plaintiff in a police “donning and doffing” lawsuit in 2010. That lawsuit was filed by 900 police officials against the City, seeking payment for alleged unpaid time putting on their uniforms and other tasks.
Upon being questioned on the issue again by an attendee, Watkins said his sole participation was to get compensation for unpaid time spent on call at home as a supervising sergeant at the airport. In response to the revoked license and the failure to fight charges that attributed him with deficient work, Watkins said, “I had a stamped set of plans from the county. I did not know county law superceded state law.”
Audience members drilled the candidates on fairly common issues that included their plans for bringing in economic growth, tightening the budget and securing public safety.
When asked about what can be done to address layoff, and ways of bringing in new city revenue, O’Donnell and Watkins capitalized on attracting small businesses. Supernaw placed more of a focus on securing the current city jobs, including protecting the jobs that are going to be lost if the Long Beach Mail Processing Facility is closed.
One resident asked Watkins if residents should carry guns to arm themselves during a time when more crime is occurring because of a lack of police presence. “If you’re going to have a firearm, you need to have it in your safe or somewhere accessible because burglaries are on the rise,” Watkins said. “The last thing you want is for someone to break into your home and take your handgun and use it against you.”
O’Donnell was forthright with his stance on several issues and at times further questioned Supernaw’s responses that appeared to dance around the subject. “It’s easy to say ‘no’ when you’re running for office,” O’Donnell said during the forum. “I need to build partnerships with the community and other councilmembers, and that’s where you come in.”
In regard to questions related to the Long Beach breakwater, O’Donnell and Watkins both agreed that it should be further explored and perhaps even reconfigured to bring in tourism. Supernaw counter-responded and said, “I’m a realist, and I know the City spent a lot of funds on that project.”
As far as methods of saving money for the City, Watkins replied with suggestions of taking cuts to technology and city fleet, as well as combining the gas and water departments. Supernaw proposed sponsorships with different community businesses to avoid cutbacks. O’Donnell furthered his stance by saying he would take tough decisions so the City can have a balanced budget.
Watkins and Supernaw both responded that they would not be adding more flights at the Long Beach Airport when asked by a resident if they would be placing the same focus O’Donnell has put on the airport. Both candidates did say they would support airport growth and modernization
In their closing remarks, Watkins said if elected he would serve his first two years for free and use the money he would have gained as councilmember for youth programs. Supernaw broke down his campaign to airport growth, business management and community involvement. “I will sign a pledge that I will not seek higher office,” Watkins added.
O’Donnell remained confident throughout the forum, and his final remarks stayed true to his assurance. “I’m a proven fighter, have examples of a balanced budget and stood up for airport expansion,” O’Donnell said.