A New Voice in Long Beach

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Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach

by Jeremy Loudenback

This past June, Robert Garcia shattered three glass ceilings.

Garcia made history by becoming the first Latino and the first openly gay mayor of Long Beach by triumphing in a runoff election on June 3. At 36, he is also the youngest person to serve as mayor in the city of nearly 470,000 at the southern edge of Los Angeles County.

Hopes are high for the dynamic Garcia in Long Beach, which boasts one of the most diverse city governments in the country. On November 11, Garcia will share his experiences as an up-and-coming leader of one of California’s most important cities with students, faculty members, and practitioners at the Bedrosian Center’s Lunch with a Leader program.

During the mayoral race, Garcia narrowly edged real estate investor Damon Dunn in a runoff after capturing an endorsement from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Garcia also earned the approval of former Mayor Bob Foster, who helped establish a measure of fiscal stability in Long Beach after several tumultuous years post-recession.

Garcia has worked to foster a collaborative approach during his first 100 days in office, but he has said that budgetary restraint remains his number one priority. “If we’re too quick to make restorations (to positions and services cut during the recession), then that surplus will run out,” he said in an interview with the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “I’d much rather put that money into a reserve and slowly grow as the economy bounces back.”

Garcia is no stranger to Long Beach. Prior to joining the Long Beach City Council, Garcia founded the Long Beach Post, an online news source and community hub that has more than 40,000 online subscribers since it launched in 2007. He also helped co-found the North Pine Neighborhood Alliance in 2008 to represent the needs of downtown residents and businesses before running for a seat on the Long Beach City council representing the First District in 2009.

In 2012, Garcia was elected Vice Mayor by the city council. Garcia was appointed to a position on the powerful California Coastal Commission in 2013, but thanks to terms of his new job, he had to vacate his spot on the commission in September.

During his time on the council, Garcia authored or cosponsored more than 20 laws, including a citywide ban on smoking at bus stops and at farmers’ markets, several artist-friendly ordinances, and an initiative designed to spur greater opportunities for military veterans to work in the civic sector.

Garcia immigrated to the U.S. from Peru with his family at age 5, and he grew up in Covina, raised by his mother, grandmother and aunt. The first person in his family to attend college, Garcia earned a master’s degree in communication management from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2005 before receiving a doctorate in higher education from Cal State Long Beach in 2010. He has taught at USC Annenberg, the USC Price School of Public Policy, California State University, Long Beach, and Long Beach City College.

As he looks ahead to the hard work of running a large city with a high poverty rate and a history of thorny labor issues, Garcia has struck an inclusive tone that has many optimistic about Long Beach’s future.

“I know that there are certainly historical implications of my election,” Garcia said of his electoral victory. “I’m in this to be mayor of everyone, no matter the age or the color of their skin or who they love.”

Seats for the Bedrosian Center’s Lunch with a Leader event are extremely limited. For more information, email Donnajean Ward or call (213) 740-0155.