This week, Pasadena voters received a sensational paid political mailer that characterized Mayor Terry Tornek as “absent.” The claims made in the mailer could not be further from the truth. Pasadena voters deserve full insight into the matter and that is why I feel compelled to share my perspective.
A historic moment for the African-American community
In an effort to promote international peace, President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the Sister Cities program and People-to-Prople International in 1956 to develop close partnerships between American cities and their counterparts abroad. Pasadena has been a proud participant of the program since its inception and developed robust relationships with cities across the globe, including Mishima, Japan, Järvenpää, Finland and Vanadzor, Armenia.
Parenthetically, as a high school student in 1978, I participated in the People-to-People Program, visiting Austria, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Greece. I stayed with a family in Greece, Austria, and Germany.
However, for a city that is home to a large and vibrant African American community, there was a glaring omission on Pasadena’s Sister City roster: a partner on the continent of Africa. For over 20 years, people had made good faith efforts to establish such a relationship, but to no avail. Finally, after Mayor Tornek’s election, the Pasadena City Council in 2018 voted unanimously to adopt Dakar-Plateau, Senegal as its sixth and newest Sister City. The moment was historic for the local African American community – and was welcomed by all of Pasadena.
The Mayor’s trip to Senegal
The visit to Senegal was a diplomatic necessity and approved by acclimation of the entire Pasadena City Council. In June 2019, the City Council welcomed the Mayor of Dakar-Plateau, His Excellency Alioune Ndoye and his Delegation, and hosted a community event in the courtyard at City Hall after the signing of the Sister City Agreement and Accords by both Mayors. It was truly a magical and historic moment in time!
A return visit was planned for March 2020. The delegation from Pasadena – composed of a multicultural group of city leaders, educators, experts, and professionals – put many months of work into planning the visit, which was dedicated to cultural, social, and economic exchange. The trip was privately funded at zero expense to Pasadena tax-payers, and was geared toward the enrichment of the people of both cities. Unlike how some have characterized the trip, this was not a vacation – it was official city business, and I was proud to participate.
The Mayor made the right decision
At the time of our departure to Senegal in March 2020 air travel was known to be safe – the coronavirus seemed like a distant threat and the American people had no idea that the virus would develop into a full blown pandemic.
Mayor Tornek safely led the 12-member delegation to Dakar-Plateau, and our delegation was graciously received by His Excellency Alioune Ndoye, Mayor of Dakar Plateau, and Minister of Fishing and Maritime Economy in the National Government. Several days into our journey, news about the spread of the pandemic shifted rapidly. We learned that the President of the United States was contemplating closing U.S. Borders to safeguard the country against the virus.
I want the record to be crystal clear: Mayor Terry Tornek was in constant communications with City Manager Steve Mermell with regards to establishing emergency declarations in Pasadena and preparing the City for every reasonable eventuality with facts known at the time. He was always available and accessible.
After conferring with friends in the U.S. Government and Mayor Terry Tornek, I determined it was best for me to return to Pasadena ASAP.
The Mayor explained to me that he would do the same after he made sure that all other members of our delegation could safely make return travel arrangements. Unfortunately, the other members of the delegation could not secure flights as easily as I did, so their departure was delayed by several more days. I am told that my fellow delegates had to fly to Dubai, then to San Francisco, and finally to Los Angeles to get back home. It took them over 25 hours to make it back to Pasadena.
When the City Council commenced its emergency meeting on March 17 to discuss the impact of the pandemic, Mayor Tornek was doing his job: he was making sure 10 Pasadena residents made it home safely. There was a real threat of the group getting stranded abroad, but Mayor Tornek intentionally rerouted their return flight to avoid unexpected lockdowns. I was able to participate in the City Council meeting and the Vice Mayor of our City was able to take the seat as the acting Mayor.
For anyone to denigrate the trip to Dakar-Plateau is unfortunate, at the least, and at the most, an evil, unworthy and unmerited campaign distraction. Pasadena deserves better!
As a proud participant and a witness to the leadership that the Mayor displayed, I would be more than happy to speak to anyone about our trip to Senegal.
John J. Kennedy
Councilman John Kennedy represents District 3