[UPDATED] Just an hour before the chaotic national presidential debate, Pasadena mayoral candidates Councilmember Victor Gordo, and incumbent Mayor Terry Tornek met with representatives from various local Women’s organizations as the local debate season moved into full swing.
Sitting comfortably at home for the Zoom event, the candidates fielded questions from a handful of women’s groups in the forum moderated by Jacque Robinson. The panelists included Robinson, Patricia Coulter of the League of Women Voters; former City Commissioner Charlotte “Char” Bland; Pasadena City College professor Pixie Boyden; Juanita West Tillman, Delta Sigma Theta; Patrice Marshall McKenzie of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – Eta Lambda Omega; Pauline Field of 50/50 Leadership; and Beverly Morgan-Sandoz, of Vital Voices.
Both Tornek and Gordo stuck to familiar themes, with Tornek emphasizing his experience and Gordo saying that the office of mayor was not an “urban planning experiment,” tilting at Tornek’s former experience as planner and head of the City’s Planning Department.
Speaking to the evening’s theme, Tornek said in his opening statement, “I think my record demonstrates that the pledges I made when I ran five years to go to make Pasadena financially strong, to support the school district, to safeguard the environment, to protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods and reduce crime. I think I’ve delivered on those promises, not just conversation for me and in the discussion tonight, I’m sure we’ll be highlighting what I’ve done in terms of moving the agenda for women ahead.”
Gordo, for his part, claimed to be the “most experienced” candidate, saying, “I’ve worked on more budgets, including capital improvement budgets, worked with more residents, with neighborhood leaders, resolved more complex issues, resolved more neighborhood issues worked with more department heads, city staff, and other council members, operations, and most important families to help to guide the city through the recession.”
Commissioner Char Bland told Councilmember Gordo that the last census estimated that women comprise 52% of the Pasadena population, but that there yet there were only seven women elected to city council in over 100 years of existence, the most recent being Felicia Williams.
“There will be a vacancy,” she said, should he win, and then asked Gordo whether he had given thought to any qualified women that he could consider to either appoint or run for election for the District Five council seat?
“I have made a concerted effort with regard to my appointments to find qualified women, responded Tornek. “I recognize that women are underrepresented in the city council. There’s not a lot I can do about that, but with regards to commissions, I’m proud to point to my record.”
Tornek said that more than 40% of his commission appointments have been women, and added, “Not just at all commissions, but some of the most sought after commission locations, including the PCOC , the convention center operating company, and the Rose bowl operating company as well as the planning commission. So I have been very mindful of supporting the role, and trying to find and encourage women to apply for those commission positions.
Mayor Tornek was also asked the same question as to explain his “individual preference for action,” and to describe his individual efforts to “support, encourage, and appoint women to leadership positions on commissions and elsewhere in the city.”
Tornek said he thought the City was “doing a good job” in terms of appointing women and said pointedly, of the Council seat, “It’s really not an available seat.”
Tornek also pointed out that he and the City have been very supportive of council member Margaret McAustin’s committee celebrating the adoption of the 19th amendment.
“It was really a marvelous effort”, he said, “and we insisted that every aspect of city government reflected that, including every piece of correspondence that went out from the city of Pasadena this year with a logo celebrating that hundred year anniversary.
“These are symbolic things,” continued Tornek, “but they’re important things. And they’re showing that the city is mindful about advancing the cause of women and making sure that they have equal rights.”
Patrice Marshall McKenzie, representing the Junior League, then asked both candidates, what they felt was “the single biggest issue” facing the city due to COVID-19 pandemic and how they planned to resolve it.
Tornek said he felt the biggest single issue from the COVID pandemic were the financial implications, both in terms of “a $30 million hole blown in the budget in terms of reduced revenues and increased costs that hadn’t been anticipated.”
The mayor also mentioned “small businesses that are so challenged that many of them may not be able to reopen.”
Tornek said that the City would soon be confronted with “very serious financial issues,” and that all City services “really flow from our ability to pay for them.”
“I think that that really is in my wheelhouse,” he continued. “That’s what I worked hardest at as mayor, and when you talk about the role of the mayor, I have subscribed to the notion as outlined in the city charter, that the mayor’s first and foremost responsibility is to have the first shot at the city budget.”
Tornek said that he “focused on the fact that when I came in, there were some structural deficit problems and we needed to fix that if we were going to be able to effectively perform for our residents, that’s even more true now.”
Tornek also pointed to his record of performance as chair of the finance committee since when he was a city council member, as well as his drafting of propositions I, and J, saying both have “really given us the financial wherewithal to be able to withstand this terrible challenges which we are confronted with from COVID.
Gordo offered that the COVID crisis has presented “both a health emergency as well as an economic emergency. And we knew that going in.”
Gordo said that is why he demanded that city hall “get back to work on this $30 million hole in the book in the budget.”
Said Gordo, “When I said, “Let’s get the finance committee back to work,’ as COVID was unraveling, it fell on deaf ears. But this is why it meant something to say, ‘Let’s meet, let’s talk about this. How do we prepare for this and not wait for the actual economic crisis to arrive?”
Tornek responded that it was less necessary for council and its committees to work as it was for City staff to meet and “do the work” as directed by the City Council.
Both candidates also expressed support for PUSD’s Measure O, efforts to make local home buying easier, as well as supporting an audit to determine equal pay rates for female City employees.