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    Colonna Bashing, Clashing Messages

    (May 24, 2006, with add'l & updated text) -- On Sunday May 21, the Press-Telegram carried a letter by LB Business Journal publisher George Economides lambasting Mayoral candidate Frank Colonna. On Monday morning, a Business Journal email previewed a piece sandpapering Colonna...and the hard copy Business Journal had two articles bashing Colonna, one a front-page perspective piece penned by Mr. Economides personally. On May 24, the PT ran a letter by retired Mayor and 3d district resident Eunice Sato maintaining a drumbeat against Colonna.

    The Business Journal and Mayor Sato blast Colonna's campaign for saying, "Working as a team with Mayor Beverly O'Neill, Frank helped cut utility taxes in half..." They cite this as a reason for voting for Bob Foster...whom they supported before Colonna's campaign said what it said.

    We think it was a blunder for the Colonna campaign to say what it did. We believe they shot themselves in the foot by citing Frank Colonna's accomplishments in terms that carry water for the soon-to-be former Mayor who has endorsed him.

    On major matters, these are clashing messages...and Colonna's message should be -- and was at the start of his campaign -- that he is going beyond where Long Beach City Hall used to be.

    In August 2000, the City Council (yes, including Colonna) tried to derail a grassroots, petition-initiated ballot measure by BJ publisher Economides and Norm Ryan to cut the utility tax to 5% in 5 years. Messrs. Ryan and Economides (to whom LB taxpayers should be eternally grateful) collected thousands of signatures to get their 5% in 5 years utility tax reduction measure on the ballot. The Council responded by putting a competing measure on the ballot to derail the grassroots measure by offering taxpayers 2.5% in 5 years (i.e. half the annual tax relief as the grassroots measure).

    Roughly 70% of voters citywide chose the grassroots measure (5% in 5 years) over the Council's measure (2.5% in 5 years).

    A year earlier in September 1999, Messrs. Ryan and Economides offered to forego their petition gathering measure if the Council would put a "compromise" measure on the ballot cutting the utility tax to 5% in 7 years (half a percent annually at the beginning, one percent annually in the out years). Four Councilmembers (Roosevelt, Kellogg, Grabinski and Shultz) accepted the compromise...but five (including Colonna) didn't.

    Although the BJ didn't mention it in bashing Colonna now, here's what also happened at that Sept. 1999 Council meeting.

    City Auditor Gary Burroughs surfaced and raised a bogus issue against a utility tax cut, favoring what he called "off-ramps" in the measure (that would effectively let City Hall avoid tax cuts if certain fiscal goals weren't met). [Comment: a crock and a killer].

    Mayor Beverly O'Neill also weighed in against the 5% in 7 years compromise. She wanted even slower relief for LB taxpayers: 5% in 10 years (1/2% per year). The Chamber of Commerce (big surprise) backed O'Neill, supporting her dilatory 5% in 10 years, even sending Mike Walter (then a Chamber leader, now an O'Neill-chosen Harbor Commissioner) to the podium to support it.

    Between Burroughs' bogus "off-ramps" and O'Neill's decade-long suggestion, there was no fifth Council vote for the seven-year compromise.

    11 months later in August 2000, the Council (the key initial vote was August 1, 2000: Yes: Baker, Colonna, Carroll, Kell, Richardson, Webb. No: Oropeza, Grabinski, Shultz) voted to resuscitate the same reduction rate as O'Neill's measure over five years, that is, reducing the utility tax by 2.5% over 5 years (1/2% per year) and put it on the ballot. Yes, it lost.

    In 2002, the PT (and we seem to recall eventually the Business Journal) endorsed the reelection of Beverly O'Neill as Mayor. In 2006, the Press-Telegram and Business Journal endorsed the reelection of Gary Burroughs as City Auditor. In a bellwether outcome, LB voters citywide refused to reelect Burroughs. To us, that speaks volumes about what LB voters are beginning to grasp about the way their city has been ruled for the past twelve years.

    The Colonna campaign blundered by taking "credit" for the half-a-loaf reduction O'Neill wanted in 1999 and Colonna and the Council backed in 2000. He should have done what former Gov. Jerry Brown did after the Prop 13 landslide. After first opposing it, Brown said he'd make it work...and did, even earning the endorsement of Howard Jarvis himself four years later.

    We can't prove it, but we suspect some surrounding Councilman Colonna are carrying water for the soon-to-be-former Mayor. This isn't necessary or smart. Mayor O'Neill was reckless and wrong on LNG. Colonna (and Foster) are right. Colonna is backed by Bry Myown, who educated the city on LNG and stands a good chance of becoming LB's next 2d district Councilwoman. Colonna is backed by Rae Gabelich, who's a Councilmember now because O'Neill's name didn't save Rob Webb (or Dennis Carroll) two years ago.

    Mr. Foster apparently gets this. Although he is backed by many of the same people who gave LB twelve years of Beverly O'Neill, he's running what amounts to a diplomatically calibrated anti-incumbent campaign (smart fellow, Mr. Foster).

    We told others nearly two years ago that the 2006 race for Mayor would come down to candidates thanking Mayor O'Neill for her service while distancing themselves from what she did and didn't do. They laughed us off.

    Beverly O'Neill is the Mayoral candidate who's not in the Mayoral race. We'll continue with that shortly.

    [After we posted this piece, Councilman Colonna called us to acknowledge that the campaign verbiage could have been better chosen but that's really all it is...and not the inferences we drew above.]

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