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Norm Ryan, Leader of Prop J/Utility Tax Cut Drive, Declares He's Running For Mayor

We provide transcript of speech as delivered and excerpts of post speech Q&A

Ryan announcement 6-21-01
(June 22, 2001) -- Vowing to pursue policies of "Respect, Reform and Renewal," LB fiscal reformer and Prop J utility tax cut leader Norm Ryan has declared he is a candidate for Mayor.

Speaking in confident tones and frequently interrupted by applause at the June 21 early evening event, Mr. Ryan told a roomful of supporters, civic and neighborhood activists the reasons he would pursue (in words of his campaign banner) "No More Business as Usual." provides a transcript of Mr. Ryan's announcement as delivered and excerpts of an audience Q&A, below.

In November, 2000 Mr. Ryan scored a landslide victory with Prop J, the petition-initiated utility tax cut measure cutting LB's formerly 10% utility tax in half over five years. LB voters enacted the measure by a near 70% margin.

Mr. Ryan's Prop J campaign stressed the need to reform City Hall fiscal and development policies, producing a broad based constituency that included LB homeowners and business owners, progressive environmental and open space advocates, civic reformers, neighborhood activists and tight-fisted fiscal and budget critics.

Ryan announcement 6-21-01Among those present to hear Mr. Ryan declare his Mayoral candidacy were ELB activist and LB Citizens for Utility Reform (LBCUR) co-chair Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, downtown Plaza Coalition leader Michelle Berg, Rose Park neighborhood activist Bry Myown, LB School Board candidate Ed Gonzalez, NLB neighborhood leader Dan Pressburg, LB environmental advocate Paul Racko, Bixby Knolls businessman and LBCUR member John Deats, African American community member Ernest McBride, Jr., LB Airport Advisory Commissioner and Los Altos resident Derek K. Brown, former Congressional candidate Vernon Van, LBCUR co-chair John Donaldson and 6th district activist Dee Andrews.

Also attending was former LB Mayor Eunice Sato, perhaps best known in recent years for her testimony at a federal hearing at the Terrace Theater opposing City Hall's plan (backed by incumbent Mayor Beverly O'Neill) to demolish historic buildings at the LB Naval Station.

Mr. Ryan's Mayoral announcement, delivered at the La Lune Cambodian restaurant on Atlantic Ave. near 14th St., was heavily attended by representatives of the Cambodian community, including KBN (Khmer Broadcasting Network). While able to speak five language (fluent in three), Mr. Ryan apologized for not yet speaking Khmer but said he hoped to master it too.

Interweaving themes of his personal life with public service, Mr. Ryan said he chose to make his Mayoral announcement roughly a block from LB Poly High which he attended under the PACE program while also attending NLB's Jordan High.

Prompting the first of several interruptions by applause, Mr. Ryan said he chose the location because the 6th Council district is "arguably the least served district in the city" and "If you look around on every block, you will find symbols of City Hall's failure to meet and address the basic needs of its citizens." He added, "Our campaign is here precisely because the other candidates haven't been."

Taking aim at City Hall development and spending policies, Mr. Ryan said City Hall had gambled "vast sums of tax money" on "expensive, unproven concepts within one fifteen-block area [i.e. downtown] that would be better spent spread out over the entire city." He said City Hall had the money to spend on neighborhood streets and sidewalks but "the public engineers were directed to work on Queensway Bay and they lacked the manpower to do both at the same time."

Mr. Ryan added to further applause, "The City currently wants to spend $1.3 million a year for a parking structure for a strip mall by the sea. That same investment over only a four year period would upgrade the city's technological infrastructure to the point that we could bring in high paying, high tech jobs."

Regarding disproportionately high natural gas bills from LB's City Hall run utility this past winter, Mr. Ryan charged City Hall "tried to hide the fact that we were going to have a severe hike in gas prices for three months. Heck, they even bragged about all the extra tax money they were going to bring in. To further compound the crisis, they chose to ignore the law, specifically Charter sections 1501 and 1502 and stick the ratepayer for the bill for their mistakes."

Mr. Ryan's entry into the Mayoral race sets the stage for a high visibility challenge three City Hall incumbents: term-limited Mayor Beverly O'Neill (who has announced her intention to run a legally allowed "write-in" campaign), Council incumbent & Vice Mayor Dan Baker and the Council's longest running incumbent, term limited Councilman Ray Grabinski.

Noting that the incubents "combined have over two decades of government experience," Ryan said while he couldn't boast of government experience, he had a track record of producing results:

"I fought and won when they tried to unnecessarily tried to raise your taxes and rents. And when they tried to raise your tax fee in a blatant money grab. They ad been promising you for over 10 years that they would lower the utility tax, the regressive utility tax. But I was part of the team that gave you a real choice."

LB ECO-link leader Diana Mann, who previously told she is running for Mayor, has not yet filed paperwork to do so. Other announced candidates include Police Cpl. John Stolpe and internet columnist Joe Mack.

Mr. Ryan, a resident of the 3d Council district, is married and the father of three sons. He earned a B.A. in Economics from CSU Fullerton, an MBA from UCLA, served in the U.S. Army and now works for the largest private securities firm on the west coast as Managing Director of Public Finance (i.e. municipal financing and bonds).

Mr. Ryan served as past Chairman of LB's Public Safety Advisory Commission and currently its 3d district member. In 1998, he entered the 3d district Council race, finishing third to Frank Colonna and "Hamburger Henry" Mayer.

In 1996, Mr. Ryan opposed an attempt by City Hall to impose a trash collection tax that officials claimed was needed to fund a new 911 system. Mr. Ryan and CPA William Molnar devised an alternative financing plan that didn't require a tax increase. (After the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association threatened suit over City Hall's plan, City Hall dropped it, tried a ballot measure that failed, then devised its own alternative 911 financing plan.)

Calling LB "a great city [that] has yet to meet its potential," Mr. Ryan said he was saddened when some former classmaters at his 20 year high school reunions asked him why he was still in LB. Mr. Ryan said, "I have a dream" that when his 30 year reunions arrive, friends won't ask why he is still here, but will say how happy they are to have returned.

In a post speech Q&A, an audience member asked Mr. Ryan if he was in the race to win. Mr. Ryan replied:

"This is not a vehicle to make a message. You do not get in this race unless you think you're going to win. [Applause] The difference is I don't think I'm going to win. I know I'm going to win. [Applause]"

Transcript text follows:

[Following introduction of guests]

Just north of here is Poly High School, and I belonged to one of the first PACE classes that started at Poly. And I would come here in the morning, and then I would go back to David Starr Jordan High School in the afternoon.

And as every "Jackrabbit" here knows, as you leave the grounds, you go past under the front gate, what you see above you is, "Go Forth To Serve." Now many of us read these words every day. They're true. Sometimes consciously, sometimes without thinking, these words became part of the scenery. And after a while, I'm sure many of us would not think the phrase was extraordinary at all. Of course we would go forth to serve.

Through repetition, great truths are absorbed and made part of our character. There are countless numbers of us who have passed through those portals, reached up and taken those words and brought them to heart. I'd like to think that I'm one of you.

Through my service in my church, Boy Scouts, in the Army, as a Public Safety Commissioner, as Chairman of CUT2 [citizens' utility tax cut initiative], and as a reform activist and volunteer in this wonderful City of Long Beach.

Now other than being a football's throw away from Poly, you may wonder why we are here at La Lune's. La Lune is in the 6th district, arguably the least served district in the city. [Applause]. If you look around on every block you will find the symbols of City Hall's failure to meet and address the basic needs of its citizens.

Our campaign is here precisely because the other candidates haven't been. [Applause].

We cannot talk about reaching out at fancy fundraising mixers. We have to do it. We must open our arms to our friends and our neighbors. Our campaign has not written off this community. In fact, we have come here first to beg for your support. I know that if we join together, we can fight for a common vision, and we can make Long Beach a great city.

And Long Beach is a great city. But it has yet to meet its potential.

If you will commit to bringing new hope to our community and new energy and leadership to our city, then let me say right here and right now that I would like to be your next Mayor, the next Mayor of the City of Long Beach. [Applause]

No one person can do this sort of thing alone. But you know what? I'm looking around. I'm not alone. You're here. [Applause]

And then let me say that I would be lying to you if I said that this sort of commitment doesn't scare me, you know even a bit. It does. But you know what frightens me more? The idea that I do nothing but sit on the sidelines and watch the city continue to do what it is doing.

I'm encouraged by the words of my Grandmother Hazel. She once told me that people run for office to either be someone or do something. I don't need to be Mayor to be someone. I already am. I am a happy husband. I have the love of my wife Cheri and my three boys. I have a successful career as Public Finance Director at the largest independent securities firm on the west coast. And I am surrounded by true friends.

No. This campaign is about doing something. And our campaign os going to focus on what we are calling the "3-R's." On the banner behind me you will read: "Respect, Reform, Renew."

That is going to be my, I mean there's "No more business as usual," but that's the thing I want to hammer in [the "3-R's"] over and over and over again because to be honest, that's what we all need.

Respect. You don't have to look very hard to understand that City Hall does not respect its residents. After 28,000 of your neighbors signed a petition to cut the regressive utility tax, they [City Hall] did not respect you enough to believe that you vote in the best interest of your community. They chose instead to fight it, and without gathering one, single signature, put a competing measure on the ballot in order to defeat it, to defeat the people's initiative. And then engaged in illegal conduct with your tax dollars.

It was disrespectful behavior to us and to the process.

They tried to hide the fact that we were going to have a severe hike in gas prices for three months. Heck, they even bragged about all the extra tax money they were going to bring in.

To further compound the crisis, they chose to ignore the law, specifically Charter sections 1501 and 1502 and stick the ratepayer for the bill for their mistakes.

And when some of their most vulnerable neighbors appealed to them, that they would have to choose betweeen food and heat, the City Manager said, to quote, put it on your credit card, does that sound like respect? [Audience, "no."]

Reform. Everyone agrees that Charter Reform is important. We still have the same form of government structure we had in the early part of the 20th century.

Recent attempts by our elected officials have only concerned themselves with extending their political power instead of empowering the community. To have meaningful reform, we must open up the Charter to address the needs and expectations of the 21st century. We're already a year into it. Let's get going.

We are made up of the most unique and fascinating communities and neighborhoods. We are one of the most diverse cities in America. They need to be acknowledged, these diverse communities. They need to be celebrated. But most of all, they must be included.

This is not without challenge. We face problems and situations that were never envisioned when Long Beach was founded. But as President Abraham Lincoln said, "So as the situation is anew, so must we think anew, so must we act anew."

Renewal. For Long Beach to renew itself, it cannot focus on only one part. We must put into action sensible plans that will revitalize businesses and directly improve lives in North, Central and Western Parts of the city.

The vast sums of tax money gambled on expensive, unproven concepts within one fifteen-block area would be better spent spread out over the entire city. [Applause] In order to do this, we must change how the city thinks.

According to City Auditor Gary Burroughs, $50 million should have been spent on the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhoods. The money was there, but the public engineers were directed to work on Queensway Bay, and they lacked the manpower to do both at the same time.

This, during what the Mayor had proclaimed, "The Year of the Neighborhood." Now I promise you, I promise you, that if we are successful, and if we can join together, the year 2002 and every year thereafter will be the Year of the Neighborhood. [Applause]

We need to invest wisely to succeed. The City currently wants to spend $1.3 million a year for a parking structure for a strip mall by the sea. That same investment over only a four year period would upgrade the city's technological infrastructure to the point that we could bring in high paying, high tech jobs. [Applause]

Doesn't that make sense to you? And it makes sense to me. But you know what? Maybe it's like Traci says, what do I know, I'm just a regular guy.

But it seems to me that if the other people that want you vote come to you should ask them these common sense questions. Why would you do this when we could have that? If you vote for me, that's great. If you support me, that's great. But I want you to hold their feet to the fire. I'm willing to live by that standard. I don't know if they are.

Now the 4th-R, or at least I would call it the 4th R, you may already hear some of these people talk about respecting you, reforming city government and then renewing. But without what I'd like to call the 4th-R -- results -- that's sort of meaningless. [Applause]

I offer you results. What do they offer you? Well, I'm unproven because I don't have any governmental experience. Well, my three major opponents combined have over two decades of government experience. [Audience; "Where's their results?"] Well, I was going to ask, how has that experience and that expertise helped you? [Audience: "nothing"] I love the interactive age. [laughter]

I think I have established my track record of doing what I say I'm going to do. In school, the military, the business world and my community.

I fought and won when they tried to unnecessarily tried to raise your taxes and rents. And when they tried to raise your tax fee in a blatant money grab.

They had been promising you for over 10 years that they would lower the utility tax, the regressive utility tax. But I was part of the team that gave you a real choice. [Applause]

Let me bring that proven track record to City Hall as your next Mayor. [Applause and cheers]

Now because of the PACE program, I attended by two [Poly and Jordan] 20 year High School reunions just recently, it saddened me to hear my former classmates, mostly from the left, ask me why I am still here [in LB]. We cannot afford to keep losing generation after generation because other places are more attractive to work, live and play.

Long Beach has so much going for it. We have great weather. We have the beach. We are centrally located. We have a University. We have award winning parks and recreation facilities. We have a rich history and an even richer sense of tradition.

But most of all we have our people. And it is people like you who'll make Long Beach succeed, or determine whether Long Beach succeeds. It is your dreams, and your resources, and your energies that are needed tonight. Please join with me, please help this campaign succeed next April.

Because I have a dream that when I attend my 30 year reunions, I will not be asked why it is I am still here. I will hear instead about how happy they are to be back. Thank you. [Lengthy applause]

[Ryan fields audience questions, excerpted below]

Q: What is your position on the breakwater?

My position on the breakwater is that there's a whole lot of people out there who are basically acting on hyperbole. There has not been a definitive study that proves that the breakwater defends the peninsula against flooding or that it doesn't in fact cause erosion...

...What I think is, we should have a study. And it's such a good thing becase we don't have to have all this tension over it. If it in fact the study indicates what some of my environmental friends suggest, which is that the breakwater is actually eroding the peninsula, which is actually putting those homes in danger, then the homeowners who were heretofore opposed to it, would probably join in because they want to protect their homes.

So, what we should actually do is do a real, bona fide study, not something that some Councilman decides to videotape, but with some respectable authority to once and for all settle whether we should take it down, whether we should reconfigure it, or whether it needs to be there but with some other mitigation so that we can restore some kind of sensible environment there. [applause]

Q: [Question about infratstructure investment being unequal in city]

As I mentioned in my little chat with you, there is the fifteen block area which for some reason we've focused on and we've tried every fly by night idea that's come down the pike, and in fact paid for, to develop.

Queensway Bay, when you think that $15 million of streets and sidewalks could have been repaired in every neighborhood in the city, maybe not all the problems but every neighborhood in the city was affected, because the engineers were too busy on a commercial project to do their, I mean, they weren't too busy, they were directed to do a commercial project at the expense of the public service...[I]n this case, we were ill served.

...I remember running in the 3d district, and I remember saying there that the 3d district was not getting its fair share...And you know what, it was true. And the reason it was true, is I could have gone to any single district in the city of Long Beach, and especially this one, and said you're not getting your fair share...

The truth of the matter is, that we're all fighting for crumbs. We are all fighting for crumbs. The 3d district if you think about what they pay out in property taxes and sales taxes and the like, they're not getting much of that money coming back to them because it's being wasted, it's being misspent, it's being, you know, hyped for the next boondoggle project.

You know, to be honest, I don't think I'd have much of a problem if it were actually going to worthwhile things, like upgrading this neighborhood and this community.

I think that my experience in the private sectory is good, it's always good to have a business person, but you don't want to run a city like a business. Trust me. Because then who's the client? Who's the customer?

Are you the customer of the city of Long Beach or are you their boss? [Audience: "Boss"] You're their boss...

...In Long Beach, we have realtors, sheriffs, people who have been probation officers, teachers, who have made themselves onto the Council or become Mayor. And anywhere else, that healthy mix of civic experience would enrich the policy making process. But in Long Beach, the staff, as bad as they are, as bad advice as they get, know more about running a city than these fine people do.

And so therefore, when they promise you the moon and the stars, when they promise to upgrade the facilities in your district, it's to get elected, don't be surprised if the first thing they turn around and do is ask the staff how to do it, because that takes specialized knowledge.

I have one advantage. I'm a municipal underwriter. I'm a municipal finance banker. I review 120-130 city, county and agency budgets a year, and not only do I review 'em to try and find money in there, but those people are looking to borrow money...

...A city will tell me that they're not really as bad as they seem to be because they do x, y and z. I get to look at all these innovative things that they do to squeeze money out of projects, to do things ten times better than otherwise I could see elsewhere...and I can grab their best ideas.

And other than having that knowledge base, it's the fact that I'm reaching outside of Long Beach to get these ideas, because I'm sure a lot of people who've ever working inside Long Beach understand that there are two types of people. There are residents, those are the people who live in Long Beach, and there are the "consultants," and those are the people who don't live in Long Beach...

...What am I going to do about infrastructure? Nobody believes that the city's budget is at 100% efficiency. Let me tell you, there is room there, there is waste there.

First, let's spend the money we do have on the infrastructure that needs improvement. Let's free up the money that's trapped because it's being mismanaged, right, and let's prioritize on which is more important, the neighborhoods or the special interests. [Applause]

Q: Are you in the campaign to win?

I never do anything just to make a point...In Long Beach, you have to stay focused on what it is you want to accomplish and you shouldn't embark on it unless you plan on winning.

Because, let me tell you, if there's even, and you know this town, and this town is a wonderful city, but within the political structure it can be an awfully petty place. This is not a vehicle to make a message. You do not get in this race unless you think you're going to win. [Applause]

The difference is I don't think I'm going to win. I know I'm going to win. [Applause]

Q: ...The Mayor is just a figurehead to most of us. How will you make those reforms come to fruition?

First of all, the Mayor is a figurehead because whoever occupies the office wants to be a figurehead...You know, I can just go to all the nice functions and let the City Council deal with reform. But that's already been tried and the City Council hasn't dealt with reform.

Let me tell you what a Mayor does have the power to do that heretofore Mayors have not. Remember I told you about those 120-130 budgets I review every year? I don't just like glance at them...I actually enjoy going through the numbers. Now when the City Manager, by law, presents his budget, he doesn't present it to the Council, he's actually precluded by law from handing it to the Council. He hands it to the Mayor because it's the Mayor that presents the budget.

What the Mayor tends to do is think about projects that he or she likes and tack them on. Doesn't know how they're to pay for it but just tacks them, just thinks they need to be considered. So here's the City Manager handing you a balanced budget. Here's the Mayor adding something onto it that makes it imbalanced, so when it goes to the Council, the Council then has to decide what iut's going to lob off.

Well who's there to guide the Council to lob off this or that? The City management.

What would happen if a Mayor, after receiving the City Manager's budget, thank you very much for the work, then got together with his 15 non-political staff people, actually went through the budget in the 30 days alotted to him or her, and crafted a completely different budget that was balanced and had all the right priorities in it and handed it to the Council. How exactly does a City Manager lead you to do anything if it is something completely different from what he origially handed to the Mayor and it's balanced?

I'd like to try that. [Applause]

...There's also the bully pulpit. And I don't have a vote now. I havent had a vote for the last ten years. You have two of my opponents who have [Grabinski and Baker] and haven't seemed to get much accomplished. Another of my opponent [incumbent Mayor O'Neill] also is in my position and doesn't have a vote, but in the same time period she I think floated a utility tax plan and that went nowhere. I, also not having a vote, floated a tax cut proposal and by gosh if that didn't pass.

Q: Norm, after you're Mayor, what kind of a City Manager will you have?

One that knows more than I do about running the City. [Applause, audience member "Fire Henry"] Well, I mean, I would love for that to occur during my watch. It's a political thing. Do you fire Henry now or do the people running against me use him as a foil up until election saying, "Gosh, we really wish we could do this but this stupid city manager."

OK, do they fire him now or do they wait until later? If they wait for later, and I get elected, well then I'll have an opportunity to reign over the transition, and let me tell you, I know a lot of really good city managers in the state of California. [Applause]...

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