(June 28, 2006, updated to include power point presentation) -- LBReport.com posts below the speech delivered by Second District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal, elected June 6, on being sworn into office on June 27. The text as prepared for delivery was provided to us at our request by Councilmember Suja Lowenthal's office.
Councilmember Lowenthal accompanied her speech with a power-point presentation...and (again) at our request, her office provided us with the power-point slides for posting accompanying her text. [Our computer is for some reason having trouble viewing the archived webcast so the location of the photos in the text may differ somewhat from the original.]
Councilmember Suja Lowenthal: I know it is best to speak from the heart, and as you know, I often do. But today I prepared some remarks because it is an emotional day as well as one that is filled with promise bringing the 2nd District back to the table. If you will indulge me for a bit
I am both privileged and honored to have been entrusted with this tremendous task. When the voters of the 2nd District selected me as their Councilmember they made their choice based on the person they have known for the last 10 years.
I want to share with you a bit of the long and enriching journey I traveled before I became a public servant in this great city - not so that you can appreciate me (truthfully, I see myself a spec on the map), but rather the people who contributed to my development, my values, my education and my character.
I am the daughter of immigrants, coming to this great nation from India. I spent the first seven years of my life in India.
My family was poor despite the fact that my father worked for the Port Trust of Madras and my mother was a nurse at a local hospital. What my household lacked in material wealth, it teemed with unfettered dedication from both my parents to ensure brighter opportunities for me.
When I was five, my mother made the heart-breaking decision to leave her only child behind in order to pursue a work opportunity that would certainly provide a better life and a greater future for me.
During her two-year absence, my father performed the duties of both mother and father, doing everything he could to fill in the gap. He combed my hair into what he thought were the latest styles not knowing he only made it too obvious that mummy was not home.
He also stayed up and tutored me in my studies until all hours of the night because even as the father of just a first grader, he was bound and determined to make a scholar out of me.
My parents, despite the economic challenges of my early childhood started me on a journey of hard work and dedication to education because in their eyes education was the only way out.
I remember my parents struggling to make ends meet, but no matter how tough it was, somehow they found a way to rub two dimes together and pay the 25 Rs. a month it cost for my tuition.
I thank my mother for her courage and determination and for teaching me that nothing comes without hard work. The life I live today is the fruit of a journey she started when she was sixteen - leaving her home in a rural countryside, going to a big city in India, where she knew no one and hardly spoke the language - all so that she could pursue an education, because it was her only way out. She did not realize it then, but that one decision to pursue an education against all odds, gives our son, Avi, the life he has today.
I thank my father for teaching me the meaning of public service. He, who served many years as the President of the local Vincent de Paul Society in India and who can be seen today making trips across the border with his church to help poor families, has instilled in me that to give is far more rewarding than to receive.
My father regards his charitable work as a duty rather than an option. I can still picture him embracing a homeless man in India with leprosy whom no one else would go within a few feet of. This gentleman lived on the grounds of our church and it was our morning routine on my way to school to greet him and take his hand. While ours was a very humble life living in one of the poorest and most dense urban cities in the world, by comparison, we were very fortunate.
During my mother’s two year absence, I grew up in the company of my cousins, Alvin, Austin, Anthony and Shobha. They lived in a one room shack illegally built on the roof top of a four story apartment. As hot as it is in Madras, it is hotter on the roof of a concrete building. We spent summer nights sleeping in a tent on the roof and had the time of our lives, not knowing that our sleeping conditions were a function of poverty. During droughts, we stood in line for water, with our little pails to help our parents out, thinking again -- how fun is this.
When I was elected to the School Board five years ago, I received an e-mail from my cousin Alvin in India, who is now the Vice President of Pepsi Co. India, recalling our humble, very humble beginnings. He recalled my dad’s active social service in our church, and said, "I trust that your new responsibility in this public office gives you a great opportunity to represent and address rights and issues of the under-represented." "Because," he continued, "you and I both know that even in a developed nation, there are those who do not have a voice and those who do not have equal access."
Alvin wrote to me yesterday assuring me he would catch this moment by webcast. He said in his email, "I also notice in the Long Beach District beach map that yours is a coastal district & incidentally comprising of places like Broadway, the Marina, and the Harbour Port Trust! So much like Madras!!! You, dear Suja, seem to be a message sent in a bottle from Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean!"
I do feel like a message in a bottle bearing with me a rich history and ancestry that fits right in to the second district.
I feel as though I came all this way and found a home in Long Beach that is just that - HOME. You see, I was born along Broadway Street in Madras, which was a short distance from Marina beach, which is the 2nd longest beach in the world, and my father was an employee of the Port Trust along this very long beach. 36 years later, I find myself in our Long Beach.
Not to over-simplify our challenges in the second district, I want you to rest assured, that I came here with some exposure to urban problems.
[Photo 5 - parking struggles in urban India, where man, machine and bovine, together with an occasional elephant fight over limited resources]
[Photo 6 - this is my first Broadway Corridor - a typical night at the market bazaar along Broadway Street in Madras.
We in the second district will be working toward enriching our own Broadway Corridor. It will be a bit different from this scene.]
[Photo 7 - Traffic around the corner from where I grew up - again, all interested parties trying to navigate their day safely. As we add density in the appropriate areas in the second district and consider traffic impacts, I am delighted that this is not our starting point.]
[Photo 8 - Historic Preservation - these are the ajanta and ellora caves, where entire structures were carved in to the limestone in 350 A.D. and still stand in all their splendor for us to enjoy today. The treasures in Long Beach are not so old, but no less valuable to us.]
[Photo 9 & 10 - The Port - this is the Port Trust of Madras where my father worked and was my view from the roof top apartment for 7 years.
Our Port of Long Beach is truly our District’s and entire city’s economic engine. It’s prosperity does not have to be mutually exclusive of our neighborhood’s prosperity and well-being.]
When I look at the residents in Long Beach, a great number of them immigrants themselves, I see myself twenty-nine years ago - in a new land, hearing a new dominant language, experiencing the difficulties of navigating this new world - this world of great opportunity. I see myself as a conduit for our ever-changing communities, a voice for the disenfranchised, a fervent advocate of delivering services to all residents in all communities regardless of economic challenges, helping shape policy that will ensure that we as a City are in touch with the people that we serve.
The 2nd District, is not only home to incredible neighborhoods and dynamic (and diverse) communities, but also includes much of the commercial face of our City: The second district is a unique cross-section of Long Beach, with its Port and downtown business sectors, historic residential communities such as Rose Park, Carroll Park, Bluff Heights, Alamitos Beach and Helman just to name a few. It also contains the East Village and its existing and emerging art scene, entertainment and fine dining -- small business corridors on 10th, 7th, 4th and Broadway and dense residential living along Ocean.
As if that weren’t enough, there is a wonderful mixture of white, Hispanic, African American and Cambodian communities - working class and wealthy. A gay and lesbian community that prides itself on community activism and a progressive approach to community issues. No matter where you are in Long Beach, you will be impacted by the direction of the 2nd District in the coming years.
In the Second district, we see the potential of Long Beach as well as the challenges that an urban city like ours must overcome in order for all of our citizens to prosper.
In the second district, there is a delicate balance between the basic quality of life issues such as parking, public safety, noise ordinance enforcement and neighborhood blight and the more complex moral and ethical issues facing all of Long Beach such as air & water quality.
And parking -- what would a 2nd Council district campaign or 2nd district councilmember’s term in office be without the issue of parking confronting them? Residents of the 2nd district were very clear about their priorities and I want to be clear as well - it is incumbent upon the City Council and staff to develop short and long term solutions for parking in the 2nd as well as other districts, where decades of irresponsible development have made coming home from work in the evening a nightmare. I hope to work with my colleagues on the Council, city staff and community members to develop a far reaching plan for addressing the parking shortage. Our residents shouldn’t have to circle their block or any other block for over 30 minutes to find a space! We must find a better way.
I do not pretend to know the solution to every challenge confronting the second district and all of Long Beach. However, I am wise enough to know that the best solutions are found when people gather together in earnest to discuss issues and are open to considering every solution - that is your goal. To bring community members, city staff and experts together in hopes of developing solutions to problems, not simply to identify them.
I know the residents of the second district are anxious to discuss the issues and exchange ideas for solutions. I intend to harness that energy and use it in my policy proposals to the Council.
These are just some of my goals. I vow to root my tenure in honesty, integrity, openness and accessibility. I see my role as that of a true public servant. It is in this spirit that I aspire to provide meaningful representation to all people and communities within my constituency.
I am a product of great role models in my family. In addition to my parents, I want to acknowledge my family members here, my Aunt Leela, my Aunt Sara, Uncle CG, Cousins Nisha and Nishad and parents-in-law, Bonnie, Evan, Alan & Debbie.
Many of you know my husband Danny Lowenthal. He is an unparalleled force in my life. His commitment to social justice is an inspiration. To say that he is supportive does little justice to describe him - in fact, no words really can. His unfettered love and dedication has colored my life these past 10 years. Finally, most of you know, the true inspiration and motivation, our son - Avi. I am proud to have the opportunity to raise him in a community that many of you have dedicated yourself to improve.
I want to acknowledge the steady road that Mayor O’Neil and the current City Council have paved. The flock will miss such a dedicated and wise shepherd, but change brings with it exciting opportunities to prosper anew. I look forward to working with my new colleagues and Mayor-elect Foster.
I want to thank those in attendance as well as those who are listening via the internet for their unwavering support.
I want to compliment the other 2nd district candidates who extended themselves and offered their service to the 2nd district. I want to acknowledge them for their commitment to the residents of the second district, which inspired informed discussion and creative thinking during the campaign. I hope and expect to work with them while in office and have already reached out to many in hopes of sharing ideas and viewpoints that may better serve the second district.
At this time, I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to my staff -- Broc Coward, is my chief of staff and Rachel Potucek is my legislative analyst.
Thank you for being here and sharing with me the start of a wonderful opportunity to serve. I will come to you often and your continued support will be priceless.