"JAMES JOHNSON" (Illustration: Joe McGarry)

After four years of behind-the-scenes political patronage, Mayor Bob Foster has apparently decided to bestow his official endorsement upon James Johnson for the Seventh District city council seat currently occupied by Tonia Reyes Uranga. The two candidates are facing off in a June 8 runoff election for the only undetermined spot on the Long Beach City Council—one that could potentially weaken the power that Foster has amassed since becoming mayor in 2006.

Neither Foster nor Johnson has announced the endorsement, but after learning of it through a source, Redistricted! reached Reyes Uranga by telephone late Wednesday evening, and she confirmed that Foster had informed her earlier in the day that he would be endorsing Johnson.

“The Mayor said, ‘I promised that if I was going to endorse, I would give you a call,’” Reyes Uranga recited. “I said, ‘Well, then I guess this is that call?’ He said ‘Yes. I have decided to endorse James Johnson.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s not a surprise.’”

It’s not.

One of Foster’s first moves after being elected mayor in 2006 was to recruit Johnson—at the time an attorney with the  law firm of Morrison Foerster—to City Hall to write proposed changes to the city charter that would give Foster significantly more power. Since those changes were approved by voters in May 2007, Foster has had a veto that requires six city council votes to override, as well authority (along with the council) to remove members of city commissions for any reason.

Next, Johnson was given a position—non-existent before he took it, apparently unfilled since he left it—in which he was paid by the City Clerk’s office on the ground floor but actually worked adjacent to the mayor’s office on the 14th floor.

In November 2007, Johnson slid into a vacancy that appeared in the City Auditor’s office, where as assistant to Laura Doud he has been earning around $150,000 a year.

Meanwhile, Johnson rose to the presidency of the Long Beach Democratic Club, where in the summer of 2008 he led the organization’s endorsement of Measure I—the property parcel tax proposed by Foster but ultimately rejected by voters.

Nonetheless, throughout Johnson long campaign for the Seventh District seat—he kicked it off on April 13, 2009—the hundreds-long list of endorsements that are recited on his website has never included Foster’s name.

When I asked Johnson about that in my January 2010 cover story in The District Weekly (R.I.P.), he made it sound like an eventuality, responding: “He hasn’t endorsed me yet, no.”

(Foster did not respond to an interview request for that story, which was left with his aide, Becki Ames.)

Meanwhile, however, sources around town—from mayorally appointed commissioners to union leaders to community activists—have been talking for months about Foster’s below-the-radar participation in Johnson’s campaign through his staff, family members and sometimes even personally. None have been willing to speak on the record, however, frequently mentioning the fate of Jack C. Smith—a former member of the Housing Development board who Foster declined to reappoint last year after rumors circulated that Smith had made negative comments about the mayor’s relationship with businessman Tom Dean. Smith denies making the comments.

Reyes Uranga and Foster have frequently clashed, but Reyes Uranga has nearly as frequently lost those clashes to a so-called Mayoral Majority—that is, a majority of councilmembers who tend to support Foster’s positions. However, with the recent Ninth District victory of Steve Neal over incumbent Val Lerch—a reliable supporter of the mayor—Reyes Uranga’s attempt for a third term could tilt the balance of power.   

Reyes Uranga alluded to Foster’s long-unspoken support of Johnson when asked for a reaction to what appears about to become an official endorsement.

“I anticipated the Mayor’s endorsement of Johnson given the staff support and personal attention Foster has given to James in the last few months and the last few years since bringing him to the city to consolidate power,” she said. “I’m not surprised but I am disappointed in his [Foster’s] unwillingness to govern as a consensus builder. At least now the public will be aware he’s openly supporting Johnson rather than pulling the strings behind the scenes.

“I am somewhat honored that the Mayor feels that this race is so important that it merits his involvement. What does he think is at risk? Is he so threatened by my one lone, albeit strong voice and vote, that he feels compelled to get involved at this late date? At least now the community really knows the importance and impact of one vote.”

  1. LBMike
    May 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Backbiting Bob has yet to gain his dominance over several on the council. Although he presently has the majority of votes to maintain his iron fist control, he doesn’t like those who ask too many questions about how the City is being operated. Now with unknown Steve Neal entering the picture he’s worried that his “tower of power” may be beginning to show some cracks. As, Tonia, Gerrie and Rae are currently the only un-intimidated, outspoken and questioning councilpersons, Bob will be throwing his money and support to get rid of that pesky Tonia. And, Bob is now serving his last term. His failed promises of infrastructure improvement, finances, balanced budgets, and 100 new cops, he should be worried. Add increasing homeless, poverty levels, inability to pass Prop I, the loss of the Kroc Center and Telsa Motors, and don’t forget the ongoing embarrassing Wet Lands fiasco, it makes one wonder just what record will Bob run on when he seeks higher office.

  2. Marshall
    May 6, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Dave, I know it’s your baby, baby, but this story is ridiculously prejudiced. That is to say, you assume it’s all about mayoral power and only about mayoral power. Maybe it’s more than that….maybe it’s also because James would be a better councilmember! Why does James’ salary have anything to do with your story? Do you honestly believe that a Harvard and Berkeley trained attorney couldn’t garner three times that amount in private practice? This isn’t journalism….it’s crap. You’re a bright guy, when will you figure out that sometimes people support others because they believe in them, and not only because it serves an agenda?

    • May 6, 2010 at 10:22 am

      Hi Marshall. I don’t know why Foster might endorse Johnson. Do you? Johnson’s salary is included to show what an assistant city auditor pulls down in Long Beach. I have no idea what he could earn in the private sector. I do know that if he is elected to the city council he will earn about $30,000. Guess I should have included that. What I do point out is that Johnson has been closely allied with the mayor for four years—his work on the City Charter helped make the mayor more powerful—and that now the Mayor seems poised to make the ONLY endorsement he has made in ANY of the council races this year … for Johnson. Why? I try to provide the context by mentioning Steve Neal’s win over Val Lerch. All of this is journalism. You don’t believe that ALL of politics is the attempt to get majority support for an agenda (that is, a particular way of doing things?) Dude, THAT’S crap.

      • Marshall
        May 6, 2010 at 11:19 am

        Too hot in the kitchen dude? Hang in there – you blog like this you gotta take it. You still clearly jump from point A to point C. You assume that Johnson’s work on charter reform is the only standard for endorsement. If you speculated that it may be a contributing factor, then your journalism would be more sound, but you don’t. This is why your story is crap. So here’s a question for you by the logic you just imparted: why did Schipske endorse Tonia in this race – the ONLY endorsement on Council she made in ANY of the council races this year (as you put it). By your thinking should I extrapolate something there about voting blocs? Or maybe, just maybe, can I be idealistic (and realistic) enough to think Shipske actually believes Tonia to be the better candidate…..is this within the realm of possibility? BTW, despite being defensive you didn’t answer my question – what is the relevance of going into Johnson’s salary in your story? It was a rhetorical question…you insinuate by naming his salary that the Mayor put him in a fat-cat job. What else is the relevance to salaries in your story, at all? Now naming the Council salary still doesn’t have anything to do with it. Dude, I realize you’re trying to feed the conspiracy kitty. You’ve got your following and I’m glad you’re out there, but you make assumptions that diminish intellectual reason. That is, there are likely a multitude of reasons the Mayor is supporting James, including but not limited to: 1) Tonia is an asshole and he’s sick of her voice after midnight on a Tuesday, 2) James would make a better Councilmember and bring a new level of intellect, ideas, and a fresh outlook the (same way Garcia has), pure and simple, 3) Too much labor influence could wreak havoc on the city’s financial stability, 4) they have a history of working together and are mutually supportive

        • May 6, 2010 at 5:25 pm

          If I came across as defensive I certainly gave you the wrong impression. As for your points: 1) No, I dont think Johnson’s work on Charter reform is the only standard for endorsement; I assume there are a lot of areas in which the Mayor and Johnson might see eye-to-eye and I figure that’s why the Mayor would like to see Johnson on the council. 2) I would also figure that Schipske’s endorsement of Tonia was also based on the presumption that they see core issues similarly and might vote together on those issues. 3) Johnson’s salary is paid by taxpayers, not the private sector. Finally, I don’t see why you have your undies in such a bunch over a story about the chief executive of Long Beach endorsing somebody in a race that could have ramifications for the next four years. That’s news, man, and food not only for the conspiracy kitty but for voters who rely on the varied news media in town to tell them what’s going on. BTW, I appreciate your interest and involvement—too bad there aren’t more of you.

        • wrongbeachjohn
          May 6, 2010 at 10:19 pm

          Garcia is just a chamber of commerce union lackey disguised as a democrat. He runs and hides when definitive votes take place. The scumbag predator gordon even tried to hook young dumb arrogant lowenthal until his mommy and daddy reportedly read their son the riot act. Garcia should be shown the exit next time around.

    • howardx
      May 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      daves not here man

  3. we_deserve_better
    May 6, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Gee, and I thought Tonia and the Mayor were such friends!

  4. lindaonline
    May 6, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Marshall, do you really think Foster does anything that does not help his agenda. How do you think he became the CEO of SCE and then ousted, and then the Mayor of Long Beach. He is an arrogant leader and it is about time people like Dave start saying what people are thinking, the Emperor has not clothes! He is feared and tolerated not respected and admired. He will never be thought of as fondly as Mayor Bev. And he wants what he wants and Democracy gets in his way.
    Your kind words about Tonia make me think you are a FOB. I have heard the same words used to describe your mayor!

    • May 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      Oh? People though favorably of Mayor Bev? Do tell!

      • May 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

        “thought favorably” sorry ’bout that

  5. Come on
    May 6, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Come on, Linda don’t waste your time. Marshall is obviously Becki Ames, or one of her “henchpersons” doing her bidding.

    It’s as obvious as Little Napoleon’s “short man’s complex” as to why he endorsed Johnson. Just like Lowenthal, DeLong, and Garcia, Johnson will be another dog on his leash. We can only hope that the anti “fat cat” populous in the 7th recognizes this, and understands that a vote for James is a vote for more Tom Dean-Seal Beach Yacht Club-Big Business bail outs, while cutting services and jobs for the “rabble.”

  6. wrongbeachjohn
    May 6, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    It is absolutely critical that Tonia gets re-elected. We have seen what blob and his minions have tried to pull on the city, and we can’t afford to let them continue. He is nothing short of a fraud and a failure! Let’s send a strong message to distinctly flavor his future in politics.
    I for one will get a sizeable chunk to her, and I know the organizations that support working men and women will go all out for her. blob and his bloated special interest out of town stuffed wallet will dig deep for their shill. Shameless scumbags like randy gordon will be slinkng around the campaign too. I’m sure he says he loves the 7th district residents as much as he loves (fighting sensible anti-pollution legislation) Long Beach schoolchildren. (Wonder how much Cal will contribute to whoredons PAC?)
    Ultimately, the ones who count, the 7th district voters, know who has had their back and who has proven her concern and loyalty. Interestingly enough, these working class people can’t be bs’d into voting for a complete bought and paid for phony like delong.
    As such, the future looks bright for Long Beach.

    • RW Crum
      May 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm

      The woman’s a criminal and a fraud. Jill Hill would have been the best choice, but given the choice between Johnson and Uranga, it’s Johnson, hands down. Uranga should respect the term limit law and withdraw. She’s a racist, exploiting her race to suit her own needs, and her husband hasn’t done an honest day’s work in decades. Get her the hell out of office.

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