Minutes after the City Council’s newest member, John Bendo, took the oath of office at City Hall on Monday and attempted to bridge the political divisions among the four other Democratic representatives, members were at odds over who would lead the body as president.
The council voted 3-2 to name Council Vice President Anthony Eramo president, with Bendo — and more than a dozen supporters of Councilwoman Anissa Moore in the audience — calling for her to be appointed the body’s de facto leader. Councilwoman Chumi Diamond was named vice president by a 4-1 vote, with Moore opposed.
Moore, a communications professor at Nassau Community College and the first African-American to serve on the council, was elected to a four-year term in 2015. Over the past few years, supporters of Moore — who is associated with a group of new Democrats who did not back Diamond or Councilman Scott Mandel in the November election — had urged the council to resume its practice of rotating the presidency, saying that Moore had received the most votes of the three candidates who ran for council that year.
“In 2015, the people of Long Beach sent a clear message — that we were finally coming together,” Moore said in a statement after the meeting. “Shame on us as a city for saying that we are a Democratic majority when we fail to uphold the Democratic process.”
Moore’s supporters — who had launched a Change.org petition that gathered nearly 300 signatures calling for her to be president — criticized officials when she didn’t get the nod. After the vote, Bendo, an independent, said that naming Moore president or vice president would have helped unify a divided council, since Eramo, Diamond and Mandel are closely associated with the Independent Democratic Club of Long Beach, known as the “old Democrats.”
“What some of us were hoping to do was have broad representation from the different political groups in leadership roles,” Bendo said after the meeting. “The hope was that we could have a president and a vice president that come from those two groups to bring some unity together and get past some of this silly partisanship in this city. My concern was the optics of the consolidation of the leadership with people that represent just one of the political clubs rather than having diversity.”
Inductees pledge to work together
Before the vote, Bendo — who received the most votes when he was elected to a four-year term in November — was sworn in by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky at an optimistic ceremony led by local Democratic party leaders and clergy.
The other top vote-getter, Mandel, who was first elected in 2011, was sworn in for a four-year term by former Councilwoman Fran Adelson, while Diamond, who was appointed last year, was given the oath of office by U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice for a two-year term.
Bendo, Diamond and Mandel all pledged to work together to move the city forward.
“We have worked together to make our community more resilient to extreme storms,” Diamond said, “and most importantly, we’ve made a more inclusive community as we embrace the diversity that we hold dear.”
She pledged to work for the residents, including those who did not support her campaign.
“I look forward to working to earn that support in my next term,” she said. “We all care about our community, and I’m confident that together we can continue to make Long Beach stronger.”
Mandel, the only remaining council member who served during Hurricane Sandy, recalled how the city was brought back from the brink of bankruptcy after the Democrats won control of City Hall and inherited a staggering deficit. He also noted the remarkable progress the city has made since the storm, but noted the challenges ahead.
“When I was first elected to the City Council … the city was in a much different place than it is today, physically and financially,” Mandel said. “I am truly excited to continue the work we started in 2012.”
Bendo, a nuclear engineer and former president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association, who frequently criticized the administration, called for putting past grudges aside.
“Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, an independent or whatever your affiliation may be, the one thing we all have in common is a love of our city,” he said.
During the campaign, Bendo emphasized that while he was on a Democratic ballot with the two incumbents, he was not beholden to any political party.
“This city and this council are going to have some tough decisions to make,” he said. “But if we all hunker down in our political silos and make it about control and shutting out those who we may not agree with and make governing a contest of egos or the needs of special interests, it’s only the city that suffers. We should be able to set aside our differences and work together.”
As soon as the ceremony ended, the rift on the council was made clear when it came to voting for a new president following the departure of former council President Len Torres, who did not seek re-election in 2017. Torres, who became the first Latino elected to the council in 2009, served as president for nearly three years before stepping down, and was in that role during Sandy.
“All five council members are duly elected by the residents, and one of our many duties is to choose our own leader,” Eramo said after the meeting.
At odds over rotating presidency
According to the city charter, the council may vote to change presidents at any time. Moore’s supporters have argued that the council should continue a practice that began in 2012 of rotating the presidency every six months, in the interest of transparency, despite the inconsistency of its implementation.
“Chumi has had less time up there, and the fact that they didn’t appoint Anissa shows that they don’t want her as the first African-American councilperson to sit in that seat,” said Marcus Tinker, a Moore supporter.
Supporters of Diamond, Eramo and Mandel strongly disputed that claim, and said that while Moore was considered for vice president, she ultimately wasn’t selected because she did not show her support for Mandel and Diamond during the campaign.
Eramo said that he, Diamond and Mandel shared the same vision for the city going forward. He added that Moore did not reach out to him or Mandel to discuss the presidency before the meeting.
"I am honored to serve as the next president of the Long Beach City Council and look forward to working alongside my colleagues to continue to improve our quality of life here in Long Beach," Eramo said in a statement. “Chumi and I will be advocates for fair leadership and will promote efficient government, smart development and improved storm readiness. Long Beach is a strong and resilient community, and everyone on the City Council is committed to doing their part to strengthen our city even more and to meet the needs of all who call Long Beach home.”
For her part, Moore maintains that she did not show her formal support for any of the candidates — aside from Bendo — and that she had discussed the role of the presidency with Diamond and Bendo before the meeting.
“It was my understanding that I could count on their support for the vice presidency,” she said. “We’ve been doing this for two years — there’s no more conversation to be had.”