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AB5 and the Pasadena, California Mayor’s Race, Part 1: The Insiders

Written By | Feb 19, 2020
Pasadena, Mayor's Race, California, Hardin, Williams

PASADENA: As a newish resident to Pasadena, California this will be my first time voting for the city’s Mayor. My first 30 years in California were spent in Los Angeles or its surrounding suburbs, so I have benefited and suffered accordingly. It has been a long downhill slide from the illustrious Tom Bradley to the egregious Eric Garcetti; so suffice to say I am happy not to be making that choice again.

I was watching one of the cable news shows, and their opinion commentator made this salient point: Voters may talk about what bothers them, but they vote on what affects them.

Gig Workers Law

What is affecting me and many voters in California is AB5, the so-called “Gig Workers” law that was supposed to right the wrongs of misclassification of 1099 Independent Contractors who should have been employees. Authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena S. Gonzalez-Fletcher, and backed by powerful unions such as the AFL-CIO, what this law has essentially done is remove a person’s right to choose to work as an Independent Contractor or a gig worker in the state of California.

As a freelance writer, reinvention coach, and Yoga instructor, the implementation of the law has disrupted my, and thousands of other Californians’ livelihoods—everything from interpreters and translators to event and wedding planners—and elected officials have either been reticent or fearful of addressing it.

Fresno, California is also electing a mayor, and smart candidate Nickolas Wildstar put out this statement:

“AB-5 was a direct and gross attack on the rights of gig workers. This awfully restrictive bill is needlessly putting many people out of work and even jeopardizing state agencies with large amounts of contractors. At a time when many individuals and businesses are leaving the state of California, and taking their jobs with them, we need to be working together to bring more job opportunities to the city of Fresno. As mayor, I would work to nullify the provisions of AB-5 within city limits so that every industry that relies on contract workers has every chance to be as successful as possible.  The people of Fresno deserve a mayor that will work to bring economic prosperity to every corner of the city and will fight for all workers’ rights. Vote Nickolas Wildstar for Mayor today and return power to We The People!”

This is the primary reason I attended the last Pasadena Mayor’s Forum before the March 3 statewide election. I wanted to see if there was any mention of AB5 by the candidates, and to see what positions they held, pro or con.

The forum was held on February 16, 2020, at Friendship Pasadena, the oldest black Baptist church in Pasadena, in a once-thriving black area. The four candidates: Incumbent Mayor Terry Tornek, Councilman Victor Gordo, marketing director Major Williams, and entrepreneur Jason Hardin were asked questions crafted by Pasadena Star-News correspondent Bradley Bermont and Conversation. Live host and producer James Far, followed by a brief meet and greet with the candidates.

As familiar as I am with Los Angeles politics and its players, I was equally unfamiliar with Pasadena’s. With a population of about approximately 142,000 residents, it seems like a sleepy little Hamlet, the “city away from the city”; but after a bit of investigation, it appears Pasadena has its own version of As the Rose Turns.

AB5 and the Pasadena, California Mayor’s Race, Part 2:
The Outsiders

Despite the homespun, Tournament of Roses Parade veneer, it is not without its dramas: The homelessness problem is just as rampant here as it is in Los Angeles and across the rest of the state. Gentrification has happened on steroids, with new construction of condos, hip, and trendy restaurants and shops, and all that goes along with this.  New and more affluent tenants who statistically trend Asian and Hispanic moving in, and the less affluent (African-Americans, the elderly, disabled) being pushed out.

According to Major Williams, the once-thriving black population of Pasadena has gone from twenty percent to 4 percent.

The neighborhood of Friendship Pasadena used to be majority black but is now gentrified Old Town and majority Asian.

The police and fire department leadership is going through its own permutations. There are lawsuit payouts for excessive use of force claims, to the recent “transfer” of Fire Chief Bertral Washington under questionable circumstances.

So most of the questions revolved around these concerns, and AB5 did not receive even a mention. From the candidate’s responses to the questions, I was given some insight into the motivations behind their candidacies, and I used the meet and greet to craft my own questions on the candidates’ stances on AB5.

Democrat Mayor Terry Tornek

Democrat Mayor Terry Tornek was elected four years ago after long-time Mayor Bill Bogaard (1999-2015) chose not to run again. Tornek first came to the city as Planning Director, and his claim to fame has been the revitalization of Old Town Pasadena. He went on to serve as City Councilman before winning the mayor’s race in 2015.

As mayor, Tornek has overseen more real-estate growth, with new condo complexes replacing the more classic architecture for which Pasadena is famous.

Tornek’s re-election talking points appear to be a solid record of leading the city towards important progress:

  • Permanently stopping the 710 Freeway extension;
  • Helping the flailing Pasadena Unified School District, and
  • Funding the police and fire departments through a 0.75 percent sales tax via the voter-approved Measures I and J; a 20 percent reduction in homelessness; crime reduction; a balanced budget; and building a reserve to weather any unexpected deficits.
His vision for a second term is to continue to tackle homelessness.

Mayor Tornek said,

“our homeless count is down 20%, there are still 300-plus people sleeping on Pasadena’s streets every night and that is simply wrong. We will continue to work with our nonprofit partners and the County to build additional permanent supportive housing and other facilities to drive this number down further.”

With the opening of Desiderio Park in 2019 after a protracted battle with some Pasadena residents over—of all things—bathrooms, Mayor Tornek desires to repair and improve city infrastructure. With the now open space from the defunct 710 project available, invest in affordable housing and public transportation.

From his demeanor and responses at the Mayor’s Forum, Tornek struck me as measured, assured, and comfortable in a “slow and steady wins the race” approach to governance.

In my conversation with him at the meet and greet, he expressed he was ambivalent about AB5.

He said that while it had good intentions, it appeared to “overreach” beyond its stated goal. However, from his experience in real estate dealings with the California Statehouse, he was confident that if it was hurting constituents, Sacramento would correct it.

While I appreciated that he knew of the law and understood it was problematic, his response and stance was not heartening.

Councilman Victor Gordo

Councilman Victor Gordo, also a Democrat, appears to want a different approach to the crises Pasadena is facing; but aside from wanting to restore Pasadena to the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governance (Mayor Tornek pulled the city out), there is not much that reflects he will do anything differently. While he does not oppose the development growth, he feels it has been at the expense of long-time residents who can no longer afford the costs: read, the low-income and the elderly. On his website, he pledges to:

“safeguard Pasadena’s heritage and liveability.” From his viewpoint, it is big outside developers who are compromising the city’s heritage and compromising its livability. He further states, “Pasadena families[…] are working harder than ever to rapidly change Pasadena for the benefit of only a tiny few. It’s displacing our families and seniors, and making housing unaffordable.
“As Mayor, I pledge to listen to all of Pasadena’s residents and fight to make sure Pasadena works for the people who live here now.”

Heartfelt, but vague on actual points of action. I was curious why two Democrats were competing with each other for what has been essentially a “last stop” office for many. One of the biggest differences I can see is that while Mayor Tornek is a part of the much-maligned demographics of the older, white male, Victor Gordo hits all the intersectional points that progressives seem to love. One represents the old school Democrats, the other is representative of the current party makeup.

Leaning closer to mid-life, Gordo was born in Mexico, immigrated with his parents at the age of 5, with an up-from-poverty story that lovingly massages any liberal heartstrings. His campaign biography mentions with great aplomb:

“From age nine until he was 17 years old, Gordo delivered the Pasadena Star-News newspaper every day before school and every weekend. He worked evenings and weekends at Ranchero’s Mexican Restaurant to help contribute to his family.  He played football, baseball and soccer in High School, and became the first person in his family to go to college. First, Pasadena City College, then Azusa Pacific University.
Shortly after his mother passed away, Gordo was forced to give up the college dream to help raise his siblings.  As his siblings got older, Gordo was able to continue his formal education and was accepted to law school and drove 35 miles each way to class every night — while working full-time. He graduated with honors one year ahead of his class and passed the California Bar Exam on his first attempt.”

Cue the tiny violins and bring out the hankies. This is the type of story Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren wishes she had; which is why she had to invent one. But, I digress.

Victor Gordo is also a union operative. Oh, Mayor Tornek understands that the unions rule the Sacramento legislature, but he at least pretends to push back.

Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher

From my experiences fighting AB5 with the esteemed (tongue firmly in cheek) Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, I discovered that the majority of her career before she was an elected official was as a union organizer and official. These are the loyal people who sell their soul for union organization, cash, and endorsements. All so they can ride this to higher state and national offices.

Asm. Gonzalez-Fletcher is itching to ride her crap legislature and union backing to become California secretary of state in 2022, and hoping to push from that position into the governor’s mansion.

Not if I can help it—but again, I digress.

Councilman Gordo has a similar pedigree.

Along with his City Council work, Gordo works as general counsel and secretary-treasurer for Local 777 Laborer’s International Union of North America (LiUNA 777).

LiUNA 777

From their website, LiUNA 777 describes themselves as, “the most progressive and aggressive union of construction workers and one of the most diverse and effective unions representing public service employees.”

Like their sister union, the AFL-CIO, LiUNA 777 endorsed and poured money into the passage and promotion of both AB5 in California and the PRO Act (H.R. 2474), which would spread the love in AB5 to the other 49 States.

When I asked Councilman Gordo about AB5 at the meet and greet, he claimed he was not familiar with the law, and asked me to send him information. I sensed that this was probably not true, but I let it slide. I emailed him information on AB5, as well as my and others’ personal stories of hardships as a result of this law.

But as someone who is a) a labor lawyer, and b) general counsel for a union that championed the law, I am sure he knew exactly to what I was referring.

This is another indication that he is being groomed by the National Democrat Party for the next stage, just as the now-derailed plans were for Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. The mayor of a prominent U.S. city is logically the next stepping stone to higher office.

With the present goals of Democrats to force employment and union slavery onto all Californians, and eventually all Americans, who do you think the party wants at the helm of Pasadena, California?

You do the math.

Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell offers witty, insightful, and direct opinion, analysis and musings on local and national politics and popular culture, with occasional detours into reinvention, food, and Yoga. Jennifer also teaches Yoga, and coaches clients on careers and reinvention. You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website.