This year’s City Council race was confusing, for sure, with local groups of Democrats at odds, Leah Tozer, a Democrat, running on a Republican line with candidates William Haas and Chris Jones, and independent candidate John Bendo, a frequent critic of the administration, running on a ticket with Democratic incumbents Scott Mandel and Chumi Diamond.
But we are not confused about Bendo’s commitment to his community. We believe he would be the strongest voice for residents. In a campaign season when the dominant rhetoric is “people not politics,” Bendo has a proven track record of living up to that motto.
As president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association, Bendo has been a tremendous advocate for the community. As a member of the city’s Community Reconstruction Program planning committee, he played a key role in identifying critical infrastructure projects after Hurricane Sandy that helped the city secure state funding for bulkheads to protect its north side from flooding and other resiliency measures.
Bendo has also sat on an advisory committee to provide input on a proposed comprehensive plan, although he would like to see the draft amended to address concerns ranging from gentrification to overdevelopment.
He has been a staunch advocate for greater transparency and accountability, and regularly challenges city officials during budget hearings, often pointing out areas in the spending plan, especially taxes, salaries, fees and borrowing, that the administration would rather residents ignore. We like his idea to boost revenues through a real estate transfer tax, and he has pledged to eliminate inefficiencies and waste in city government.
Of course, Bendo has been one of the most vocal opponents of the developer iStar’s two requests for more than $100 million in tax breaks to build luxury apartments on the Superblock, both of which were rejected by the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency. We have no doubt that his efforts helped sway that decision.
As part of a Democratic slate that took over City Hall six years ago, Mandel has accomplished a great deal on the council. Inheriting a $14.7 million deficit and coping with all of the chaos that Sandy brought, the Democrats faced enormous challenges. Yet they turned Long Beach’s finances around after the city was on the brink of bankruptcy and did a great job of rebuilding the town after the storm.
They have undertaken massive public-works and infrastructure projects, and Mandel voted to approve a long-awaited Army Corps of Engineers project to protect the city after Sandy, which finally began this year, and is pursuing bulkheading and other flood mitigation measures along the bay. And he is part of a team that is looking toward the future with a comprehensive plan that calls for a redeveloped bayfront and a revitalized central business district.
But for all of the city’s successes over the past five years, it has also made its share of missteps, whether it was entering into a settlement agreement in 2014 with iStar without a specified term for tax abatements, or a $50 million default judgment that the city might have to pay to a developer. The Democrats can blame others all they want, but such blunders happened on their watch.
Financially, Long Beach is not yet out of the woods — the state recently put the city back into its second-highest level of fiscal stress. We’re disappointed with the council’s failure to live up to its pledge of complete transparency, and we urge Mandel to ask the hard questions at meetings, be more receptive to residents’ concerns and create more accountability, a 2011 campaign pledge that we believe has fallen short.
Tozer has been an advocate for the community, especially as a member of the Chamber of Commerce’s executive board, and she has a reputation for getting things done.
We’re impressed by her environmental advocacy, and she played a key role as a member of the chamber’s sustainability committee to push legislation that the city passed last year to limit single-use plastic bags. She has called for greater storm protection measures and more accountability and transparency, and we like her slate’s ideas about creating more stringent ethics rules.
She is also pushing for a comprehensive plan — following community consensus — that could generate additional revenue for the city.
We do have concerns that Tozer’s real estate interests could become a conflict if she were elected. In that case, we would urge her to recuse herself from voting on matters that could benefit her. She has to deliver on her promise to do so. Overall, we believe Tozer has a pulse on the local business community and its needs.
Vote for Bendo, Mandel and Tozer on Tuesday.