Robert Garcia, the first openly gay person elected mayor of Long Beach, is determined to take his city out of the long shadow of its bigger, sexier, and certainly more celebrity-studded sister to the north.
“Long Beach is a big city, population wise. There are more people in Long Beach than in Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, and New Orleans, but because it’s so close to L.A., people don’t realize the size and scope of the city,” Mayor Garcia told the Los Angeles Blade.
“It’s important for us to have a national profile, and that we’re out there promoting the city, bringing in jobs, and big corporations. And doing that means making sure the city is ready. That means tech jobs, and making sure those opportunities are available to Long Beach residents. So far, things are going great. Unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been on record.”
Garcia also has plans to build more affordable housing, right the wrongs of income inequality, and protect his most vulnerable citizens – the homeless, immigrants, those who are undocumented, and the LGBTQ community.
“The challenges in Long Beach are the same as other big cities in California,” he said. “There’s a statewide housing crisis. It’s a simple math equation. The housing hasn’t kept up with the population growth. We’re in a situation across the state where we’re seeing a huge housing crisis and that’s causing a lot of strain with the rental market, the housing market and with homelessness.
“Homelessness in general, income inequality over time, and wages haven’t kept up with growth. More and more folks are falling into homelessness and it’s sad to see and there isn’t enough of a national focus on income inequality and wages to address that appropriately.”
The mayor was once a Republican. His story of immigrating to the U.S. from Peru, and his family’s support of President Reagan, comes with a quick and timely lesson.
“My whole family registered as Republicans when we became citizens. We did so because we loved Ronald Reagan. At the time he had signed the amnesty bill. So, we didn’t know much about politics, but we loved the president because he’d signed this bill, giving us an opportunity to become U.S. citizens.
“Today, it’s ironic that it was a Republican president that signed the most comprehensive path to citizenship that we’ve had this last generation. And a president who’s idolized by the Republican Party also did more for immigrants than any other president recently. I think the Republican Party needs to take a page out of the Ronald Reagan playbook and work with Democrats on a comprehensive immigration program that will create citizenship for the millions of folks that are here,” he said.
Garcia was only slightly unsure whether his status as a gay Latino would impact his run for office.
“I’m sure there were some who may have had problems with my being Latino or gay, but more were supportive, and for those communities it means a lot to a lot of folks,” he said. “People stop me all the time and tell me that. In the end though, I’m a mayor for everyone. I ran to solve problems and fix things regardless of my ethnicity or being gay.”
He says that what’s happening in D.C. is incredibly sad for him.
“We should be moving forward and protecting all people. The rhetoric that’s coming out of this administration is divisive and un-American and it’s hard to listen to a national conversation around putting down immigrants and LGBTQ people and Muslim-Americans… We should be expanding healthcare and not trying to eliminate it. We should be moving toward equal pay instead of putting women down. We should be insuring that LGBTQ kids have full and healthy lives versus promoting the bullying behavior that’s being promoted now,” he said.
Looking toward the 2018 elections he added, “California can’t be complacent. As a state we’ve always led, it’s like the popular phrase says, ‘As goes California, so goes the country.’ I think it’s more important than ever now for us to lead on the big issues. Whether that’s issues of climate change, or supporting immigrant communities, or protections for low income people, who we should be looking out for, those are things we have to move forward on, regardless of the national level.
“Look at the Paris agreement, we’re only one of three countries that pulled out. It’s disgraceful. Here in California we’re stepping up to do things for ourselves. I think we’re going to see more and more of that. California is saying if D.C. isn’t going to push on climate change, then we are. If D.C. isn’t going to look at equal wages, then we are. That’s consistent with California values,” he said.
Garcia doesn’t take himself too seriously. This year was his 20th visit to Comic-Con. He wore Superman socks to his inauguration, and says he swears by the motto, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
“I’ve always been a nerd. I’ve been into sci-fi, ‘Star Wars,’ and ‘Star Trek,’ it’s just stuck with me. Most people in the city know that, and find it amusing,” he says.