Now The Dean Of Victorville Elected Officials, Gomez Still Denied Mayoralty

Barely four years after she was first elected, Blanca Gomez finds herself the dean of the Victorville City Council.
And after years of the Republicans being on top in the High Desert’s largest city, the Democrats are in ascendancy there, in no small measure because of the inroad Gomez made in 2016, and which other members of the party built upon in 2018 and in this year’s election.
Nevertheless, Gomez yet finds herself an outcast from the political feast, a byproduct of her self-styled iconoclasm. Moreover, there is evidence that her political rivals vectored all of their force this week to disenfranchise her from her allies and potential allies on the council.
For decades – more than a generation-and-a-half beginning with its 1962 incorporation – Victorville was either the most stable city in San Bernardino County or among the most stable. The city was initially led by Joseph Campbell, the scion of one of Victorville’s premier families, in the 1960s and early 1970s. Upon Campbell being appointed to a judgeship by then-Governor Ronald Reagan in 1972, Terry Caldwell, an attorney who was something of Campbell’s protégé, was moved onto the city council from the planning commission. After an interim of acclimating himself to the role, Caldwell became the political leader of the city, working in tandem with the city’s administrative leader, Jim Cox, who as a young man in 1969 had taken on the post of city manager. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and into the first decade of the Third Millennium, Caldwell and Cox through their sophistication and Republican Party connections, kept Victorville at the forefront among the Victor Valley’s municipalities, outmaneuvering Hesperia to annex prime commercial and sales tax-producing property fronting along the 215 Freeway corridor, Highway 395 and Bear Valley Road. Caldwell and Cox then bested the Democratic Party-affiliated political leadership of Adelanto in capturing annexation rights to George Air Force Base after it was shuttered in 1992.
When Caldwell retired from the city council in 2010, he did so as one of the longest serving continuously elected officials in California at that time. The councils he led were cohesive ones that had little turnover among their memberships, and he maintained that easy camaraderie among its members by the formation of political alliances that kept those members in office for term after term. He also pursued a policy of rotating the mayoralty among council members on a constant basis, satisfying the egos and personal ambition of all involved.
The first fissure in Victorville’s solid Republican political edifice manifested in 2008 when Robert Hunter, a member of Caldwell’s coalition, was challenged by another Republican, Ryan McEachron. Funded by major Republican Party contributor William F. “Buck” Johns, the forces supporting Hunter engaged in a vicious attack upon McEachron in an effort to prevent his election. Ultimately, however, the highly negative campaign against McEachron failed, and he ousted Hunter. Thereafter, even though Johns came to accept McEachron into the Victorville Republican Party establishment, the conviviality among Republicans on the city council began to wane. The 2010 election of Angela Valles, a Republican who developed an enmity toward McEachron and Rudy Cabralles, another member of the Republican establishment who was a longtime member of the city council, led to a further degradation of the political atmosphere in Victorville, and served as an object demonstration to the Democrats that Republicans there were not invulnerable. In 2012, Cox, who had retired as city manager in 1999 and then came back to serve as city manager for two years in 2008 to 2010, ran successfully for the council, and was immediately elevated into the mayoral position, from which he attempted, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to restore civility to the city’s governance.
In 2016, Gomez was elected to the council, ousting McEachron in doing so. A Democrat among Republicans and unfamiliar with parliamentary protocol and less than deferential to the political hierarchy, Gomez immediately clashed with her council colleagues as well as senior staff, developing a prickly relationship with virtually everyone at City Hall in a way that made Valles, who had left the council in 2014, seem as if she had been Miss Congeniality. Gomez found herself sharply at odds with Councilman Eric Negrete and Gloria Garcia, who had succeeded Cox as mayor in 2014. On occasions, the contretemps between Garcia and Gomez had grown so acute that Gomez was removed from the council meetings. Gomez had run-ins with Councilman Jim Kennedy as well, and on occasion tested the patience of Cox, whose lifelong approach to governance was a study in civility and propriety. When Kennedy was succeeded by Councilwoman Debra Jones, Gomez had a series of dust-ups with her.
Along with Jones in 2018, Rita Ramirez, a Democrat, was elected to the council, displacing Negrete, a sign that the Republican grip on Victorville was slipping. Despite another member of her party joining the council, Gomez made little headway in being able to influence her colleagues, and virtually every cause she championed during her first two years and then her second two years on the council was met with stony silence. Rarely did her motions receive a second, and virtually never did her suggestions of action receive majority support. From 2014 until this year, Garcia maintained possession of the mayor’s gavel, and there was never any serious discussion of rotating Gomez into the ceremonial chairwomanship of the council.
In this year’s election, Cox opted out of seeking reelection. Both Gomez and Garcia vied in the race, which featured a whopping 19 other candidates, such that 21 hopefuls were seeking three positions on the council. Among those competing in the race were the Republicans Negrete and McEachron. Despite the hostility felt toward Gomez by the Victorville political and governmental establishment, she was returned to the council in convincing fashion, finishing second and well ahead of the third place finisher, Leslie Irving, while Garcia, a Republican, lost, as did Negrete and McEachron. Taking first place was Elizabeth Becerra. In this way, Gomez, first elected in 2016, is now the longest-serving member on the council, having been there for two more years than Jones and Ramirez. Of note is that the council, which is now composed of Leslie Irving, Debra Jones, Liz Becerra, Rita Ramirez and Gomez, is entirely composed of women. Furthermore, it now, for the first time in two generations, consists of a majority of Democrats.
In a development that was nothing short of extraordinary, however, and contrary to the tradition in Victorville going back to the beginning of the Caldwell era, no effort at all was made to rotate Gomez into the mayoral slot. When the newly composed council met on Tuesday, not as is the case traditionally in the council chamber at City Hall but by means of an electronic hook-up as a precaution in the face of the worsening coronavirus pandemic, Gomez was locked out of the meeting and could not participate. Thus, when the council took on the task of appointing council officers, including mayor and mayor pro tem, Gomez did not take part in the nomination process nor in the vote. The upshot was that Jones was selected as mayor and Ramirez was designated as mayor pro tem.
One report had it that city staff, which was responsible for the arrangements for the electronic forum for the council meeting, purposefully prevented Gomez from connecting from her remote location to the software program that conducted the meeting.
When the Sentinel contacted Gomez after the meeting by phone, she steadfastly refused to discuss what had occurred, did not explain why she did not participate in the meeting, nor would she confirm that city staff had blocked her from participating. She instead referred all questions to Bobby Borisov, whom she referred to as her attorney. Borisov, however, is not a member of the California Bar, and does not appear to be a practicing attorney. Phone calls to Borisov went unanswered.
-Mark Gutglueck

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