Tran To Replace Valdivia As Mayor, Three Years After His Antics Sent Her Packing

Based upon the election returns from Tuesday night’s voting, Helen Tran will become the City of San Bernardino’s first Asian mayor and, at the age of 40, one of the youngest in the city’s 168-year history.
According to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters’ office, Tran comfortably outdistanced former San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman in the contest, 9,444 votes or 62.02 percent to 5,763 votes or 37.85 percent as of 4 p.m. Thursday, November 10.
Tran will replace incumbent Mayor John Valdivia next month.
Valdivia, who first sought an elected position on the San Bernardino City Council when he ran unsuccessfully for Ward 4 councilman in 2009 and then succeeded when he relocated to Ward 3 and defeated then-Councilman Tobin Brinker in 2011, beat incumbent Mayor Carey Davis in the 2018 election after the city switched to even-number year elections.Whereas previously Valdivia’s proclivity for bribetaking, graft-motivated action and his overbearing personality remained relatively obscure or flew under the radar, his assumption of the higher-profile mayoral role resulted in revelations that tripped him up politically. Upon being sworn in as mayor in December 2018, he had the backing of Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Councilwoman Bessine Richard, Councilman Henry Nickel and Councilman Ted Sanchez. In May 2019, Valdivia’s ally Juan Figueroa was elected in a special election to complete Valdivia’s unfinished term representing Ward 3. This gave the mayor what looked to be ironclad control of the seven-member city council.
There followed, however, a series of revelations that brought Valdivia into disrepute. Cannabis entrepreneurs came out of the woodwork, regaling newspaper reporters and the public with the way, in exchange for cash, he had promised marijuana operation licenses and permits to those who had applied for them; an employee in his office, Mirna Cisneros, told of how he had made sexual advances to her and misused city funds to engage in travel and activity that had nothing to do with city business and he was taking money from those with business before the city; another employee of the mayor’s office, Karen Cervantes, related how the mayor had made sexual advances toward her; his field representative, Jackie Aboud, likewise said Valdivia had pressured her to accommodate his sexual needs; Alissa Payne, a single mother whom Valdivia appointed to two city commissions, said Valdivia had made similar indecent overtures to her; Valdivia’s field representative Don Smith related how he had been present while Valdivia made a late night rendezvous with a city tow service franchise holder who handed Valdivia an envelope stuffed with cash; Valdivia’s chief of staff, Matt Brown, came forward to say that Valdivia attempted to have him make fraudulent unfavorable work reviews of Cisneros, Cervantes, Aboud and Smith to justify their firings and discredit them with regard to the allegations they had made.
Based on a host of Valdivia’s actions, the city found itself facing nearly a dozen lawsuits.
One by one, beginning in the Summer of 2019, Nickel, Ibarra and Sanchez parted political company with him, such that he no longer had five reliable votes on the council but only two to support whatever he was attempting to achieve.
Meanwhile he had raised in excess of $700,000 in donations on top of the nearly $200,000 he had left over from his 2018 mayoral run and the money that had been backfilled into that political fund. Those donations were provided to both his electioneering war chest as well as to his legal defense fund. Ultimately, Valdivia would expend $466,000 of that money in paying his attorney, Rod Pacheco.
Many of Valdivia’s donors expected something in return. They became irate when Valdivia, without sufficient backing on the council, could not deliver on the promises he had made. Consequently, Valdivia and Pacheco were no longer able to keep a lid on the burgeoning accounts of his bribetaking.
By early this year a host of candidates had lined up to run against him: Treasure Ortiz, Henry Nickel, Helen Tran, Mohammad Kahn, Gabriel Jaramillo and Jim Penman. Despite his superior fundraising position, in the June 7 primary this year he was outdistanced by Tran, who polled 7,310 votes or 41.65 percent, and Penman, who captured 3,510 votes or 20 percent. Valdivia managed to bring in 2,970 votes or 16.92 percent, slightly better than fourth-place finisher Ortiz.
Somewhat ironically, both Penman and Tran had insalubrious connections to Valdivia the other four competitors in the race did not have. Penman had been one of Penman’s early political sponsors, having supported him in his 2011 campaign against Brinker and again when he ran against Davis in 2018. Tran had been the City of San Bernardino’s human resources manager when Valdivia began his term as mayor. Criticism was vectored her way when, early in Valdivia’s tenure as the city’s top politician, complaints crossed her desk from various city employees, including Cisneros, Cervantes and Aboud pertaining to his sexual harassment of them and, according to their lawyer, Tristan Pelayes, she sided with the mayor, at least initially, refusing to delve into what was going on and failing to protect them from his predatory behavior. Tran left the city’s employ, landing a position as the human resources director in West Covina.
It is unclear whether Tran will keep her job in Los Angeles County’s 11th largest city while she serves as mayor in San Bernardino County’s largest city and its county seat. Tran was provided with a total annual compensation of $280,510 by West Covina in 2021. In January, the San Bernardino City Council moved to reduce, as of December when Tran will take office, the $106,793 salary the San Bernardino mayor is paid to $50,000. At present the mayor’s salary is augmented by another $8,768 in stipends for attending meetings of regional boards, joint powers authorities and other governmental entities and committees, and medical, dental and other benefits such as a car and travel allowance totaling $24,665, and retirement benefits of $29,322.40. Thus, Valdivia is now provided with a total taxpayer-defrayed compensation of $169,548.40 annually. After the $50,000 reduction in mayoral salary that will go into effect upon her swearing in, Tran will be making $119,548.40 in total compensation as mayor.
Tran, who has historically been shy about speaking to the media, was unavailable this week to field questions about what her future employment plans are.

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