Gomez Again Denied Mayoral Ascendancy By Her Colleagues

Her council colleagues have once again thwarted Victorville City Councilwoman Blanca Gomez’s ascendancy to mayor.
Last month, the council voted to elevate Councilwoman Liz Becerra to the mayoral position.
Unlike Adelanto, Barstow, Chino, Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Montclair, Needles, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, San Bernardino and Upland, the City of Victorville does not have a directly elected mayor. Rather, like those in Chino Hills, Hesperia, Apple Valley, Loma Linda, Highland, Redlands, Big Bear, Yucaipa and Twentynine Palms, Victorville’s city council elevates one of its members to the mayoral post. The city has used that system since its 1962 incorporation.
While historically, a couple of personages – Joseph Campbell being the first and Terry Caldwell being the second – came to monopolize in large measure the mayoralty while they were on the council, an informal and less than firm-and-fast tradition eventually evolved by which the mayor’s gavel was rotated among the council members, generally to one who had managed to be reelected at least once therefore had enough experience and familiarity with Roberts Rules of Order and parliamentary procedure to preside over meetings.
In the 1990s, Victorville’s political leadership manifested a need to set aside any internecine rivalries, as the city was locked in a fierce competition with nearby Adelanto to obtain civilian conversion and eventual control and ownership over George Air Force Base, which was shuttered by the Department of Defense in 1992. As a consequence, for a decade-and-a-half, there was tremendous political stability in Victorville, with relative camaraderie among the city council’s members and minimal changeover on that Republican-dominated panel. When Republican Ryan McEachron displaced incumbent Bob Hunter, another Republican, in the 2008 election, the first real note of dissonance in over a decade was sounded. Eventually, McEachron would find acceptance within the Republican establishment, but two years after his election, another Republican upstart, Angela Valles, was elected to the council.
Upon taking her place on the Victorville council dais, Valles garnered a reputation as a political outsider perennially cast as a dissident challenging the status quo. She found herself crossing swords with Mike Rothschild, another longstanding Republican member of the city council and one-time mayor, along with McEachron and especially Rudy Cabriales, another Republican and one-time mayor, who had been the city’s first fire chief. Saying she saw City Hall as tainted by “corruption and kickbacks,” Valles distinguished herself from her council colleagues, fighting them, if not at every turn, on a number of major issues. She alleged cronyism between the city’s elected officials and city staff, accusing the council of giving city employees raises while failing to make bond payments. She took major issue with Cabriales voting on a contract with the chamber of commerce when his wife was the executive director there. Under Valles’ withering attack and the criminal accusations she lodged against Cabriales, he chose to not run for reelection in 2012. If Valles did not introduce contentious politics to Victorville, she as much as anyone ensured that it became a mainstay at Victorville City Hall. In return, she was not elevated to mayor by her colleagues.
Two years after Valles departed from the council, Gomez was elected, displacing McEachron. Gomez was a rarity, a Democrat in a den of Republicans. In short order, she was ruffling the feathers of Gloria Garcia, who had been elected to the council in 2012 and was promoted to mayor by her colleagues in 2014.
Gomez in office has proven to be a combination of positive and negative attributes. Among her shortcomings was a complete lack of familiarity with parliamentary protocol and a less than deferential attitude to political hierarchy. This led to clashes with not only her council colleagues, but senior city staff. She developed 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, two of the council’s then-resident Republicans. 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 Jim Cox, the city’s former city manager who had been elected to the council in 2012, at which point he had immediately been designated mayor. When Kennedy opted out of running for reelection in 2018, he was succeeded by Councilwoman Debra Jones, with whom Gomez then had a series of dust-ups.
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.
In 2020, an astounding 19 candidates vied for election or reelection to the council in a race for which three seats were contested, including the ones occupied by Garcia and Gomez. Gomez won and Garcia did not. The other two successful candidates were Liz Becerra, a Republican, and Leslie Irving, a Democrat. It was an historic event in more ways than one. With their swearing-in in December 2020, the council was completely distaff – as all five members were women – four were so-called protected minorities – three Latinas and one African American – and for the first time in its history Victorville had a city council in which a majority of its five members – Gomez, Ramirez and Irving – were Democrats.
At that point, Gomez was the senior member of the council, i.e., its longest-serving member. As such, the council’s informal policy of conferring the mayoralty upon the individual on the council with the most experience without having previously served as mayor would have seemed to dictate that she would be named mayor. At the December 8, 2020 meeting, however, the first time the newly composed council met, not as was 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. Irving was allegedly induced to vote for Jones based on a commitment to provide her with eventual appointments as mayor pro tem and mayor.
In the 2022 election, Bob Harriman, a Republican, was elected to the city council, filling the gap on the panel that had existed since the council, with Ramirez and Gomez dissenting, had removed Ramirez on the grounds of non-residence in 2021. In December 2022, the council again bypassed Gomez, perpetuating Jones as mayor and appointing Becerra as mayor pro tem.  By that point, Irving had become disaffected with the Democratic Party, and the Victorville City Council was again under the sway of the GOP.
Last month, on December 5, the city council met to appoint council officers for the next year. Irving, having apparently renounced any designs on the mayoralty, nominated Becerra. Gomez nominated herself. Harriman nominated Jones. Thereupon, Becerra polled her own vote and that of Irving. Jones garnered her own vote and that of Harriman. Gomez voted for herself.
Coming at it once more, Irving again nominated Becerra, who accepted the nomination. Gomez regrouped, forsook her unviable chance at being appointed mayor and nominated Irving. Irving declined the nomination. Harriman once more nominated Jones, who accepted the nomination. Gomez declined to vote. Harriman voted for Jones, as did Jones. Irving and Becerra voted for Becerra. Because of the deadlock, the matter was continue to December 19.
On December 19, with both Jones and Gomez absent and Becerra presiding over the meeting, Irving for the third time nominated Becerra, who accepted the nomination for the third time. Becerra, Irving and Harriman then voted to confer the mayoral post on her.
-Mark Gutglueck

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