In her campaign advertising for mayor, Helen Tran played off her name by promising to “TRANsform San Bernardino.”
Tran was elected resoundingly Nov. 8 with 63% of the vote against Jim Penman’s 37%. And on Wednesday night, John Valdivia, who had finished a humiliatingly distant third in the June primary, turned over the mayor’s role to Tran as she was sworn into office.
We’ll have to wait for the promised TRANsformation, but the TRANsition occurred on schedule.
Some 300 people packed into the auditorium, the Feldheym Library’s Bing Wong Lecture Hall, named for a leading Chinese American figure in the community, or listened from the lobby. There were Black, Latino, Asian, White, and Indigenous people. It was an inspiring mix, all there to celebrate.
As business leader Frank Montes said from the lectern during the public comment period: “I turn around and see who’s here: the diversity, the excitement. I haven’t seen this in San Bernardino for many, many years.”
Tran, a Vietnamese American, would be the city’s first Asian American mayor and only its third woman, after Evlyn Wilcox and Judith Valles, to hold the city’s top elected post.
As the ceremony got underway, a color guard added pomp. Tran’s daughter, Holly, took the stage to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. A singer sang the national anthem to pre-recorded backing. (Admittedly, I had hoped for the TRANs-Siberian Orchestra.)
And a pastor led an invocation. Implored Jessica Alexander of Grace Church: “We pray for each council member to lead with wisdom and good judgment.” Well, it never hurts to ask.
During public comment, former mayoral candidate Treasure Ortiz gave her take. All three council members who sought reelection won. That showed voters wanted consistency, she said. Yet they also expressed their displeasure in Valdivia’s stormy tenure by booting him.
Directing her comments to Tran, Ortiz said: “Be the mayor we weren’t able to have for four years.”
Huu Vo, a leader in the region’s Vietnamese community, also spoke. (Valdivia called him up as “Doctor Huu,” as if he were a time-traveling British TV character.)
“We teach our children to go out and serve,” Vo said of Vietnamese immigrants to America. “We want to pay back and pay forward.”
Lakeya Cherry, Tran’s best friend since their Cajon High days and her college roommate at UC Santa Cruz, said Tran should not be underestimated, or dismissed as a pretty face.
“If her campaign is any indication, she will roll up her sleeves and get to work. She will not be intimidated,” Cherry said.
Valdivia was handed a plaque for his time on the council and in the mayor’s seat. Everyone, including Valdivia, politely avoided mention of his political TRANsgressions.
“If you poll my kids,” Valdivia joked in his farewell remarks, “they’ll say this is a happy day. Thank you for the honor, the privilege, to serve in this capacity. We leave with our shoulders thrown back and our head held high.”
If you’re going to stride into political oblivion, it might as well be with correct posture.
Reelected councilmembers Theodore Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra and Fred Shorett were sworn in.
Sanchez quoted Abraham Lincoln. Ibarra noted that she’d spent only $2,500 while fending off challengers who expended $62,000. Shorett said he’d seen bankruptcy, recalls, a new charter and more in his 14 years on the dais.
“This city has been through a lot,” Shorett admitted. “I ran this time because I see a renaissance. I saw San Bernardino on the upswing. Its future is bright and I wanted to be part of it.”
Tran then took the stage with her family: parents Victor and Kim, husband Kong Tran and children Ryo, 4, Kenji, 7, and Holly, 12.
She recited the oath of office: right hand up, left hand on a Bible, with Ryo, who was half-asleep, cradled in the crook of her left arm. Midway through, she had to hoist him up again, declaring with a laugh, “He’s heavy!”
Oath concluded, Tran pumped her free arm and raised her fist in victory as the crowd cheered.
Before delivering her first remarks as mayor, Tran took a selfie with the audience, saying she wanted to commemorate the moment. “Tonight,” the new mayor said, “we made history.”
Tran thanked her parents, who fled Vietnam as refugees — “they risked everything,” she said — for a new life in San Diego and then San Bernardino. “It’s because of them that my sister, two brothers and I became first-generation Americans in this land of opportunity,” she said, choking up.
Delivering many of her comments in a shout, and offering an occasional enthusiastic “whoo!”, the 40-year-old Tran won’t lack for energy. Or for civic problems that require it.
She promised to focus on jobs, housing, climate initiatives, crime and homelessness. (TRANsients?) Her first regular council meeting is Jan. 18.
“I’m ready to get to work to be mayor for all San Bernardino,” Tran said. With her trademark full-face smile, she ceremonially banged a gavel against the lectern to close the meeting.
Afterward, I chatted with Pat Morris, who was mayor from 2006-2014 and who backed Tran.
“We’ve passed the torch, passed the gavel, to a new generation of leaders,” said Morris, who’ll turn 85 in January, “that I think will be energetic, dynamic and respectful — things I think have sometimes been absent from the dais of our city.”
Afterward, well-wishers convened nearby inside the historic California Theatre, where the marquee read “Mayor Helen Tran.”
Since it was a night of promises, let me make one. Despite the change in mayors, I pledge to continue my occasional attendance at San Bernardino City Council meetings.
My interest is not TRANsitory.
Name one thing you’re looking forward to in 2023 — mundane, whimsical or serious — and email it to me at email@example.com along with your name, city of residence and whatever explanation seems required. I might use it for my New Year’s Day column.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, more to look forward to. Like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.