CARSON — Friends of Helen Kawagoe, former city clerk of Carson, have established a website, www.helensdream.org, to promote their cause.
Kawagoe served the city for 37 years and was in her 10th term when she suffered a stroke in September 2011. Her supporters, who have formed the Helen’s Dream Coalition, are calling for the City Council Chambers to be renamed in her honor immediately.
A statement posted on the website reads as follows:
“Carson Councilmembers Julie Ruiz-Raber, Lula Davis-Holmes and Mike Gipson decided that City Clerk Helen Kawagoe must be dead at least 60 days before they will name the Council Chambers after her. Their reason is based on a nonexistent city code.
“They blatantly ignored almost 2,000 petition signatures from the community, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congresswoman Janice Hahn. They ignored 80 speakers who spoke in support of Helen’s dream …
“Helen Kawagoe was elected 10 times as Carson’s city clerk, serving since 1974 … She is known for going above and beyond the call of duty, being committed to her profession and serving the residents of Carson with distinction. Helen is held in the highest esteem by civic leaders, elected officials and was honored by the emperor of Japan.
“Her reputation and dignity brought pride and honor to the City of Carson. She is known as the ‘Mother of City Hall.’ Her only wish is that the Council Chambers where she served for so long bear her name.
“Please join us … Put an end to the rancor, mean-spiritedness and injustice. Honor Helen now! We support life.”
The coalition meets on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at 21111 Dolores St. For more information, email [email protected] or call Jan Schaefer at (310) 549-2769 or Raul Murga at (323) 365-1729.
Kawagoe made a rare public appearance on Monday at the Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald Community Center during a ceremony honoring individuals who have served on city commissions, committees and boards (she was on the Utilities Committee).
Sheryl Miyamoto, Kawagoe’s stepdaughter, accompanied her to the ceremony and has been her spokesperson at the council meetings. In a message to supporters, Miyamoto wrote, “Mom continues to adjust and improve at South Bay Keiro! She is walking 400 feet two times a day (with assistance and a walker), but is still unable to speak clearly or swallow (she is still on a feeding tube). She always sheds tears of joy whenever she receives visitors and is reminded of friends and past events … We thank you all for your continued support and visits and keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.”
Mayor Jim Dear and Councilmember Elito Santarina support the immediate renaming of the chambers. The other three council members, who also resisted the mayor’s attempt last year to have a street named after himself, insist that there is a policy against naming buildings or roads after living persons.
The same 3-2 split occurred when Dear and Santarina sought to have Kawagoe’s long-time chief deputy, Wanda Higaki, appointed as interim city clerk. While acknowledging that Higaki, having served more than 30 years, was qualified, the council majority wanted to open the position up to applicants, and ultimately appointed Donesia Gause, an analyst in the Long Beach City Clerk’s Office, to serve the remainder of Kawagoe’s term, which ends in March 2015.
Other applicants included Higaki, who continues to serve as chief deputy city clerk, and former Mayor Vera Robles Dewitt. Neither Dear nor Santarina was present when the vote was taken, and Santarina threatened legal action, claiming that he was not notified of the Feb. 28 special meeting.
At the March 21 meeting, Ruiz-Raber, Davis-Holmes and Gipson voted to dismiss Santarina’s challenge to the selection of Gause, maintaining that city staff sent him numerous notices of the special meeting. The vote was 3-1, with Dear supporting the challenge and Santarina recusing himself.