RAFU STAFF REPORT
All over the city of Gardena, campaign signs are appearing ahead of the March 5 election. But there’s one name you won’t see on the signboards: incumbent Mayor Paul Tanaka.
Tanaka, whose name appears on the ballot, said he would not actively campaign for a third term as mayor, but would serve if the voters choose him.
He is running against Councilmember Rachel C. Johnson, but said he did not wish to engage in any political fighting, instead letting his record speak for itself.
“If the voters make that decision, then I believe I have the obligation to continue in that post,” said Tanaka. “For us to have a mudslinging negative campaign will tear up residents, workers and businesses of Gardena. If she wants to do it, let it come, leave it to the voters to decide.”
He said that during his tenure as mayor the city has seen crime go down and built a surplus.
“We’ve seen the city go from $5.2 million in the red to having a $10 million surplus. Now crime rates are down, engagement between community and police has never been better. People in City Hall, if you go there today, have not received one complaint about city employees because they are so genuinely service-minded. We’ve got the city going in such an incredible direction. So it’s the perfect time to hand over the gavel,” Tanaka remarked.
Tanaka has served two terms on the City Council and two terms as mayor. He also serves as undersheriff for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and is the highest-ranking Asian American in the department. He has recently come under scrutiny for allegedly condoning excessive force by sheriff’s deputies against inmates in the county’s jails. His boss, Sheriff Lee Baca, has defended him.
“My profession does not affect my performance in Gardena. The attacks on me have not affected my performance at work,” Tanaka stated.
The mayoral race has been a source of confusion in recent weeks. Tanaka says he filed for candidacy because he thought no one else was running. According to the mayor, he had encouraged Johnson to run and she declined, so he was surprised when she entered the race. He initially supported Johnson’s candidacy but has changed his mind. Johnson told The Daily Breeze that the allegation against Tanaka was a factor in her decision to run.
Mayor Pro Tem Ron Ikejiri and Councilmember Dan Medina told The Daily Breeze that they would have run for mayor if they had known Tanaka wasn’t interested. Since it is too late to file papers, Medina is now campaigning for mayor as a write-in candidate. Ikejiri, who is termed out, is not running.
“Either there’s a serious case of miscommunication among Gardena’s city leaders or someone is not being completely honest about how the candidates came to decide on running for mayor,” the newspaper said in a Jan. 17 editorial.
Referring to Johnson, Tanaka told The Rafu, “Unfortunately, because of what she did, it excluded Ron, Dan Medina and (Councilmember) Tasha Cerda, so none had an opportunity to get their names on the ballot. I would have gladly stepped aside because it was time to step aside and pass the torch.”
There are also two open seats on the City Council. In addition to Cerda, the candidates are Kathleen “Suzy” Evans, Mark E. Henderson, Rodney Tanaka and Terrence Terauchi.
Running for city clerk are Shannon Nichole Tsukiyama, Mina Semenza and Harout “Art” Kaskanian. The current city clerk, Maria Marquez-Brookes, is stepping down.
J. Ingrid Tsukiyama is running unopposed for re-election as city treasurer.
Tanaka retired as a police lieutenant after 31 years of service with the Gardena Police Department and is currently a licensed pastor through Gardena Valley Baptist Church. His ministry is serving at the Union rescue Mission in Los Angeles, ministering to the homeless.
He has served as president of Gardena Elks Lodge, Kiwanis Club of Gardena Valley and Gardena Sister City Organization, and chairman of Gardena-Carson YMCA, and is a recipient of the YMCA Golden Triangle Award and a Gardena Walk of Fame honoree.
“I believe the diversity of our community is what makes the City of Gardena a great place to live, shop and play,” Tanaka said in a statement.
“It will be my objective to keep public safety a number one priority, keeping our police and fire personnel held to the highest degree of professional community service.”
“I will work diligently to assure that our community development efforts will bring in viable, job creating and long-lasting partnerships.
“I will work to assure that the city partners with the Los Angeles Unified School District to ensure that our youth are receiving the highest-quality education in an equally safe learning environment.”
Tanaka was born in Denver but moved to Gardena with his family before his first birthday. He attended 135th Street Elementary School, Henry Clay Junior High, Peary Junior High, and Gardena High School and received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from CSU Long Beach and his divinity degree from Talbot Seminary, Biola University.
Terauchi served on the Gardena Planning Commission and was elected councilman in 1999 and mayor in 2001. His supporters say that because of his leadership skills and fiscal responsibility, Gardena experienced the greatest growth of business and residential development during his tenure than at any other time in the previous 35 years.
A native of Hawaii and a resident of Gardena for 25 years, Terauchi graduated from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley and joined the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, working as a legal attorney in Watts for seven years.
He joined the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office in 1986 and has worked as a deputy district attorney ever since. In 1994, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles honored Terauchi as Prosecutor of the Month for his work in convicting a man who murdered four people.
“We must search out available state and federal programs to provide new equipment and the latest technology so our police department can operate at maximum efficiency within the current budget restraints and still provide our residents with a safe and secure community,” he said.
On his decision to return to politics, Terauchi stated, “I would like to serve the citizens of Gardena again to find and develop much-needed additional revenue streams to the general fund to prevent erosion of business and resident services. I believe I can provide significant contributions toward the growth, fiscal well-being and prosperity of Gardena and ask for your vote of confidence on Election Day.”