By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Campaigns for the March 7 election are in full swing in Gardena, where eight candidates are vying for two seats on the City Council and seven candidates are running for mayor.
The council candidates include Rodney Tanaka, 63, a pastor and retired police lieutenant who is running for the second time.
Also running are Wanda Love, president of the Gardena Valley Chamber of Commerce; Cammie Le, analyst and real estate broker; Shannon Lawrence, civil servant and analyst; Harout “Art” Kaskanian, businessman and member of the Gardena Planning Commission; Nolan Jamora, business owner and former member of the Gardena Planning and Development Commission; Paulette Francis, teacher; and Charity Chandler-Cole, director of contracts administration for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“I ran for council in 2013 and ran a campaign for the first time,” Tanaka said. “I learned from the experience and decided to not run for office in 2015. However, in this race, I was contacted by many who wanted me back in the arena and told me they had confidence in my abilities, leadership and decision-making. So, I’m back.”
Asked what sets him apart from the other candidates, he responded, “I have been a life-long resident of the city and growing up here has given me great knowledge about our city, struggles, accomplishments, needs and the future goals of our existence. I have joined all major service organizations in the city and did not just join but became an active leader in each one.
“I have never stopped being a servant of the city and will continue to do so, even if not elected. I have been given many opportunities and the city has helped me to have a better life for my entire family. It is my turn to give back.”
Tanaka has worked with council members through the Elks and Kiwanis clubs as well as the city’s sister-city program and fundraisers for the YMCA. He was inducted into Gardena’s Wall of Fame for his leadership in those organizations as well as his coaching for South Bay F.O.R. youth sports. He was also involved with former mayor Paul Tanaka’s Food, Wine and Cigar Festival to benefit the Senior Citizen’s Day Care Center and Alzheimer’s Clinic.
Sharing a last name with the former mayor, who was convicted and sentenced for obstructing a federal investigation in his capacity as undersheriff of Los Angeles County, has not been much of an issue for the council candidate. “There are times that I do have to explain that the name Tanaka is as common as Smith or Jones. Most understand this already but those that I respond to understand the commonality of the name.”
Having lived his entire life in Gardena, Tanaka observed, “Our great city has become progressively more diverse and there are many more businesses and housing developments than ever. Gardena is still a premier place to live in the South Bay.”
Naming some of those who have served as mayor or councilmen in past decades, he said, “I was motivated [to run for office]by those that have gone before me — Paul Tsukahara, Mas Fukai, Ken Nakaoka, Ed Russ, and others.”
Tanaka, who has retired from Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles after 12 yeas of service, said that his work experience has prepared him for public office in Gardena. “Being a police officer for 31 years in the city has allowed me to be an active part of the city and the inner workings of the city. Working with the different departments within the city structure has allowed me to learn and understand their roles in making our community better.
“Being a pastor has allowed me to be a spiritual part of the community and walk along those that are in need of moral, physical, spiritual and loving support. I see things that most do not and I am able to be a servant to others. Being a servant is what our position provides to our citizens.”
If elected, one of his priorities will be bringing large businesses into the city. “Anchor businesses such as restaurant chains, department stores, supermarkets, are much needed to increase people coming to shop in our city. These locations will be a huge benefit as two new NFL teams are coming to L.A. and we are trying to obtain the Olympic Games in 2020.
“Being in a position where we are and traffic from the Harbor Freeway, Artesia Freeway, San Diego Freeway and Glen Anderson Freeway, having the opportunity of putting traffic through our city could bring much revenue to us. It would be the council and Development Department to make contact with these enterprises and entice them to come to Gardena.”
He added, “Gardena is a really great city when it comes to location. We are centered in the South Bay and have everything conveniently around us. Mountains and snow, the ocean, desert. We have card clubs, many ethnic restaurants in our culturally diverse community, close to sporting event venues and many college campuses nearby. Our police and fire services are second to none and our senior citizen services are the best.
“The future must continue to be progressive and forward-moving. We cannot stand still and just be comfortable. Services in our city must continue to be the best, schools must teach our children to be the future leaders, and we must continue to build and strive to remain financially stable.”
Tanaka is campaigning jointly with fellow council candidate Kaskanian and Councilmember Tasha Cerda, who is running for mayor. All three have been endorsed by the Gardena Police Officers Association.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Henderson and Councilmembers Dan Medina and Terrence Terauchi are also seeking the top spot, along with former Councilmembers Ron Ikejiri and Rachel Johnson and newcomer Warren Kronberger.
“For mayor of our great city, I had to look at someone with a vision and a plan for the future of our community and the citizens,” Tanaka explained. “Someone that would not sit still and be satisfied with the monies currently in our reserves. Someone that understands the fact that we need to prepare for what is to come when NFL football teams come to Los Angeles and in 2020 should Los Angeles be awarded the Olympic Games. Someone that puts the safety of our community first and understands the needs of our seniors and our youth. Someone that will make a difference.
“I do not look at the ethnic background, culture, religion or the color of their skin. I look at their heart and what comes from it.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014 has picked Tanaka and Francis for council and Johnson for mayor.
Also on the ballot are city treasurer candidates J. Ingrid Tsukiyama (incumbent) and Kathleen “Suzy” Evans, and City Clerk Mina Semenza, who is unopposed for re-election.