Helen Tran keeps her cool in debut as mayor of San Bernardino – San Bernardino Sun

I shook Helen Tran‘s hand moments before Wednesday’s San Bernardino City Council meeting was due to start, telling her that I felt it was important for me to attend her first meeting.

There had been two special meetings, Tran noted, but yes, this was her first full-fledged public meeting.

“Do you know what you’re doing yet?” I asked slyly.

“You will see,” she replied with a grin.

After an invocation by a group of pastors who prayed for the city, Tran called her 12-year-old daughter, Holly, to the lectern to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

There was a long pause as the youngster mustered her courage to speak. I thought she was going to bail. But she managed to say with a quavering voice, “Place your right hand over your heart,” and begin the pledge.

Council members were all standing in profile, facing the flag. Tran turned briefly to give her daughter an encouraging smile.

Tran, you’ll recall, won a primary in June over scandal-plagued John Valdivia and won the election in November. Sworn in last month, she’s the third woman to be mayor of this city of 217,000 and the first Vietnamese American woman to be mayor of a sizable city in the United States. (The first male was Bao Nguyen of Garden Grove.)

“Congratulations on your first real, regular meeting,” Councilmember Fred Shorett told Tran. “I know you’re going to do a great job for our city.”

The first meeting of 2023 was not eventful, but I was curious how the political newcomer would handle herself and how she would be treated.

The public was mostly kind. “Thank God for our new mayor!” one speaker exclaimed.

Another said, “Madam mayor, you’re probably going to spend your first term cleaning up the mess from the last term.” There was grumbling from people unwilling to cut her quite that much slack.

The council was kind too. Mostly.

When Tran was trying to figure out in which order to call on council members who wished to speak, Kim Calvin indicated the touchscreen in front of Tran and said sharply: “Use the system.”

Tran scrolled down her screen, took a breath and said politely, “Bear with me, it’s my first meeting.”

A few favorite moments:

• Once again returning to the topic of fentanyl, Shorett said, “Do not take any drugs off the street.” Then he chuckled at his wording. “What I mean is, let’s take them off the street, but don’t consume them, don’t consume them off the street,” Shorett said, as everyone laughed. “Get them from a pharmacy or doctor.”

• One of the last speakers said he’d turned in his card first and should have been called first. (In San Bernardino, as in Matthew, the first shall be last.) Tran apologized, saying she’d mixed up the speaker cards. The man accepted her apology.

“And Robert Porter,” Tran said to the next speaker, “you should have been No. 2.”

At the microphone, Porter cracked: “I’ve been called worse.”

• Then came the absolutely last speaker. He looked presentable in a suit and tie, spoke mildly and identified himself as a special ed teacher.

“There’s something that’s concerning me,” the man said. “It’s the paranormal circus.”

The paranormal circus? Where do I get tickets?

“It may affect the youth,” the speaker continued. “And future events of, well, quite frankly, a demonic nature here in San Bernardino. Why are we opening these doors of demonic nature? I understand freedom of speech and whatnot.”

What event was he talking about? A councilmember later theorized to me privately: “He was saying the demonic event was the council meeting,” then added: “Who knows, maybe he’s onto something.”

In more serious news, an interim city manager, Charles McNeely, was appointed to replace Rob Field, who resigned under pressure in December.

McNeely was city manager from 2009-2012 and got laudatory words Wednesday from those who’d worked with him then, including Shorett and a former mayor, Pat Morris.

We chatted in the lobby with his wife, Rosalind. McNeely, 71, told me he had retired to San Diego after departing San Bernardino but was willing to return on a short-term basis.

“It’s interim. We’re looking at four to five months or so,” McNeely said. His first day was to be Thursday and he and his wife would be looking for a place in the city to rent. I would advise against the teacher’s neighborhood.

Politically, the juiciest action Wednesday was Tran’s appointments of council members to regional boards. Seats to oversee the airport and airport redevelopment are the most sought-after. The mayor gets one seat on each.

Tran put Juan Figueroa and Sandra Ibarra on the redevelopment board, replacing Ben Reynoso and Theodore Sanchez, and put Sanchez on the airport board.

Reynoso, the most politically progressive councilmember, wasn’t happy. He’d earlier said the public should be paying more attention to what’s happening at the airport beyond passenger flights, referring to warehouses and trucking terminals.

The city’s representatives on the board should be himself, Calvin and Tran, Reynoso contended. (I’m sure Tran appreciated his input.) The vote to accept Tran’s recommendations was 6-1, Reynoso on the losing end. He then asked permission to comment.

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