By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
GARDENA — Seven candidates, all but one of them current or former members of the City Council, are running for mayor of Gardena in the March 7 election. Among them is attorney Ronald Ikejiri, who served on the council for 12 years.
After taking office in 2001, he was mayor pro tem three times (2004-05, 2008-09, 2011-13) and was termed out in 2013.
“I have the unenviable asterisk as the first publicly elected official in Gardena to be termed out” after term limits were imposed, Ikejiri said. Candidate Rachel Johnson was also termed out.
The other candidates seeking the seat vacated last year by Paul Tanaka are Mayor Pro Tem Mark Henderson, Councilmembers Tasha Cerda, Dan Medina and Terrence Terauchi, and compressor mechanic supervisor Warren Kronberger.
A graduate of Gardena High School, Ikejiri earned his BA in public service from UCLA, his MPA from UCLA, and his Juris Doctor from Northrop University School of Law. He is admitted to practice law before all State of California courts as well as U.S. District Courts in California and the U.S. Tax Court in Washington, D.C.
His jobs have included Washington representative of the Japanese American Citizens League, partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of McGuire Woods Battle and Boothe, and, currently, governmental affairs attorney in D.C. and Los Angeles. In his JACL post, he was a registered lobbyist and was responsible for the legislative oversight to create the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
In addition to being Gardena’s representative to the California League of Cities, South Bay Cities Council of Governments, and Southern California Association of Governments, he has served as president of the Gardena Evening Optimist Club and board member of such organizations as Asian American Drug Abuse Program and Torrance Symphony Association.
“Ever since I sat on the curb on Gardena Boulevard and watched the Loyalty Day Parade in the 1950s … I was moved by the all-American city patriotic sense of pride and wanting to contribute to the good of the community,” Ikejiri said. “From that curb, I set a path to being a ‘Crusader Rabbit’ and then eventually to City Council.”
He listed his accomplishments as a councilmember:
“Restructuring of the debt of the city from consideration of municipal bankruptcy to a structurally balanced budget, where capital reserves last year exceeded 20 million. As a city we were fortunate to have properties that are once-in-a-lifetime sales that provided a core capital reserve. Going forward from 2017, we will have to be conservative with our budget as we are in a time of uncertainty with the new Trump Administration and its allocation for federal dollars for state and local initiatives.
“Reorganization of delivery of city services. Our Community Development Department has streamlined the procedures and has a ‘one-stop’ approach for new projects and building permits by residents.
“Support for all things that Kelly Fujio and her Park and Human Services Department operates — lunch for seniors at three locations in the city; Meals on Wheels, a vital program for seniors not able to leave their homes …. cultural programs that are unique to our diverse community, including the koi show, bonsai, art, flower show and, of course, performing arts from hula to line dancing to ballroom to Japanese dance forms.”
He added that he has the ability “to bring out the best in my council colleagues, the staff and the residents.”
Ikejiri recalled being inspired during a meeting with government officials when he represented the JACL. “The assembled civil rights leaders were all complaining about inaction on important civil rights issues. Les Francis, the senior White House official, enters the room and merely says, ‘What is the solution?’ He never asked what the problem was …
“Having the good fortune to grow up in the Japanese American community, ‘monku’ was one of those things …. but few would offer solutions. It was refreshing that the approach by Les Francis was to only look for solutions. I have used that same approach while a city councilman.”
Front row, from left: Sens. Spark Matsunaga and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Reps. Robert Matsui of Sacramento and Norman Mineta of San Jose. Back row, from left: Karl Nobuyuki, Ron Mamiya, Clifford Uyeda, Ronald Ikejiri and John Tateishi of the JACL National Committee for Redress. (Courtesy of Ronald Ikejiri)
While he would have preferred not to leave the council, Ikejiri observed, “Sometimes it is healthy to step away and take a look back. Being out of office provided me with the ability to see where the city was and where it is now, and where it can be. The reason I am running for mayor is that I can see that we can build on the past successful decisions and efforts over 16 years and then set the stage for the future growth of the city.
“The current members of the council, all whom are running for mayor, have many good qualities. [But] the other candidates, I believe, do not have the experience and network from Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Los Angeles County and regionally to bring out the best from the government and bridge it with the needs of our city.”
One of the challenges facing the city, according to Ikejiri, is an orderly transition to a new city manager. “Our current city manager, Mitch Lansdell, retired at the end of December and remains for up to six months on a part-time basis. Mitch was with the city for over 30 years. His knowledge an