Next year, Tustin will join the multitude of cities that now elect their city council members by district. For the first time, Tustin voters will also start electing their own mayor. There’s hope that the changes will increase Latino representation and blunt what the Orange County Register calls the council’s “fraternal tendencies.”
Those tendencies were on display Tuesday, Dec. 7 when the dais promoted Mayor Pro Tem Austin Lumbard to mayor and appointed Barry Cooper as the new mayor pro tem. In doing so, they passed over Councilwoman Beckie Gomez for the third time.
Gomez is the only Latino member on the council in a city that is 40% Latino. Despite impeccable credentials, she has repeatedly been sidelined by her white, male colleagues, as the Register notes.
Gomez was first in line to become mayor pro tem, which in all probability would have made her mayor a year later, in 2014. But that year’s council gave the nod to John Neilsen, who had served as mayor once and was about to term out.
For Gomez, the decision stung.
“I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Gomez recalled in a 2019 interview.
A year later, when Gomez again could have been named mayor pro tem, the council chose Allan Bernstein, who had two years less tenure. Gomez, the only woman on the council at the time, cast the only dissenting vote.
Gomez was named mayor pro tem in 2018, but by then she was scheduled to term out and couldn’t become mayor the next year.
“It reflects poorly on the council that my constituents never got to see me become mayor,” Gomez said two years ago.
Former mayor Tracy Worley-Hagen says the council has become more of “a partisan old boys’ club” since she left office. Outgoing Mayor Leticia Clark was passed up for mayor pro tem in 2018 when many thought she should get the title. But she did land the mayor’s job this year, becoming the city’s first female mayor in nearly a decade and its first ever Black female mayor.
The challenges Clark and Gomez have faced may stem more from politics than race or gender. The women are the only Democrats on the council. The three men are Republicans. Tustin, however, is a blue city. Voters selected the Democratic presidential candidate in the past four elections and registered Democrats currently hold a 13-point advantage.
It remains to be seen how district-based elections will impact representation in the city.
Asked if she’ll consider running for mayor, Gomez told the Register she isn’t sure. One thing is certain now: it’s her only chance.