Long Beach entered a new era as Mary Zendejas was sworn-in Tuesday evening before Mayor Robert Garcia and City Council members. The audience gave a standing ovation when her oath of office was read.
Although she has only just been sworn in, her relationships with Councilwoman Suzie Price and Garcia go back to their days at Long Beach State. Both heaped on the praise after she took her oath.
“Her election is going to change the city,” Garcia said. “This is a historic election. She is the first person in the history of the city of Long Beach who was elected in a wheelchair.”
Garcia gave Zendejas a critical endorsement previously and helped campaign for her. Like Garcia, Zendejas was brought by her parents to America as a child. She was diagnosed with polio at birth and has used a wheelchair full-time since highschool.
Zendejas has been an advocate for underserved communities in Long Beach for over 20 years. She has led efforts and worked volunteer programs aimed at assisting disabled residents. She has been repeatedly recognized for her work by grassroots organizations such as Housing Long Beach.
“In 2008 I had the privilege to get to meet a lot of housing activists,” said Councilmember Jennine Pearce, “and you were at the heart of that movement.”
Other council members warned Zendejas of the challenges that she would face working on legislation as a representative of the 1st District.
“I know you worked hard to get here, but the campaign is just a training ground for the marathon in terms of the service you will put forth on the city council,” Councilmember Al Austin said.
Zendejas is replacing former 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez, who left her seat in order to represent California’s 33rd District in the California State Senate. The special election Zendejas ran in was highly competitive, but she was considered to be a favorite.
“There are only a handful of officials in the United States who are in a wheelchair,” Garcia said. “As you look upon this dais you’re gonna have a hard time finding a more diverse representation of what’s in America.”
Activists are hopeful that she will offer a more liberal viewpoint on many social issues. However, they are concerned about what Garcia’s endorsement means for her politics. Garcia’s neoliberal policy, especially on business and housing, has been criticized by activist organizations in the city in the past.
However she votes, Zendejas will be initiated over the coming weeks. Grassroots activists are taking advantage of their momentum in the wake of the city’s no-fault eviction moratorium to launch new measures designed to protect renters in the city.
The swearing-in ceremony ended when Garcia gave Zendejas a bouquet of flowers as she received one last standing ovation.
The next City Council meeting, the last of the year, will be held Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. at Long Beach City Hall.