CITY COUNCIL – Lesser, Howorth sworn in, Hadley, Stern depart
David Lesser and Amy Howorth were sworn in to the City Council Tuesday night after outgoing councilmembers Suzanne Hadley and Hildy Stern were feted, and said their farewells.
The ceremony, along with the swearing in of three school board trustees Wednesday night, capped off a tumultuous election season in Manhattan Beach, in which effective majorities were at stake in both elected bodies.
At the outset of the meeting, Mayor Steve Napolitano made his biannual joke, referring to the night being about “the peaceful transfer of power.”
“And that is what we are going to do here tonight,” he said, before offering extensive remarks about Hadley, who served a single, tumultuous term on council characterized by a blunt and sharply articulate outspokenness that inspired both a loyal following and outraged opposition.
Hadley, originally from a small town in Wisconsin, attended prestigious schools on the East Coast, obtained an MBA from Dartmouth, and left behind a promising business career to raise four children. Her husband, David Hadley, served one term in the California Assembly, but Suzanne’s time on the council marked her entry into public life. It was something she clearly relished, and for much of the meeting Tuesday night she dabbed tears from her eyes. As one of her supporters, Heidi Rayden Tobias, noted during public comment earlier in the night, Hadley, in addition to losing the election, lost her mother and suffered a broken back over the course of the last year.
“To see you tearing up, it’s just kind of gut wrenching, because I know that this is so hard for you, and it’s been such a hard campaign,” said Rayden Tobias. “There’s been so much unfair, vile and unkind hate spread towards you, over and over, and I just want to acknowledge how much you mean to so many residents. I guess our votes weren’t enough to push you over and grant you another [term] but we are so grateful for your service and for your strength.”
Napolitano read through the long list of accomplishments Hadley took part in as a councilmember over the last four years, including her staunch advocacy for small businesses during the fraught, early days of the pandemic. But he said that much of the job of a councilperson goes far beyond the policy matters that reach the dais, and instead consists of nitty gritty vigilance, in answering emails or standing for an hour in a local grocery store to listen to a resident’s grievance when all you meant to do was buy a loaf of bread.
“Suzanne, on a personal level, you like the term ‘iron sharpens iron,’” he said. “And you certainly sharpened this council and, this community, and this staff into doing their best for this city. You were steadfast. You maintained your core values at all times, you’ve challenged things when they need to be challenged, and you spoke up when you felt you needed to speak….The big heart that a lot of folks don’t see on the day-to-day basis, we saw here tonight.”
Napolitano put his arm around Hadley. It was a poignant moment, especially considering that the Napolitano and mayor pro tem Richard Montgomery both came out against Hadley during the campaign.
“She put herself into this 1,000 percent,” Napolitano said. “I would be texting or emailing at midnight or 1 a.m., and she’d be responding right back about some issue — we won’t tell David — but the fact is just that you put so much into this, and we appreciate all you did. All these people are here to recognize the two of you for all your dedication and service to the City of Manhattan Beach. There is no doubt about that in anyone’s mind — you wore it on your sleeve and did a great job. We appreciate so much what you did, and we just want to thank you for your service.”
Montgomery noted that he and Hadley each served as mayor during the onset of the pandemic, a time when the council often met three times a week, and faced an ever-changing set of protocols to consider and enforce. He singled out a single moment, when the Black Lives Matter protest occurred at the Pier, a particularly uneasy time in which downtown had been boarded up after riots had erupted in other cities. Hadley, Montgomery said, showed up at the protest on behalf of the City.
“We were not going to let our downtown burn…Suzanne stood there right next to me,” he said. “That was a highlight, and no one knows. It was never pictured anywhere.”
Hadley’s own remarks were brief. She thanked her husband, family, and city staff, and acknowledged the difficulty of this year.
“So those of you who know me best know I love books, and I love to read,” she said. “And all great literature has plot twists. So for me in 2022 served up several big plot twists, including falling down the stairs, and of course this election. Hairpin turns make life interesting. I’m going to keep reading my book of life to find out what lies ahead. Though my time on council is ending tonight, each chapter has been a very, very special one. So thank you, to my colleagues, for the fun, the laughs, and the accomplishments, which I won’t belabor tonight.”
Stern likewise cut an unusual swath through her entry to the public life of Manhattan Beach. She also originally came from a small town Midwestern upbringing, in Michigan, and formerly worked for the U.S. Justice Department as an attorney after graduating with a joint degree from Georgetown Law School. She and her husband Jeremy arrived in Manhattan Beach 28 years ago, and Hildy put aside her career to raise four children.
Stern, understated and carefully deliberative, was an unlikely politician. She attracted vitriol from the “anti-woke” activists in town for her advocacy for a Peace Pole, an apology on behalf of the City for the historical, racially inspired events at Bruce’s Beach, and even the “Kindness Initiative” she championed as mayor, which recognized acts of generosity by members of the community. But as Montgomery noted, Stern’s own stalwart kindness eventually revealed itself as a deeply principled and quietly influential manner of leadership.
“She’s small but she carries a big stick,” he said. “You want reasonableness? A common sense answer that makes sense? Go to Hildy.”
“I have been trying to make Hildy mad for the last four years and it just doesn’t happen,” Napolitano said. “The picture of grace and poise, as everyone said, and it’s true.”
The mayor said that Stern emerged as perhaps the council’s strongest advocate for environmental issues, and noted that her voice grew in both volume and influence as she found her footing in the public sphere over the past two years.
“You found your voice…You spoke up and said your piece,” he said. “You were steadfast as well. You had your opinions, and you spoke up for what you believe in — that means, when you speak up here, you are speaking up for a lot of others too. You are a voice for a lot of other folks. Your voice is an amazing voice for this community.”
Stern gave a virtuostic performance in thankfulness. Speaking without notes, she remembered what seemed like every city staff member’s name and gave them specific thanks. She gave an especially emphatic thanks to City Manager Bruce Moe, whom she called “the rock for this City,” nearly bringing him to unexpected tears. She deeply thanked her husband and family for the sacrifices they’d made in order for her to enter public life. She thanked her colleagues. And she thanked the residents who she’d sought to serve.
“I’m giving you a warning that I don’t know if I can adequately articulate what it feels like. I’m afraid I might say something very trite,” Stern said. “But I mean this so sincerely from my heart: It has been an unbelievable privilege to be a Manhattan Beach City Council member. It’s such an honor to represent this city, to learn this city, and to learn more about what makes this city tick and what our residents and my neighbors and my family really care about. So I want to thank all of you for the trust that you’ve put in me to be in this position for these almost four years. It’s been incredible.”
“Standing at this side of this room has been a privilege,” Stern said, looking out at the audience from behind the dais. “I look forward to standing on the other side. I look forward to continuing to carry on the seeds of kindness that we all know is so foundational to our city. So I hope for everyone that you rise every day and find some peace in your heart. And I hope that we will continue to interact with each other with kindness and that we can heal together and that we can continue to make this fabulous powerful little city the wonderful city that it is. Thank you for allowing me to be a Manhattan Beach City Council member.”
After Howorth and Lesser took their oath of office and were seated at the dais, Howorth was still visibly moved by Stern’s words.
“You lead with your values when it wasn’t easy to do,” Howorth said. “Hildy, you made kindness your mayoral plank. And when you first did that, I thought, kindness? Kindness? And you taught us all how foundational and important and critical it is to a civil society. You also lead by example, and showed us it’s not always easy. Sometimes we don’t feel like being kind, and you showed us how important it is at that moment to be kind. That is how we get to move forward and make progress.”
Howorth echoed Stern’s emphasis on thankfulness as she made brief remarks about her upcoming term of office.
“I’m just so filled with gratitude right now, and thank you doesn’t seem like enough, but thank you,” Howorth said. “Thank you for your faith and your confidence in me. I do not take it lightly and I will work hard every day to live up to it. And I will serve all of you…And it strikes me that at the beginning of a term, you are so aware of the issues that you’ve talked about during the campaign, so right now everybody might be talking about Highrose or outdoor dining. What I know is that the time that follows rarely goes as planned, as councilmember Stern and Hadley witnessed with the pandemic. Who could have thought of that? So, while there were lots of issues talked about during the campaign, tonight that’s really very far from my mind. I hope at the end of my four years, we’re all in a good place, we all feel safe in our homes, in our businesses, and in our schools.”
As he did throughout the campaign, Lesser said his hope was to bring more of a sense of collaboration to the council and to bridge the growing divide that has emerged in the community in recent years.
“I’m under no illusion,” Lesser said. “That is going to be very difficult. We have difficult issues that come to our council — that’s why they ultimately end up here, where people have differences of opinion by definition. We now have national issues and cultural issues that have now seeped into our community, much like the rest of our country. It makes it very difficult to have a civil conversation. I know, following this last election, there are many in our community who are disappointed with the outcome. They are regretful that their supported candidate did not win. What I promise this community is this: like every other council member here, I represent the entire community. Whether you voted for me or not, whether I agree with your opinion or not, I care what you have to say. I value your opinion. I want to hear your views. While we may not always agree, my first instinct is to see where we can find collaboration. What I would ask in return is for all of us to be mindful of these divisive times in which we live, and think about how we can help — particularly in our community, which has so many gifts, how can we help make this the community that we all want to live in?” ER