City of Long Beach, California
Long Beach City College, California
Beverly O’Neill is tireless.
At the end of her third term as mayor of Long Beach, Calif., she’s winding up a political career that began after she spent 31 years as an educator. She is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which lobbies for the development of effective national urban and suburban policy. In that role, she has input on civic matters on the local, state and national levels.
"It's good, busy, it's fulfilling and it excites me," Mayor O'Neill said.
She has won national acclaim for her work as mayor of California's fifth largest city. American City & County magazine named her 2004 Municipal Leader of the Year for steering the city through the closure of its Naval facilities, and subsequent economic transformation that has strengthened and diversified the city’s economy. "Until 1991, Long Beach was home to 38 naval vessels and 17,000 navy personnel. The estimated economic impact from the loss of the Navy installation alone would total $1.8 billion annually," the magazine said.
Elected to her first term in 1994 she ran "because I was born here, and I have received so much from the city in education and support," she said. "I felt that people weren't proud enough of this city, and I wanted to bring back pride."
Apparently it worked. Mayor O'Neill won her third term as a write-in candidate; by law she could not appear on the ballot for a third term. Her supporters were undaunted, and made her the first big city mayor to be successful as a write-in.
Before becoming mayor, O’Neill spent 31 years working at Long Beach City College, the last five as superintendent-president. On her way to the school’s top spot she was campus dean, dean of student affairs, vice president of student services and a music instructor. She started it all by getting an associate degree from the college before going on to earn a doctorate.
Her two careers have some similarities. Though the city is much bigger than the two City College campuses, the situations she faces as mayor are similar if broader and larger in scope, she said. "It's a transference of skills."
It's also a building of knowledge. Being at the community college helped her have a real sense of the needs of the community, to have a solid feel for its pulse, she said. But as mayor she has more access to national and state decision makers than she did as the president of a community college.
As mayor she has continued to support the college. "I helped them by my encouragement and support and being sure that when they asked for something in grants and proposals that I did what I could to help by calling people or signing letters," Mayor O'Neill said.
In both jobs she has experienced the frustrations of trying to give people what they need and what they want. "People want all of those things that are core, plus having their potholes fixed," she said.
As to the future, Mayor O'Neill is certain of only one thing. "I'm not going to run for office again," she said.