San Pedro is a place with deep traditions.
And despite being part of the massive city of Los Angeles, San Pedro is still, in many ways, a “small,” close-knit town with a strong cultural identity.
A key example of this is the port community’s “Honorary Mayor campaign.”
The campaign, usually held every two years, sponsors all kinds of public events, from chili cookouts to boat tours and casino nights, to raise money for charities and nonprofits selected by the candidates vying for what is an honorary, unpaid title.
Winning is straight forward: raise the most money and pledges for a chosen nonprofit cause — and the job is yours.
And the haul is no small change: Candidate collections can hit in the $30,000 to $50,000 range.
Longshore worker Joe Donato, a past president of ILWU’s Local 13, won San Pedro’s Honorary Mayor’s race 2007 by raising more than $106,000 in donations for the Harbor Interfaith Shelter.
The pandemic canceled the popular event from 2020-22. But this year, the campaign is back.
It launched in February and is set to wind up in June. It’s in full swing, with four candidates:
Rock Ashfield, a Realtor and development manager of Palm Boutique Realty in downtown San Pedro, who is raising money for Bridge Cities Alliance and the Los Angeles Maritime Institute.
Manny Jimenez, founder and CEO of Black Knight Patrol, who is raising money for LAPD Harbor Boosters and Harbor Connects.
Gaby Medina, a community advocate and former district director for former Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who is raising money for Sharefest Community Development.
Yolanda Regalado, owner of Sirens Java & Tea in downtown San Pedro, who is raising money for Pedro Pet Pals and “Women Are Heroes Too” (Veterans West).
“People were talking about it, asking if the campaign was coming back,” said John Bagakis, a former Honorary Mayor and managing partner of Big Nick’s Pizza. “We felt it was time.”
Candidates are given the freedom to create their own events, Bagakis said, recalling one of his most successful fundraisers was a boat trip and day on Catalina Island. Bagakis is now the events committee chair for the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the honoray mayoral campaign; as such, he helps advise candidates on planning fundraisers.
Events, he said, span the spectrum and include things such as restaurant nights, dinner dances, casino nights, karaoke nights, wine tastings, harbor tours and chili cook-offs.
While it may be a title without authority, the Honorary Mayor does have some responsibilities: Wielding giant scissors at a lot of ribbon cuttings, for example, for riding and waving in parades, and leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the annual State of the District speech.
San Pedro’s Honorary Mayor campaign appears to have had its start in 1967, according to old news accounts.
That first title went to Sylvia Zankich, a fisherman’s daughter and cannery worker who Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty tapped in 1968 to be the head of the city’s Social Services Commission, according to past news accounts.
The long list of candidates who have run for the position over the decades — many of them losing — reads like a Who’s Who of San Pedro.
Before Buscaino served as LA’s 15th District representative of the City Council, for example, he ran to be San Pedro’s Honorary Mayor. But he lost.
The chamber will announce this year’s winner at its annual awards lunch on June 22.
The suspense is typically Oscar-worthy. A Malaga Bank official even hands off a sealed envelope containing the name of the candidate who brought in the most donations.
Until then, save an appetite and leave the calendar open for what will be a flurry of candidate events during the campaign’s home stretch.
While the town is undergoing considerable change right now, with various new developments underway, the tradition of selecting an Honorary Mayor is here to stay, Bagakis said.
“San Pedro is a tight-knit community that really cares about its nonprofit” and charitable causes, Bagakis said, “whether it’s someone struggling with cancer, or the (Marine) Mammal Care Center (that needed help) a couple years ago.”
Upcoming events and candidate information:
Ashfield: “Rock for Mayor” events include a kickoff to LA Fleet Week and a chance to get the latest updates from Jerico Development, one of the West Harbor developers, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 23 at La Bocca Felice, 301 W. Sixth St.; $50 donation per person. Visit Facebook Rock Ashfield for Honorary Mayor.
Jimenez: For information, visit the candidate’s GoFundMe fundraising page.
Medina: Go to Gaby for San Pedro Honorary Mayor.
Regalado: Enter for a chance to win a mermaid tea set for a $20 donation (winners announced May 12) at Sirens Java & Tea or online at Yolie4spmayor.org. Chili Cook-Off, 3-9 p.m. June 10, Battleship Iowa; $20 to attend or participate. Bag Lady Tea, 1 p.m. May 21, at Sirens; $60 for tea, snacks and shopping for gently used designer handbags and raffles.
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