As the mayor of a progressive city and an assistant sheriff of Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka is able to serve the people of Gardena and of L.A. County at the same time.
When Paul Tanaka spells out his duties as one of the assistant sheriffs of Los Angeles County, the largest sheriff's department in the state, it baffles one's imagination when he adds that he is also the mayor of Gardena. As one of two assistants, Tanaka is responsible for the activities of the department's three field operations patrol regions, detective division, the office of Homeland Security and the administrative services division.
A longtime resident of Gardena, Tanaka is a Japanese-American and active in local government. He was first elected to the city council in 1999 and has been overwhelmingly re-elected since then. Tanaka was selected by his council colleagues to serve as Mayor Pro Tem after which he ran and was elected as Mayor with 62 percent of the vote. Last Tuesday, with no opponent, he won re-election to a second term.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, Tanaka spoke candidly about his jobs, their similarities and differences and an array of topics. Excerpts from that interview are as follows:
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL (LAS): How do your duties as assistant sheriff conflict or complement your work as the Mayor of Gardena?
ASSISTANT SHERIFF/MAYOR TANAKA (AS/MT): First and foremost, there can never be a conflict: one pays my salary, one is my livelihood and the other gives me a stipend and is really a volunteer's job, that's the mayor job. So if there's a conflict, my job (as assistant sheriff) will always take precedent. As far as how they help each other, being assistant sheriff means that you have a lot of authority and responsibility for the safety of the people in Los Angeles County. I am responsible for all patrol units at all 23 stations, all of Homeland Security and all the centralized and decentralized investigations which includes commercial crimes, cargo thefts, homicides, narcotics and child abuse. These responsibilities are 24/7. The great thing is when I go and talk to some of the cities that we contract with and we have differences, even though I am going as assistant sheriff, I am fortunate that they also know that I am a mayor. So it's very beneficial because it allows me to do both.
LAS: Were you born and raised in Gardena?
AS/MT: I was born at the Queen of Angels Hospital and raised in Los Angeles for a very brief while and when I was 7 years old, my family moved to Gardena and I've been there ever since.
LAS: How does the city of Gardena match up among other surrounding cities like Inglewood, Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach and so on relative to its impact and its demographics?
AS/MT: First of all, we're a town of about 62,000 residents; we have both residential and commercial areas, light industrial which is a very good blend. If you follow Gardena (politics), the reason I think that we have gone from the brink of bankruptcy, near financial death is because during the early nineties, those who were in charge ventured into a couple of business endeavors that turned out to be a $26 million white elephant debacle that almost put us on the road to bankruptcy. In fact, we hired a prominent bankruptcy attorney to deal with the issue and that is why I ran for mayor because I believe the previous mayor was not providing the leadership our city needed. We've now moved, gotten that cloud of bankruptcy out from our lives, re-negotiated with the banks and put ourselves in a position to be financially healthy. We are in fact, one of the most financially stabled cities in California. We are in pretty good shape.
LAS: Are you looking forward to receiving part of the stimulus package? (The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that was recently passed by the Congress of the United States)
AS/MT: I'm hoping that money is going to come our way. Congresswoman Waters is an incredible blessing to Gardena, a wonderful supporter; she fights for us and has gotten us support financially from the federal government. She met recently with the city managers and the mayors to get input, and promised us that if there's any money to be doled out to municipalities, she's going to be fighting for those cities within her congressional district. So we're looking forward to it.
LAS: How is the city council and the mayor's jobs in Gardena differ and does the mayor's job rotate among the city council members like some of the other small cities?
AS/MT: But not in Gardena, the mayor has to go through an election and his seat is for four years. So you don't have to campaign constantly; you can do what the people elected you to do–that is take care of the city. The mayor is elected directly by the people, not from among the city council.
LAS: What are the demographics in Gardena relative to African-Americans and how is the city council made up?
AS/MT: African Americans make up about 25 percent of our city, and on the city council, there are two African Americans, one of Japanese descent and one Hispanic.
Tanaka holds an accounting degree from Loyola Marymount University and is an experienced certified public accountant in the state of California–an observation that Sheriff Lee Baca has noted. According to Tanaka, the sheriff has told him that as long as he is in this department, no matter what your responsibility is, you will always have a secondary responsibility of taking care of my budget.