‘Driven to Succeed’
Deputy Mayor Kelli Bernard. (Valerie Goodloe)
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s new regime represents a revolution at City Hall with vast innovations of technology in how to govern in the new millennium and a staff that is young, energetic and majority female.
The days of a white male dominated City Hall has given way to one that is diverse in its ethnic make-up and reflective of the second largest city in America’s massive population.
“I first asked Kelli Bernard to join my team back in 2007 so I could harness her passion for creating livable and vibrant communities to benefit th e constituents of Council District 13,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Now, as Deputy Mayor of Economic Development, she is a champion for LA — helping businesses grow, keeping development moving, and ensuring more Angelenos are prepared for and working in good-paying jobs as part of my back to basics agenda,” said Garcetti.
Among the Mayor’s key appointees is the young and vibrant Kelli Bernard, the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development responsible for overseeing vital job creation and improving the local economy.
“I first joined Mayor Garcetti when he was council president in 2007. I had tenure in City Hall in years prior to that, working in the private sector and doing consulting and the opportunity to come to City Hall and work for him presented itself and so I did so as his director of planning and land use. I did that for three years, and I left with his blessing to go work for Department of Water and Power as their director of economic development,” Bernard explained.
When Garcetti was elected mayor in 2013, he asked Bernard to return. Initially, it was a temporary assignment to help get the office set up while the mayor did a national search for deputy mayor of economic development. During his search, there were many people who said, “You have the person right there in your office.”
“He selected me because he felt that I was the best fit for what he wanted to accomplish,” she said.
Bernard, a mother of a nine-year old daughter, was born in Chicago and raised in Torrance, California where she attended and graduated from nearby Narbonne High School in Harbor City.
While in high school, she ran track and also served as the student body vice president. The latter a small precursor of what was to follow.
She went to California Berkley, a prestigious public Northern California university where she earned her BA in Sociology. Later she would earn her Masters Degree from UCLA in Urban Planning.
(Valerie Goodloe photo)
Throughout subsequent years, she has earned a stellar reputation in business development as vice president of Lee Andrews Group, Inc. and then as a senior business development representative in the office of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
Bernard continued her elevation at the nation’s largest municipally owned utility company, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
As Director of Economic Development, she led the department’s clean technology initiative and leveraged their resources to attract, retain and expand businesses in the City of Los Angeles.
“My portfolio is everything from small business assistance to international trade to homelessness. And so, it’s really about growing our economy, business development and ensuring jobs for all Angelenos. As part of our economic work, I am the liaison for eight city departments including the Housing and Community Investment Department, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, our Economic and Workforce Development Department, Los Angeles World Airports, the Port of Los Angeles, our Department of Building and Safety, the Convention and Tourist Development Department and our City Planning Department.
Among the eight departments and managers under Bernard’s portfolio are:
Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)–Gina Marie Lindsey
Port of LA-Harbor Department (POLA) — Gene Seroka
Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) — Rushmore Cervantes
Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) –Jan Perry
Department of City Planning (DCP) — Michael LoGrande
Department of Building & Safety (DBS) — Raymond Chan
Housing Authorityif the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) — Doug Guthrie
Department of Convention and Tourism Development (CTD) — Bud Ovrom
There are a lot of people in the departments and each department works with a general manager. We work with those general managers to set the policy and the vision for each department and then we rely on them to implement the vision of the mayor and to make sure their departments are running well.
On my staff here in the mayor’s office, there are about 25 staff members working under economic development. I have an international trade team, I have a business team that focuses on our key growth industries, we have an education and workforce team and housing and planning policy.”
When Garcetti was Council member in District 13, he tapped Bernard to lead economic initiatives where she provided strategic counsel on citywide planning and land use issues.
Now she’s back in a more vital capacity.
“I was a bit hesitant to return at first because it can be a grind. But, getting to know him as Council president, I saw right away that he was a leader of integrity and he one of the smartest people that I had met and so I said if I was going to return to City Hall it would be to work for someone like him.
And that I am an African American and a woman are great. It shows Mayor Garcetti’s efforts to be inclusionary. It did not happen by accident,” Bernard eloquently stated.
Deputy Mayor Kelli Bernard and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Courtesy photo)
When suggested that her new position could be a launching pad to even bigger things, she paused and added with a smile.
“I hope you’re right. I always tell people that we have the best temporary jobs. When you work for an elected official in Los Angeles, you know we are here to do a particular job during a particular moment and that we have to be impatient and urgent about what we do because our time is brief.
I work with an amazing team and we work very hard to ensure Los Angeles is the best place to live, work, study and visit but this is not the end. I am in the middle of my career. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what’s next but of course there will be a next.”
With additional past experience as vice president of Real Estate at Genesis L.A. in the non-profit sector, Bernard has positioned herself as one of the most dynamic transformational leaders in the region, but she’s not sure that she would be inclined to run for an elected position.
“No. I’ve been interested in politics and community service for a long time. But I’ve realized that being an elected official is something I don’t want to do. Working behind the scenes and getting the job done is where I think I can be of best use,” she said.
Asked which of her many policy initiatives impact her most, she responded, “The mayor challenged us to think differently about homelessness. Asking what we’re doing to end it, “Well, I was initially apprehensive about taking on homelessness…But the more I studied the issue and understood the difference we could make, the more resolved I became. It is an issue I wake up thinking about.”
I think people are surprised that homelessness has fallen under the economic development team. And, I think that speaks volumes to how we think about it holistically. It’s important for our local economy to thrive and for our ports and our airports to be working, and for our businesses to be growing… but if they are not working for [the vulnerable] population, then they’re not working.”
As it turns out the Mayor’s first choice was his best selection for Deputy Mayor, Economic Development, one in whom he can trust and is more than capable of improving the needs of the City of Los Angeles.
That Kelli Bernard is an African American female and mother is additional inspiration to women in the community and city at large.