Redondo Beach: Unusual Leadership Dodges Red Ink The mayor of Redondo Beach, Calif., is both a traditionalist and a precedent-breaker. Mayor Mike Gin is gay, Asian and a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. Seen as socially liberal but fiscally conservative, the mayor has pulled together various city leaders to make cuts and avoid a deficit.

Redondo Beach: Unusual Leadership Dodges Red Ink

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/138796548/138902056" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: Now the latest stories in our series on U.S. mayors and the challenges they face in these tough economic times. Today, we go to Redondo Beach, California that stands apart from many cities because it is not in trouble.

As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, that is thanks in part to its mayor.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Mike Gin's office is like him: sturdy, not fancy. The wood-paneled walls are hung with the memorabilia lots of politicians like to keep around - exchange gifts from sister city La Paz, Bolivia, tschotskes from official trips.

Mayor MIKE GIN: We have some relationships with Shenwu District in Beijing, China, so they gave us some cute little souvenirs from the Beijing Olympics.

BATES: There are plaques, and awards, and visible traces of family, like the framed flag that draped his father William's coffin

GIN: That's my dad's, World War II guy. Two bronze stars and he's an amazing man. My husband, right there.

BATES: That's Gin's husband of three years, partner of 14, Christopher Kreidel. For Gin, the fact that he's one of the few openly gay mayors in the U.S. is no big deal.

GIN: You know, for me, it's always just been a part of who I am, just as much as being Asian or being Chinese-American.

BATES: It's no big deal for Gin's constituents, either. He's won twice, running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. And his ethnicity and sexual identity are way less important to mixed-income Redondo Beach residents, than the fact that Gin knows how to manage the city's money.

GIN: I've always had a very fiscal conservative outlook in terms of my view of government. And I believe there is a role for government. But, you know, we need to make sure that our taxpayer funds are spent in a wise manner. And that we really keep things in check, if you will, fiscally.

BATES: At a time when California is drowning in red ink, Redondo Beach - population 67,000 - has been spared the bone-deep cuts many other cities have suffered. A lot of the credit goes to Gin, who asked for concessions from several important city groups' - police, firefighters, teamsters.

GIN: What's really helped us is, I think, has been the trust, and has been the partnership that we've developed with our employees.

BATES: Gin told city workers he wanted to avoid layoffs, if possible, and preserve the services that make Redondo Beach an attractive place to live. So he did something radical.

GIN: We ask them to come up with ideas and come up with these ways to address our budget deficit. And they did.

BATES: Each employee group or union did an internal assessment and decided what would work best for them. They made concessions such as shorter work hours, or a moratorium on cashing out vacation time, or curtailing overtime. Every group was able to make the requisite 6 percent cut. And budget managers were very careful. Result? No budget deficit.

JEAN SCULLY: So here's the entrance

BATES: So despite the tanking economy, Redondo Beach was able to build a new, environmentally progressive library on the site of its too-small old one. But chief librarian Jean Scully says there were concessions here, too.

SCULLY: When we opened this building, due to budget issues and staffing issues, we can only be open four days a week.

BATES: That's why it's so quiet here now. The library won't open for a couple more hours. Too bad, given the airy space, the banks of computers, the glass-walled children's room. Scully says she also went from seven paid staff members to three when retiring employees weren't replaced.

SCULLY: That's where we're hurting. So we're very tightly staffed. And to me, the important thing is to be open. You can always take a little longer getting materials back on the shelves. But if you're not open, they can't come in to get them.

BATES: Many city businesses are doing their bit to help Mayor Gin cope with the cutbacks. Mike Morales is head of the business improvement district in Riviera Village, an area of restaurants and upscale stores at the south end of town. Morales owns Harmony Works, a shop with lots of handmade crafts, jewelry and art. Under the thrum of a humming fan, he says Gin's flexibility has been key.

MIKE MORALES: That makes a ton of difference, especially in a business point of view. You want to work with the city and someone that actually wants to sit down and plan things and work it out for the betterment of everybody, it makes the city a community and not just a city.

BATES: And that is exactly what Mike Gin is hoping his legacy will be when he steps down in 2013, as term limits mandate.

GIN: I hope that after I'm gone that these partnerships that we developed will always be part of our community. And hopefully that'll be a wonderful blueprint for future leaders.

BATES: Especially when cooperation could be the key to economic survival.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.