A retired Principal Deputy Counsel for LA County and community activist, Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey has the credentials for a stint in local politics; but not all Mayors have a resume outside of city hall quite as unique as his. Some of Mayor Furey’s extracurricular activities include: volunteering as a little league umpire, maintaining a Facebook and Twitter account that have more followers than his teenaged grandsons have combined, spearheading a movement to meet with over 1,500 High School Seniors each school year, and helping the city win a national contest by taking selfies with students.
Although some of his activities outside the walls of city hall are a bit out of the ordinary for a County retiree turned Mayor, his role inside city hall certainly requires he do some ordinary “Mayor Work.” And in this, Mayor Furey has shown he is not afraid to look at the hard issues and give an honest response. Like when he openly addresses recent trends in municipalities raising their minimum wages, or comments on the state’s business climate and challenges the perception that Torrance is losing commerce. Mayor Furey understands that answers to tough issues are rarely as cut-and-dry as one side or the other makes them out to be; but as he gears up for his second annual State of the City Address hosted by the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, one thing seems pretty clear — as far as things in Torrance go, Mayor Furey tends to know.
TACC: What inspired you to get involved in local politics?
Mayor Furey (MF): I’m not really sure where that came from, it was just a metamorphosis. I was involved with the city in volunteer service and eventually it resulted in coming to the City Council. A lot of my friends were serving at that point, the Mayor and the other Council Members, and I knew what they were doing and I thought I could work with them. I had a vision for what I wanted to do and the next thing was to throw my hat into the ring.
TACC: You mentioned that you had a vision for what you wanted to accomplish on City Council, what is that vision?
MF: Since the moment I was elected as a Councilperson, I think I recognized that economic development is the most important thing. As I looked at the city, I saw some voids. And when I say voids, sometimes it was the way that that we evolved over the years. At one time we were an oil producing city and we evolved into manufacturing, heavy manufacturing, steel plants, aluminum plants, and things like that. Then getting into the end of the 20th Century and the start of the 21st Century, it was time to start looking a little more forward.
TACC: You were elected to the City Council during the onset of one of the most devastating economic eras in history. What was your experience like as a Councilman during such fiscally constrained times?
MF: It was really difficult. There were really, really hard choices. People always talk about the surgical cuts you need to make; we made surgical cuts, while trying not to impact the citizens as best we could. We had to provide the services that everybody who lives, works, or operates a business in the City of Torrance are used to receiving, and it was really difficult when you are having to cut 20-25% of your budget. You have to make them feel as though, perhaps it’s not that bad. And I think we really did a great job and we had some great stories to share. The previous Mayor and the Council, sometimes we’d be fighting desperately for something each thinks is more important than somebody else…but we were able to make those cuts and move on. And we made the promise that when the city had the money and the economy got better, we would start putting that stuff back in.
TACC: What do you see as the five-year economic future of Torrance?
MF: It’s interesting, when I did the State of the City last year I indicated that all the indicators showed that the economy is growing a little bit at a time; and it truly is. Every now and again, it gets a bigger bump and that’s really exciting. Obviously the Del Amo Fashion Center has been progressing along, and will be opening up in October (2015). You couple that with the Del Amo Crossing Pershing Financial Center across the street and the $35 million they are going to invest there, it’s very exciting. I think the metamorphosis we have seen on The Boulevard (that’s my new name for Hawthorne Boulevard, the main street of the city) is commerce. And that’s the most important thing for us.
TACC: It sounds like the economic future is bright for Torrance, but how does the city of Torrance view the accumulating costs of doing business in California and the recent trends for cities to increase the minimum wage?
MF: You mentioned the challenges with minimum wage and the way that’s happening in our surrounding communities. We’ve decided to stay back on that. I don’t think that’s something that should be done by municipalities. It should be statewide so we are all on an even playing field. And we’ve maintained that position. I have not heard anything from my colleagues about changing that position at all. I think our biggest challenge is transportation. I really think our statewide infrastructure is so important, and all across the United States. I think the Federal government has to do its actions so that the states and municipalities can do their planning. I think the state has to do something really soon. And the Metropolitan Transit Authority, we’re making in-roads with that. I think it’s really important that we have rapid transit to the South Bay, not just Torrance, but to the South Bay. We are the big city, we are the hub and all of our surrounding communities are in agreement with me on that.
TACC: You recently authored an Op-ed in the Daily Breeze that addressed a perception that Torrance is losing commerce, why did you feel the need to write it?
MF: In the news they always want to tell you the bad things that are occurring and it just got to the point where people were saying, “So did you hear this business is closing or this business is moving.” But if you don’t understand the reasons why then you just think, “Oh my gosh, the sky is falling!” So what I did is just ask the staff how many new business licenses have we issued this year; and the number shocked me: We are talking about more than 2,000 new businesses in the City of Torrance this year. I think we are doing something right and the community needed to hear about that.
TACC: What new program or initiative have you started as Mayor that you’re most proud of?
MF: I think the meetings with businesses. I think the outreach to the business community is very important. I’ve also done meetings with certain groups like getting together Real Estate Brokers to sit and talk with them about what their vision is and what they can do to help the city grow. I also met with the clergy…for emergency preparedness, not the physical things, but the emotional aspect of it. I also put together a meeting with the Torrance Automobile Dealers Association to help them get on the same page. We’ll be reaching out to other groups as well that have similar businesses and sometimes work together.
TACC: Last year you visited every High School U.S. Government class in the Torrance Unified School District. Why did you start the visits and how have they gone?
MF: I’ve enjoyed it. I really love our youth because they are going to be the future leaders. I started doing it on an ad hoc basis because of my connections with a number of teachers. The teachers would invite me to speak and so we put together a program. I absolutely visited every U.S. government class in Torrance Unified as well as Bishop Montgomery. Many people have said that all governments should be local and I kind of impressed that upon them. And it was so rewarding for me when I found out that I had spoken to more than 1500 students throughout the year. I’ve had a great time with it. Kids are taking selfies, which I really believe is how we won the water pledge. I told all of the kids, “Take out your smart phones and do the water pledge right now.” [Mayor laughs.] I look forward to the visits again this year.
TACC: The Chamber sees that you are active on social media and are pretty adept at connecting with the younger generation. Is that intentional or is that something that has evolved since your time as Mayor?
MF: Prior to when I became Mayor, I recognized that social media is really important to let people know what’s happening. I created a Facebook account for my campaign and I transitioned that into my time as Mayor and now have over 7,000 followers on that. It was funny, I was having dinner with my grandsons and they were downplaying that I had more Facebook friends than they had combined. They said, “Well, that’s Facebook, it’s no big thing. It’s actually Twitter that matters.” So I said, “Oh, let me look up my Twitter account.” I had 1,000 followers on Twitter and they said, “Man, that’s embarrassing, my grandfather has more followers that I do!”
TACC: The Chamber will be hosting your second annual State of the City Address to the business community on September 24th. Why should someone attend the event?
MF: There’s going to be a surprise, and it’s important to stay till the very end. At the very end, there’s something really interesting that I think the community really wants. We’ll be doing that reveal at that point, and an awful lot of good information will be coming out of it. That’s why I had to the do the Op-ed piece, because you don’t hear all of that information; you only hear bits and pieces. Once I let all of the cats out of the bag, and people see where we are going, I think everybody is going to be really excited.
To reserve a seat at the Mayor’s State of the City Address, contact the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce at 310-540-5858 or click here. The event takes place at noon on September 24th at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Torrance – South Bay. Tickets are $40 for TACC members and $50 for non-members.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator height_2=”25″ height=”25″ show_border=”yes_border”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]
Brandon is the Governmental Affairs Coordinator for the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce. His primary responsibilities include facilitating the Chamber’s Governmental Affairs Policy (GAP) group, planning Chamber events with legislators, and facilitating the Chamber’s Political Action Committee (PAC). Feel free to contact him at any time.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]