Nothing tests a person’s character or judgment like a crisis.
My parents taught me this. The day after Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted in the Marines and my mother joined the Red Cross. As idealistic teenagers, they answered a call to duty that, happily, also led to their meeting and falling in love in a military hospital.
Years later, while serving as a Pasadena Mayor and City Council member, I always kept their example of selfless duty in mind as I conducted the public’s business.
That’s why I am so disappointed in the astounding lack of judgment, moral character and civic leadership demonstrated by our current Mayor Terry Tornek. When the city needed him the most, he was AWOL.
The crisis that has exposed these flaws, of course, is the coronavirus. Unlike the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, everyone has seen COVID-19 coming for weeks.
Yet, amazingly, while officials from Pasadena to Washington, DC were scrambling to keep citizens safe, Tornek announced on March 2 he would keep his plans for a 10-day junket to our “sister city” in Senegal.
As one of Tornek’s supporters during the primary, I sent him an email urging him to postpone the trip and instead go to Washington to lobby for coronavirus emergency funding and supplies for our Health Department.
He never responded to that suggestion and — the day after chairing a council meeting during which health officials laid out the coming crisis in chilling detail — instead went on that ceremonial trip for 10 days just when Pasadena needed his leadership the most.
While he sent out occasional press releases saying he was “closely monitoring” the situation from 6,300 miles away, his actions — or lack of them — showed otherwise.
As his colleagues frantically tried to arrange a special meeting over the March 14-15 weekend, he repeatedly told them he would be unavailable, delaying the meeting and wasting precious time.
When the council, in his absence, arranged for a special meeting on March 17 to ratify the city manager’s emergency declaration, Tornek was nowhere to be found.
Minutes of the special meeting, where the council approved a number of emergency measures, will forever show our mayor was MIA for these crucial votes.
Unfortunately, Tornek’s civic recklessness didn’t stop there.
After he returned home from intercontinental travel, he refused to go into self-quarantine, as advised by national, state and our own Pasadena health experts.
Instead, eager to “inoculate” himself from any public criticism, Tornek joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger at a televised press conference, potentially exposing them and everyone else to COVID-19.
I am not alone in expressing outrage over Tornek’s irresponsible, let-them-eat-cake behavior during perhaps our greatest crisis.
This isn’t political. This transcends politics. I supported Tornek in the primary election, and I’m shocked and appalled at his brazen dereliction of duty.
What we’ve needed is good, old-fashioned leadership by example — the kind that I learned through example from my parents, by training when I was a young Marine NCO and during 12 years of public service, including two years sitting in the mayor’s chair.
By any measure, military or civilian, Terry Tornek has failed the most important leadership test brought on by this unprecedented crisis.
Based on this, and after careful consideration and discussion with my wife Sona, I have decided to withdraw my endorsement of Mayor Tornek for the run-off election. We will be supporting his opponent, who was one of two council members who actually showed up in person for the special meeting.
I am switching for one reason alone: Tornek has failed miserably to set the proper example as the current elected leader of our city.
When we needed him most, Terry Tornek didn’t show up.