Affordable Housing, Public Schools Crises Dominate First Candidates Forum of Pasadena’s 2020 Election Season

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 11/22/2019

Nearly all of the candidates running for mayor of Pasadena and City Council districts 1, 2, 4 and 6 in the March 3 election spoke about housing and education issues during a candidates’ forum last night kicking off Pasadena’s 2020 election season.

The forum was hosted by Democrats of Pasadena Foothills, which will vote to endorse candidates at its Jan. 16 meeting, though citywide elected offices themselves are nonpartisan.

Note to Readers: Last night’s event, billed as a “candidates forum” and hosted by the Democrats of Pasadena Foothills (DPF), was actually open only to candidates who are registered Democrats, DPF President Tina Fredericks said Friday. To clarify, that is why some candidates did not speak at the forum.

Not all of the candidates who have pulled nomination papers from the city clerk’s office participated in the forum. None of the candidates running for District 1 spoke at the forum, including incumbent Councilmember Tyron Hampton, Anthony Montiel and Darrell Nash.

In District 2, where Councilmember Margaret McAustin is not running for reelection, only Tricia Keane and Felicia Williams spoke at the forum, while Alex Heiman, Kevin Litwin and Boghos Patatian did not.

In District 4, only Joe Baghdadlian and Charlotte Brand spoke at the forum, while Kevin Wheeler and incumbent Councilmember Gene Masuda did not.

In District 6, incumbent Councilmember Steve Madison, Tamerlin Godley and Ryan Bell spoke at the forum, while William Declercq and Mark Hannah did not.

For mayor, incumbent Mayor Terry Tornek and current District 5 Councilmember Victor Gordo spoke at the forum, while Jason Hardin, Major Williams and Michael Geragos did not.

According to the city’s clerk office, as of 3:03 p.m. on Nov. 20, no candidate had yet filed their completed nomination papers. The deadline to do so is Dec. 6 at 5 p.m.

During the forum, each candidate spoke to the crowd of about 50 people for five minutes. Common themes included housing, homelessness, overdevelopment, the environment, education, and transportation.

Keane, who serves as the deputy director of the city of LA’s Department of City Planning, said solving homelessness and ensuring Pasadena steps up its commitment on water conservation will be among the main issues she focuses on.

“We are at a critical point in Pasadena,” Keane said. “We are facing very real challenges around housing affordability, homelessness and making sure we are planning for a sustainable and equitable future. We need to and we can solve all of these issues. I’ve spent the last 12 years of my career doing just this kind of work, and I’m particularly qualified to get the work done. Our challenge is to figure out how to preserve the Pasadena we know and love.”

Williams, who consults with cities on financing bonds for big projects and serves on the city’s Planning Commission, said the three issues she’s focusing on are affordable housing, homelessness and the environment.

“We’re getting a lot of new development in Pasadena, but it’s not what we need or want,” she said. “We’re getting luxury hotels and luxury housing. That’s displacing residents and making the city unaffordable. I would like to amend the zoning code to push for more affordable housing. We also need some form of rent stabilization and community benefits agreements. Our high cost of housing is pushing people into homelessness. I am running to use my professional experience and my experience in the community to fight for Democratic values on our City Council.”

Baghdadlian, who immigrated to the United States in 1973, said it’s not right that public schools are closing and small businesses are suffering in Pasadena. He made the case that he brings his experience as a business owner to the table.

“Our existing City Councilman is not doing much,” he said. “I am ready to go on this journey and beat my opponent because I believe in doing everything the right way for our city, not ignoring the residents. I will take every issue seriously. My wife and I love to serve the community. It is in me.”

Bland, who serves on the city’s Commission on the Status of Women, said her main campaign issue is environmental justice. She said she suspected that the Edison wires on an easement near her street in east Pasadena was making people sick and possibly giving them cancer. She said that she asked her City Councilmember for an environmental health study but received no response.

“Twelve people on my street are stricken with cancer,” she said. “I’m here to hold the City of Pasadena responsible and accountable to our neighbors and citizens. As a council person, I’ll make sure that our voices are heard and that we’ll have a clean environment in which to live.”

Bell, a nonprofit executive and member of the Pasadena Tenants’ Union, said Pasadena is not working for everyone and that the desperate needs of residents are falling on deaf ears at City Council meetings.

“We need rent control in Pasadena and more permanently affordable housing,” he said. “Gentrification is pushing families out of the city they’ve lived in for generations, corporate landlords are buying up properties and evicting everyone in the building or jacking up the rent and even so-called affordable housing isn’t affordable. Long-established communities of color are being priced out. Schools are closing because enrollment is down because families can’t afford to live in Pasadena anymore. This city needs leadership. Putting out fires as they emerge and erupt is not good enough.”

Godley, who practices entertainment litigation and served on the South Pasadena school board from 2001 to 2005, said education is one of her main passions.

“I’ve been on the Pasadena Educational Foundation board for the last 10 years, raising money for the schools here,” she said. “I know a lot about the schools and have good relationships with the school board, the administration and the personnel of the district. Twenty years is enough for our sitting council person; it’s time for a woman on our City Council for District 6.”

Madison said he wants to make sure every child in Pasadena has the same opportunity to succeed that he had.

“I’m extremely proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far,” he said. “We’ve undergone a renaissance in Pasadena during the time that I’ve been on City Council. We’ve rebuilt City Hall, the Rose Bowl and the Civic Auditorium. We opened a new park at Desiderio and sited nine Habitat for Humanity homes there. But many challenges remain. We have the 710 freeway stump in my district, which presents an opportunity to redevelop 50 acres. I intend to make sure we have a mix of use there, including affordable housing.”

Gordo, the only sitting councilmember to challenge Tornek for mayor, said he intends to focus on housing, education, jobs, fiscal responsibility, public safety and quality of life issues such as overdevelopment and traffic.

“I want to put the people of Pasadena first,” he said. “Pasadena is the center of the universe because of people, because it’s an inclusive city. Its values are consistent with the place that we want to be. But the Pasadena we see evolving today is not the Pasadena I envisioned and experienced as a young kid. I’m going to ensure that Pasadena’s local government is responsive to every part of this city. The mayor needs to have his or her finger on the pulse on every neighborhood of this city, and I intend to do that as your mayor.”

Tornek, who was elected mayor in 2015 and served on City Council and as the city’s planning director before that, said the city is in better financial shape than when he first took office.

“We’ve built our rainy-day fund to pre-recession levels,” he said. “We’ve done a good job in managing workforce without cutting services. People expect a high level of service in Pasadena and they deserve it. I came up with the idea for Measure J to increase our sales tax, which will send an additional $7 million to the school district. But we have a lot more to do. We have some long-term projects that I would really like to continue my work on, including the Arroyo Seco and environmental issues. I hope you will help me in terms of continuing my efforts over the next four years as mayor of Pasadena.”

A bittersweet homecoming

Former Rose Queen Drew Washington and her father Craig travel to Africa as part of a campaign to reconnect people with their ancestry in the 400th year since the start of slavery in America

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 10/24/2019

August marked the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade with America when, in 1619, a ship carrying 20 slaves landed at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia. This year, Nana Akufo-Addo, president of Ghana, a major slave trade hub at the time, declared 2019 the “Year of Return.” The campaign has given African Americans nationwide a chance to reconnect with and reflect on their ancestral beginnings.

Last month, the second African American Rose Queen, Drew Washington, who presided over the 2012 Rose Parade, traveled with her father Craig to West Africa to learn more about their ancestry and culture. After conducting a DNA test from Ancestry.com to locate the region their forebears originally came from, they traveled to Ghana, Togo and Benin, three small countries in the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic coast.

“I didn’t know what to expect regarding how the dynamics would be, being African American and going back to Africa,” said Drew, 24, who graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law in May and moved to New York a couple weeks ago to begin a job at Winston & Strawn LLP. The firm represents players’ associations of major league sports and the US women’s soccer team in their equal pay lawsuit. “But everyone we met said ‘Welcome home. You are home.’ That felt so good. It’s almost indescribable. I’d never felt like that anywhere else I’ve traveled.”

Correcting Mischaracterizations

When Drew first went to New York University, other African Americans didn’t use the term “African American” as an umbrella term to describe all black people.

“They were able to point to a country in Africa where they were from,” she explained. “They’d ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ I was so frustrated that I couldn’t answer the question, so this trip was about me being able to find those answers. I finally felt connected to a culture. I had heritage, culture and tradition that I could bring back home.”

Craig, 56, who serves as a director-chair of Tournament of Roses committees and regional contract manager at Jacobs Engineering Group, appreciated being able to correct many of the mischaracterizations that Americans have about Africa based on limited and inaccurately negative information. One of those mischaracterizations is about family.

“Family is so important in Africa, so it’s disheartening how African Americans are portrayed as not having strong families,” he said. “Where did this come from? This wasn’t our culture or foundation. Breaking up families, that’s what this whole slave trade did. Now the fabric of this bond of family has just been ripped to pieces. This is a part of African-American history that needs to be more exposed, and exposed truthfully.”

Before the slave trade and before colonial powers imposed modern country names and borders, powerful kingdoms existed in West Africa for hundreds of years, such as the Ashanti Empire and the Dahomey Kingdom. A form of slavery existed, too, among warring African tribes.

“This concept was going on within their own continent, so within the Africans’ mind, it wasn’t farfetched to trade people,” Craig said.

When Europeans first showed up, they didn’t start enslaving people immediately. They first traded goods and indoctrinated Africans into Christianity.

“They did a good job of gaining the trust of the leaders of the kingdoms,” Drew said. “Slavery already existed in Africa, but it was more like indentured servitude. They had no idea what the Europeans had intended.”

‘Its Own Genocide’

After starting their tour in Accra, the capital of Ghana, the Washingtons paid their respects at the Assin Manso Slave River. Inland Africans bound for slavery were marched shackled and barefoot for hundreds of miles over several months to the coast, where they received their “last bath” in African waters at Slave River.

“They would wash all the captured slaves and put shea butter on them to bring out a glow on the skin, prepping the body to make it look its best for the slave trade market,” Craig said.

Once the slaves got to the coast, they were held in slave castles for another few months. That’s all before they were forced onto a crowded ship, where they spent another six months crossing the Atlantic.

“In our history books, we hear about the Middle Passage and the ships being horrible, but you don’t hear about what happened on the ground before they got to the ships or to America, so it was quite the experience to be able to see that,” Drew said.

Historians estimate that between 1525 and 1866, about 12.5 million Africans were forcibly brought to the New World. Of those, only about 10.7 million survived the Middle Passage, and of those, only about 388,000 were shipped directly to North America, with the rest going to the Caribbean and South America.

“Millions of people didn’t make it,” Craig said. “The attrition was unbelievable. It was its own genocide even before they got to the ships, as well as the disease and starvation they endured along the way.”

The Washingtons also visited two slave castles: Cape Coast Castle, built by the Swedish in 1653 and later run by the British, and Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese in 1482. The castles are about half the size of the Rose Bowl, each with an inner field, guard towers, master quarters for the governor which overlooked the courtyard, a church in the middle, and cramped, non-ventilated dungeons where the slaves were housed.

From there, the Washingtons visited Lomé, the capital of Togo, on their way to a village in Benin called Ouidah, home to the sacred Temple of Pythons.

“I thought that was just a name, but there are real pythons inside this temple,” Drew said. “In Benin, they view the python as sacred, as gods. It’s considered disrespectful to not wear a python around your neck when you visit. You also have to walk into the temple itself where there are pythons roaming around everywhere.”

The Washingtons then traveled to Ganvie, Benin, an entire village built on stilts over Lake Nokoué. Known as the “Venice of West Africa,” the water village of about 30,000 people was built 300 years ago as a defense mechanism during the slave trade.

“They row boats to go anywhere,” Drew said. “A typical family has three boats: one for the father to fish, another for the mother to sell the fish in the market and the third for the children to go to school. They have a hospital, a hotel, a church, a mosque and restaurants, all on stilts. Even their markets are on water. The women gather on boats in the center of the village and sell toiletries, fish, food, whatever you need.”

Sharing the Experience

Part of the reason why Americans have misconceptions about Africa is because of the lack of a meaningful connection. It’s not easy for Americans to travel to Africa and virtually impossible for Africans to travel to the United States.

“I don’t know who has made traveling to those countries difficult, but it is,” Drew said. “It’s not as easy as going to Europe, where you just hop on a plane. You want to go to Africa? Hold on, you need visas, you need shots, it’s a long plane ride, there are no direct flights, the flights are expensive. There aren’t flash sales for plane tickets to Africa. It’s prohibitive for a lot of people to go, coupled with the unknown. What we’re told about it, it doesn’t seem like that’s what you want to spend your vacation time and lots of money doing. But we found that it was just the best way we could have spent our money.”

Craig pointed out that they had virtually no interaction with Americans during their trip, while they saw and met lots of Europeans.

“That’s why no one in America knows about Africa, because no one goes,” he said. “Whatever they’re told, that’s what it is. All we get fed about Africa is that it’s a warzone.”

By sharing their experience on Facebook, the Washingtons have inspired a number of their friends to consider visiting Africa as well.

“It will help take down some of the mystery about Africa,” he said. “That’s what needs to happen: someone they know has gone and done it and they see it as a possibility.”

Pasadena dreamin'

Local author Chip Jacobs launches ‘Arroyo,’ a historical novel about Pasadena and the origins of the Colorado Street Bridge, at Vroman’s

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 10/17/2019

As a lifelong Pasadenan, author Chip Jacobs thought he knew his hometown well. That is, until he started researching the real history of Pasadena and its “concrete queen,” the Colorado Street Bridge, for his debut novel “Arroyo.”

Published Tuesday by Rare Bird Books, Arroyo chronicles a fictional story that is rooted in historical fact. It takes place in 1912-13, when the bridge was being constructed, and 1993, during the bridge’s 80th anniversary celebration. While conducting extensive research on Pasadena’s history for the book, Jacobs discovered many sordid stories that didn’t comport with what he thought he knew about the Crown City.

“I tried to write an alternate version of Pasadena that doesn’t smear Pasadena’s name, but also tells the truth,” he said. “The majority of the information about the city is real. I took real incidents and built a story around them. Pasadena is very different from its coffee table canon. It is a glorious, accomplished city that has more culture, science and creativity than many other cities per capita, but it’s not perfect. I felt the weight of history on me as I wrote this book. I had to get it right. I’m trying to tell a story but also inform.”

Familiar Names

Jacobs, a Pasadena Weekly contributor, is also the author of “Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles”; “The People’s Republic of Chemicals”; “Strange as It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler”; “The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman”; “The Vicodin Thieves”: “Biopsying L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths”; and “Black Wednesday Boys.”

“Arroyo” is his first work of fiction.

Jacobs will read from and discuss “Arroyo” at his book launch at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Oct. 18) at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard will emcee the event, which will also feature a Pie & Burger truck (a restaurant that plays a role in the book) and wine and beer (an ode to Busch Gardens, an estate owned by Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch and one of the main stomping grounds of the book’s characters). In fact, Vroman’s Bookstore’s founder, A.C. Vroman, figures into the plot as well.

The book’s characters also interact with historical figures such as Teddy Roosevelt, Rose Parade founder Charles Holder, newspaperman Charles Lummis, aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe, muckraker Upton Sinclair and others. Major scenes take place at Cawston Ostrich Farm, Mount Lowe Railway, Hotel Green (now Castle Green), the Raymond Hotel, Busch Gardens, the Doo Dah Parade and other local landmarks.

Jacobs will also present his book on Nov. 7 at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Nov. 21 at the Pasadena Museum of History and Jan. 16 at the Pasadena Central Library.

Bridge to the Past

It’s rare for a book to make one laugh out loud, but Arroyo, written in clever, funny prose, does that several times. Th.e book includes fantastical scenes such as the main character, Nick Chance, racing a brand new Ford Model-T while riding an ostrich from South Pasadena’s Cawston Ostrich Farm in an early, offbeat test of machine versus animal. To find out who wins, you’ll have to read the book.

The book includes an origin story for the green parrots that fly over Pasadena to this day. There are several rumors about how the parrots got here, including that a pet store burned down in the 1970s. But in Jacobs’ telling, an excited boy chases Chance riding a Cawston ostrich, which freaks out and runs through the Arroyo, slamming into a cage holding 37 green parrots. The cage crashes open and the parrots escape, much to the chagrin of two shifty characters who intended to sell the exotic birds on the black market to wealthy patrons. In those days, feathers were all the rage in women’s fashion.

“Arroyo” takes place during the Progressive Era, a time when the Raymond Hotel still stands, when Busch Gardens (once dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world”) hadn’t yet been overrun by residential development, and when automobiles hadn’t yet overtaken horses — or in this case, ostriches — as the primary mode of transportation.

Chance starts out as an assistant manager at Cawston Ostrich Farm and then, when he gets fired from there, as a worker on the budding Colorado Street Bridge installing solar lights that he invented. But the bridge and the universe have bigger plans in store for him and his clairvoyant dog, Royo, who saves Chance from an explosion on South Fair Oaks Avenue.

The book also highlights a rarely told story about a fatal collapse of part of the bridge on Aug. 1, 1913, just weeks before its highly anticipated grand opening, albeit a story told by Jacobs himself in an article in the Pasadena Weekly published on Sept. 18, 2003, titled “Bridge to the Past.” In fact, that story was the initial seed of the idea for this book.

“It was my story in the Weekly about the bridge that galvanized this novel,” he said. “Three people got killed in the collapse. It feels like I have to get angry before I start a book, and I was angry when I walked on the bridge for the story and saw a plaque exalting the Pasadena Board of City Directors [now City Council members], the contractor who died in a car accident before the bridge even opened and the designer who wasn’t on speaking terms with the city because he was so infuriated that they added a curve to his bridge design. But they didn’t give even a mention of the three people who died during construction. It was appalling. That fueled me to write this story, and it touched a nerve.”

In that story, Jacobs wrote that the mold for the top of the ninth arch of the bridge “buckled, creat[ing] a thunderous pancaking action that snatched three workers — and almost eight more — in a violent, plunging mass. Hundreds of tons of wet concrete, scaffolding and machinery came crashing onto the floor of the valley, kicking up dust and pandemonium.”

Origin Story

The other catalyst for Jacobs to write this book was the continuing trend of people leaping from the 150-feet high bridge to their deaths in the Arroyo Seco, establishing its unfortunate and tenacious moniker, “Suicide Bridge.”

“It made me feel almost like the bridge itself was getting a bad name,” Jacobs said. “I felt like I needed to defend her. She’s a benevolent force. She’s been trashed and almost destroyed by the wrecking ball numerous times — thank God for our preservationists who value it. Somebody needed to be her biographer. That’s what I’m trying to do, to tell her origin story.”

Well over 100 people have used the bridge to end their lives, going back to the bridge’s earliest days and then the Great Depression. The first actual suicide wasn’t on the bridge itself, but rather a little way down the Arroyo, when a judge who was despondent about the death of his wife intentionally overdosed on laudanum, a Progressive Era opium tincture. One of the first jumpers, Jacobs wrote in his 2003 PW story, was the “ill wife of a Los Angeles tie maker.”

One of the most shocking incidents occurred in 1937, when Myrtle Ward, a young, depressed mother who had just lost her job, threw her baby off the bridge and then jumped herself. The baby landed in a tree and survived; her mother did not.

“I felt a little callous even writing about suicide, because what do I know? Think about somebody who lost a loved one there and they have to drive by that bridge every day,” Jacobs said. “I tried to keep the suicide part only a consequential element of the book, not the driving force.”

The city of Pasadena still struggles to this day with how to prevent suicides while maintaining the historical and aesthetic character of the bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In May, the city hired Donald MacDonald Architects to develop a proposal to address the issue. On Sept. 26, the city held its first community meeting for its Colorado Street Bridge Suicide Mitigation Enhancements Project to present the design of a vertical barrier with end treatments and gather feedback and ideas from the public.

“I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure some kind of barrier can coexist with the original magnificence of the Colorado Street Bridge,” Jacobs said.

Kidney love story

Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian receives a lifesaving kidney from his wife, Sona, even though they have different blood types

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 10/3/2019

Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian is successfully recovering from a lifesaving kidney transplant from his wife of 37 years, Sona, even though they have different blood types.

The rare and relatively new procedure is known as an ABO incompatible transplant, which only a small number of hospitals in the United States are able to perform. It enabled Paparian, 70, who has had kidney disease for 12 years, to receive the healthy organ just 10 months after starting dialysis rather than the many years it usually takes, if at all.

“I’m getting stronger every day,” Paparian told the Pasadena Weekly. “I have to confess it was a real struggle in the beginning. It wasn’t easy post-surgery. I basically was confined at home for weeks, which was pretty difficult for me because I’m normally a very active person. Two of my three sons, my oldest and my youngest, were there to take care of us. We basically had to have someone help us each day. My oldest son returned from Armenia, where he lives and works, for five weeks so he could be with me and my wife and help out.”

The surgery took place on Aug. 6 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A criminal defense attorney, Paparian is already back to work and back in the gym.

“I went to court for the first time last week,” he said. “I was in court yesterday morning. I’m in my office right now waiting to meet with clients. I’m slowly getting back to where I was physically. I’m not there yet, but I’m slowly getting there.”

Paparian said his wife researched their options after he signed up on the National Kidney Registry and discovered the ABO incompatible transplant procedure. He said in a blog post on Cedars-Sinai’s website that Sona “stepping up like this is a real testament to our very strong relationship.”

He added that when he first went to Cedars-Sinai in 2016 he wasn’t told about the possibility of an ABO incompatible transplant.

“My understanding was that you had to find a donor with the same blood type as your own,” he said. “I’m A positive and Sona is B. So when we found out that that was an option, we went back to Cedars and we both had to go through an intensive screening process. There was a lot to it. It took a long time, about 10 months before we were finally cleared for the procedure.”

Now the Paparians are spreading the word about the procedure, which Cedars-Sinai began performing in 2005, according to a hospital blog. Only about 200 have taken place since then, and success rates are “in line with lower-risk compatible kidney transplants,” according to Dr. Stanley Jordan, medical director of Cedars-Sinai’s Kidney Transplant Program. Jordan “led the development of a process that greatly reduces the risk of the body rejecting a new kidney,” a process that “has been instrumental in the success of ABO incompatible transplants,” according to the blog.

Paparian told Cedars-Sinai that he initially resisted going on dialysis, and instead went on a “strict renal diet and even sought stem cell therapy in Florida. In October, however, he nearly collapsed while attending an event, and his doctor at Huntington Hospital told him he needed to begin dialysis.

Paparian served on the Pasadena City Council from 1987 (when it was known as the Board of City Directors) to 1999, including a term as mayor from 1995 to 1997. While serving as mayor, he visited Cuba and called for an end to the US. trade embargo against the communist-led island nation. In 2006, he ran for Congress on the Green Party ticket against Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, receiving 5.5 percent of the votes cast, or about 6,800 votes.

Bill and Sona met in 1981. Sona’s brother introduced them while she was visiting the United States from her hometown of Aleppo, Syria. According to the Cedars-Sinai blog, Bill and Sona “stayed up all night talking, causing Sona to miss her flight the next day back to Syria. Within two weeks, before Sona got on another flight home, Bill proposed to her, and they were married the next year on Valentine’s Day.”

Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai

Fourth time's the charm

Trump taps Pasadena ‘Reagan Republican’ Robert C. O’Brien to take over as National Security Advisor

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/30/2019

On Sept. 18, President Trump named Ambassador Robert C. O’Brien, a Pasadena resident, as his fourth National Security Advisor. Trump made the announcement on Twitter while visiting Los Angeles.

“I am pleased to announce that I will name Robert C. O’Brien, currently serving as the very successful Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department, as our new National Security Advisor,” Trump tweeted. “I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!”

O’Brien enters an administration mired in chaos as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry against the president on Sept. 24. In August, a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a complaint against the president for allegedly pressuring incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Trump’s potential political rival in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and allegedly threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine if they didn’t comply with Trump’s request.

The move to hire O’Brien came shortly after the departure of Trump’s previous National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton. Trump said he fired Bolton, while Bolton insisted that he offered to resign first. The two disagreed about a number of foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. O’Brien has similar ideological views as Bolton, though he is much less confrontational and is well-liked by those who know him.

As Trump’s hostage negotiator, O’Brien led the US government’s diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Americans held hostage worldwide while liaising with their families in the United States. A conservative Republican, he has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations in State Department positions and as a representative to the UN General Assembly under Bolton. He was also a major in the US Army Reserve.

O’Brien is the co-founding partner of Larson O’Brien LLP in Los Angeles, a litigation firm that focuses on international arbitration. Before moving to Pasadena, O’Brien lived for many years in La Cañada Flintridge. He had two sons, one of whom tragically drowned in 2015. O’Brien converted from Catholicism to Mormonism in his 20s, and is the author of the 2016 book, “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis.” He has long argued for expanding the U.S. military, particularly the Navy.

In 2016, O’Brien laid out what he thought the incoming 45th president’s foreign policy priorities and national security agenda should be in an article for the Pacific Council on International Policy, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization in Los Angeles dedicated to foreign affairs. He argued that the new president “must commit to a national security policy of ‘peace through strength,’ reassert American leadership, and rebuild our alliances.” He has been a member of the Pacific Council since 2007.

While he was not a “Never Trump” Republican, O’Brien also wasn’t a full-fledged Trump supporter from the beginning. During the 2016 Republican primary season, O’Brien served as foreign policy adviser to the failed presidential bids of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Brien also served as a senior adviser to then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and considers himself a traditional Reagan Republican who warns against isolationism.

“Ambassador Robert O’Brien has been a valued member of the Pacific Council for over a decade,” said Dr. Jerrold Green, president and CEO of the Pacific Council. “His long career of public service, as well as recent successes as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the US Department of State, have been characterized by great integrity, commitment, effectiveness and success and the country is lucky to have Robert as its new National Security Advisor.”

Act two

Former TV news anchor Kent Shocknek goes 'from reality to make believe' with new acting career

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/26/2019

Kent Shocknek’s post-retirement life has been an unexpected surprise. The longtime news anchor and Pasadena resident has recently turned his newscaster career into a successful acting career.

Born Kent Schoknecht in 1956 in Berkeley, he moved to Pasadena in 1983, where he changed the spelling of his last name to Shocknek. He worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram while attending USC, then at KCAU in Sioux City, Iowa, and then as an anchor and space shuttle reporter for WFTV in Orlando, Florida.

In 1986, he took a morning news anchor job at NBC4 in Los Angeles, where he became a household name. During the magnitude 5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, he took cover under his anchor desk while continuing to cover the story. In 2001, he moved to CBS2 News in LA, where he anchored morning and evening newscasts. In 2013, he moved again to KCAL9, where he anchored the evening and nighttime news.

He has won eight regional Emmy awards, two LA Press Club awards, a Golden Mic award for best daytime newscast and a William Randolph Hearst award for investigative reporting. He has also logged more hours as an anchor than anyone else in Los Angeles. The city of Los Angeles proclaimed Jan. 10, 2014 Kent Shocknek Day to honor his decades of service.

Shocknek retired from anchoring in 2014. His acting credits begin in 2004, but his second career really started picking up after his retirement.

While he mostly plays news anchors in movies and television shows because he has that look and experience, he is also seeing success in portraying other friendly authority figures, the guy next door and the everyman.

His long list of more than 60 credits include such well-known titles as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Manhunt,” “The Purge,” “The West Wing,” “Monk,” “ER,” “Bosch,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: NY,” “NCIS,” “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Law and Order,” “The Righteous Gemstones” and many others. Sometimes, he even plays himself.

Shocknek recently sat down with the Pasadena Weekly to discuss his life and career.

Pasadena Weekly: You’ve been at the anchor desk during some major news stories over the years. What was that like to be the trusted source of information for so many people?

Kent Shocknek: First of all, it’s tremendously humbling, because it’s such an honor to be able to be invited into people’s homes and, if lucky, be invited back into their homes on a daily basis. I always liked anchoring because field reporters could look at something up close and see every little detail, while the anchor person had the opportunity to be one step removed and look back at the big picture. I always liked being able to see how this story relates to this story and how what’s happening here connects to what’s happening there. … I enjoyed my relationship with the audience. It was absolutely not a one-way thing. I always felt that what I needed to do was be the person who was telling people what we did know and not speculating about what we didn’t know, and trying to show that they could trust what it was that we were reporting on.

What are some of the more memorable stories you covered over the years?

There were too many to count. Of course the big events stand out: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, when we were on the air covering the launch itself before the explosion, a number of earthquakes and wildfires and big storms, the Los Angeles riots.

It’s usually the most remembered stories are the big stories, but for me, the happiest stories often were the smallest stories. I remember one little girl who lost her tooth on her way to school and we did a very cute story about her. And the stories that make a difference, like when you see a family being reunited. I always liked the stories that were small and personal because I think we can all relate to them.

How did you turn your anchor career into an acting career?

I think after years of seeing me on the screen every day, producers and casting directors recognized they could have someone who looked like an anchor and knew how to talk into a camera and give a project whatever credibility I might have. When I called it a day anchoring, I thought it would be interesting to see if what I had learned would translate into roles in addition to newscasters and commentators, other friendly authority figures like businessmen, fathers or lawmakers, and so far I’ve had some success and we’re picking up a little steam.

What current and upcoming projects are you working on?

In addition to playing newscasters, I’ve recently played an honest businessman in a crooked company and a widower who was speed dating. I just finished an episode of “The Righteous Gemstones” [an HBO show by Danny McBride that satirizes televangelists], and earlier this month I did three episodes of a show called “Manhunt” in Pittsburgh, a cult thriller called “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon” in New Orleans which is a movie with Kate Hudson, an episode of “Manifest” on NBC in New York and a commercial in Seattle.

That was all during the summertime, which traditionally is sort of a slow time for a lot of productions, but I think I must have tapped into something and been tremendously lucky because it’s really picked up more than a summer has had a right to do by my estimation.