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DOWNEY - If anybody seems immune to anxiety attacks, it has to be Mayor Pro Tem David Gafin.
By his demeanor and actuations on the City Council in the years this reporter has known him, he has seemed unperturbed by any issue, great or small, or by an angry outburst from a council colleague or from the audience. In other words, he has always given the impression that he's got his nerves under control, that he's a cool cat.
His last day as a councilmember will arrive at the end of November due to term limits, but he sees the event as neither a cause for regret or sadness, not for him anyway, nor an occasion for a delirious celebration. From the first time he won the District 1 council seat in 2004 to his approaching last day in the council, he says it's all been, first and foremost, about serving the needs of the community to the best of his ability. It was a chance, among other things, he says, to "continue to keep Downey the jewel of Southeast Los Angeles."
His winning campaign revolved around the all-important issues of better police protection (the city has since seen crime rates go down, while the number of uniformed police officers went up, reaching a peak of 124 two years ago, he says) and thus helping keep property values up, upholding the school district's educational ideals as well as enhancing activities "for our children, as they are our future," and to keep plugging for Downey's economic development and growth ("Right now, we're using this economic lull to position ourselves for the better times ahead"). Other causes he listed on his platform included keeping the city's parks well-maintained and supporting the arts.
By and large, through the ups and downs the city has undergone through all this time, including his year as mayor, Gafin says without reservation that the above directions have been vigorously pursued, budget contractions and all.
Thus, he says the city can look forward to the fruition of the Tierra Luna project, even as it prepares the 2012-13 budget, continues with its downtown redevelopment ("When these things crest, we'll be at the right place at the right time"), as well as attract new business.
He feels in this connection that "he has given it his all" and made enough significant contributions in these areas, in word and deed, as to be assailed by doubt or worry about the outcomes. He says he has never taken himself seriously during his years in municipal service anyhow, and that he has approached it as a volunteer job.
"I was a practicing CPA before I started to serve the city, I've continued to practice my profession during all these years, and I will continue to be a CPA for as long as I am able and enjoy it," he said. "In the meantime, I must say it's been a pleasure serving on the council. It's been a good run, and I've had a great time. It's nice to be able to help my community and being a part of it. I also wish to thank the citizens and the press for being very gracious to me."
"If your participation on the council is self-serving, people will see the charade," he added. "Sincerity, and consistency of character, are supremely important, especially in one's dealings with people."
In all, Gafin will have served the Downey community a total of 20 years, the first 12 years as a planning commissioner.
He says he has "absolutely" no political plans in the future.
He won't be disappearing from the scene, he says, "I'll only be redirecting my activities." Indeed, in addition to his many assignments and affiliations in the past, in government, in business, and in civic/community affairs (for which he has received many honors and awards), he is still active in Gangs Out of Downey (he is a past president), the Chamber of Commerce (past president), he continues to serve in the finance committee of The Arc - Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and he is the president-elect of the Downey Los Amigos Kiwanis Club.
As to his tenure on the council, Gafin says he has always tried to use a balanced approach in his attempts to advance his ideas and/or resolve issues on the table. This means listening closely to what his colleagues are trying to say, arguing in his mind how to reach a reasonable compromise should an impasse is reached, etc. His political philosophy includes his conviction that "in politics, communication is key," and if one prefers to be a 'backroom personality', this just won't cut it.
One must welcome ideas from constituents, he said, and try to be enough of a "frontroom personality" to be able to address their concerns. To be effective, someone running for public office should be broadminded and flexible enough, he said, to accommodate opposing viewpoints.
The one anxiety attack that admittedly caused him a few sleepless nights was the time in 2008 when Downey had to go through the boil water crisis. He said the situation was unprecedented. The city's water department had its manual to follow in case such a thing were to occur, but he said city administration didn't.
"There we were, [public works director] Desi Alvarez, [councilman] Mario Guerra, city manager Gerry Caton, and me, the mayor, as we huddled together through the crisis, asking such questions as 'What's the real problem here? Is it to inform the citizenry? But how?' We had to wing it, deal with it on the fly. How best to notify the residents? What response could we expect? We were completely in the dark about the procedures. Fortunately, Santa Fe Springs, with its reverse 911 capability, was able to come to our rescue."
"In the end, after the mandated 2-3 days of abstaining from using Downey's water, our suspicion that it was all a false report proved right, and the integrity of the city's water system remained intact. We survived a scare. But for days, the whole city screeched to a halt: restaurants, businesses, everybody who had to use the city's water was adversely affected."
Out of it, though, came the institutionalizing of the city's emergency preparedness procedures, the establishment of a reverse 911 system, etc. Bottom line: the city is now well prepared to cope with any foreseeable emergencies, plus a few other improvements in other service areas.
A Bachelor of Arts in business administration graduate of Cal State Fullerton (with emphasis in accounting), Gafin worked seven years with other CPA firms before he opened his own office here in Downey in 1984.
His reading interests revolve around American history (the Civil War, WWII) and other nonfiction, especially biography.
Gafin says we have a curious connection. He says I was the first (reporter) to interview him after his first election to city council and presumably I could be the last to interview him as he prepares to exit the local political stage. Should that indeed be the case, then the honor to be associated thus with a real gentleman and a pro will be mine.
Published: April 26, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 02