Rafu Staff Report

CARSON — The issue of renaming the Carson City Council Chambers after former City Clerk Helen Kawagoe was raised again by a new coalition at a council meeting on Aug. 7.

Kawagoe, 84, who served as the elected city clerk for more than 37 years, suffered a stroke last September and had to step down. She currently resides at South Bay Keiro in Gardena.

Helen Kawagoe's supporters picketed outside Carson City Hall in February. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

While all five council members agree that the chambers should be named after Kawagoe, Mayor Jim Dear and Councilmember Elito Santarina want it done immediately and Mayor Pro Tem Julie Ruiz-Raber, Councilmember Lula Davis-Holmes and Councilmember Mike Gipson say it can only be done posthumously.

With Kawagoe present in the audience, some of her supporters held up her photo as two members of the recently formed Helen’s Dream Coalition addressed the council.

Dorothy Dominguez, a member of the city’s Senior Advisory Commission whose children and grandchildren have attended Carson public schools, said, “Helen Kawagoe has lived and served in the city of Carson long before she was elected city clerk. She is one of our founding mothers … Helen’s birthday is this Aug. 30. If anyone … could send Helen a birthday card, she will be overjoyed. If the mayor doesn’t mind, he can have her birthday cards mailed to him, to City Hall. Then he can bring the cards to her.

“The Lord is not finished with Helen. The Lord has allowed her to stay with us for a while. The Lord has plans for Helen. The plan is for Helen to see her dream come true — Helen’s name on the council chambers.”

Dear waved to Kawagoe, who waved back, and asked everyone to give her a standing ovation. “Helen, I want you to know that you are very much loved in this city,” he said. “We care very much about you and we hope that you heal from the stroke that you experienced, and we’re really praying for you all the time to get stronger and get well.”

Jane Osuna announced that Helen’s Dream Coalition is a political action committee recognized by the state and the county, and read its mission statement: “Helen Kawagoe … faithfully discharged her duties an in exemplary and professional manner and truly served the interests of the people. This coalition honors not only the legacy of Helen Kawagoe but her willingness to put people before politics. It is in that spirit of tribute that we come together and endeavor at every turn to fight political injustices …

“We will continue to work towards fulfilling Helen’s dream, and that is to have the Carson City Council Chambers named for Helen Kawagoe in her lifetime. We felt it necessary to form this committee because of the actions of three members of this council who on Jan. 17, 2012 blatantly ignored the wishes of the community …

“Nearly 2,000 signatures, including those of (U.S. Reps.) Janice Hahn and Maxine Waters, were presented to this council. Tributes, accolades and requests were given by Japanese American civic leaders, elected officials, friends and admirers from all over the South Bay, urging the council to approve the resolution — to no avail, as Mayor Pro Tem Julie Ruiz-Raber and Councilmember Lula Davis-Holmes both purposely misstated facts regarding city codes … Councilmember Mike Gipson at first voted yes on this resolution but was reprimanded behind closed doors during a short recess and came back to the council and changed his vote.

“We will continue to come before you and the community to remind you that a cruel injustice occurred in this room … We do not accept that the decision to name the chambers for Helen after she ‘transitions’ … is in the best interests of the community. No matter how pretty their words, they still mean that Helen must be dead before this council will proclaim to all, by a few brass letters on a wall, that Helen Kawagoe served this city and its residents with distinction, compassion and dedication. We urge the council to reconsider …”

Because the issue was brought up during the public comment period and was not on the agenda, the council was prohibited from discussing it. But Dear stated, “I will continue (efforts) to get Helen Kawagoe’s name on this council chamber while she’s alive and with us.”

The council majority did not respond to the criticism, but has maintained at previous meetings that it is against city policy to name buildings and other structures after a living person.

The coalition plans to hold a rally outside Carson City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.helensdream.org.

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