In an historic reorganization, Lester Friedman was sworn in as the new mayor of Beverly Hills on March 31. Friedman, who was elected to the City Council in 2017 alongside newly installed Vice Mayor Robert Wunderlich, was sworn in by City Clerk Huma Ahmed as part of a virtual City Council meeting.
“One of the things I really look forward to is working with my colleagues,” Friedman told the Courier following his swearing-in. “There is nothing that any one individual can do unless the team is there with you. In the short run, we know we need to meet all of the challenges that the coronavirus has brought us. But right around the corner … we will deal with the post COVID-19 crisis.”
Friedman spent the previous year serving as Vice Mayor alongside John Mirisch, who completed his third term as mayor as part of Tuesday’s virtual reorganization meeting.
Unlike Mirisch, who continued to go into City Hall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, often finding himself alone on the fourth floor where the mayor’s office is situated, Friedman said he didn’t plan to continue that part of his predecessor’s legacy.
“I think what we need to do is set an example for the community and I think that example is showing that we are following all of the social distancing rules,” he said.
In anticipation of Friedman’s originally planned swearing-in ceremony, which was slated to take place on April 6 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before the pandemic forced its cancellation, the new mayor had planned to elaborate on his vision for the coming year.
Friedman told the Courier he had still yet to fully flush out the platform, called “Beverly Hills Together.” He envisions it will integrate the schools, businesses and senior population for the betterment of the community.
Starting with a meeting on April 1 the day after he was sworn in to lead the City Council, which included discussions on the newly formed COVID-19 Business Recovery Assistance Task Force, Friedman’s mayorship will be marked by the City’s immediate response to the pandemic, subsequently followed by how to help lead the City back to prosperity.
“We had a great economy in our City before this thing struck,” he noted. “It’s really nice that we have the reserves and that we’ve been fiscally prudent over these years so we are not going to be in as much trouble as some of the other cities.”
Per the City’s audited financial statements of June 30, 2019, its General Fund reserves were $203.8 million, approximately $167 million of which has been committed by the Council for various purposes.
“The crisis means a reorienting of what all of us had been thinking,” Vice Mayor Wunderlich told the Courier following the swearing-in ceremony. “Our thoughts in the coming weeks are dominated in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Probably the highest priority is that we have to do what we can to protect the health of our population. We have to do what we can do to help stem the spread of the virus.”
As the City more deeply understands the impacts of the pandemic on its population, businesses and finances, Wunderlich anticipated that the City would move forward in crafting a plan for economic recovery.
“As we move forward, we will need to expand protections to help residents and businesses,” he said. “There are a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made over the coming weeks. We will have to have an emphasis on what we can do to help our community recover.”
Before the swearing in the new Mayor and Vice Mayor, City Clerk Ahmed certified the March 3 election, which resulted in incumbent Councilmembers Dr. Julian Gold, M.D., and Lili Bosse being reelected for a third term to the City Council.
“Really what’s on my mind first and foremost is the health and safety of our community and the health and safety of our world,” said Councilwoman Bosse, who received 5,367 votes (38.48 percent of the vote). “Although we are physically apart, we need each other now more than ever.”
“What I do want to tell our Beverly Hills family is that we are going to get through this and we are going to get through this even stronger,” she added. “We are resilient, we are ‘Beverly Hills Healthy City,’ and we are a family.”
Councilman Gold, who received 3,922 votes (28.12 percent of the vote), likewise reaffirmed his commitment to the City’s success after Ahmed swore him in.
“As I was taking the oath, the part that struck me was the piece that said, ‘To defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And right now we are in fact in a fight with an enemy that we cannot see,” he said. “It is an enemy that I think we will be able to conquer and I think we will be able to conquer it together. And as your newly elected Councilmember I vow that I am going to do everything I possibly can to protect the health of safety of this community.”