For the second time in Beverly Hills’ history, the city installed a new mayor and vice mayor in a remote ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hour-long event saw former Mayor Lester Friedman step down, with former Vice Mayor Robert Wunderlich assuming the position of mayor for the first time. Lili Bosse will now serve as vice mayor, marking her third time in the role. But even without the normal pomp and circumstance, the event struck an optimistic tone that reflected the hope of better days ahead.
“In the slightly modified lyrics of philosopher and rock star David Byrne, ‘And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful life, and you may find yourself as mayor of a beautiful city, and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?’ The answer is, it takes community,” Wunderlich said in his inaugural address.
The city typically executes the annual rotation of the mayorship with a degree of pomp and circumstance. Three years ago, Councilmember Julian Gold took the helm as mayor in a black-tie event hosted at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The following year, as Councilmember John Mirisch recited the oath of office for his third mayoral stint, a chorus of performers dazzled the audience with a choreographed Broadway number. Even while the bulk of the night’s proceedings took place over Zoom–the city’s preferred medium for the quotidian affairs of local government–councilmembers nonetheless donned black-tie formalwear and positioned themselves in front of their fanciest backdrops.
The event also included slick videos and musical performances that highlighted a cross-generational range of talents and voices from the city. Resident and singer Kandance Lindsey followed the pledge of allegiance with a soulful rendition of the National Anthem. Like the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Wunderlich’s installation features a young poet reciting an original work in honor of the city–Beverly Hills High School’s Sophie Szew, reading her poem “BH.” Later, local vocalist Arianna Escalante sang Andra Day’s “Rise Up.” The final musical performance came from one of the city’s younger stars, Sonny Lehrhoff, a participant in the Broadway Dreams training program at the Wallis who sang a cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”
As Wunderlich explained, the entertainment tracked with the themes of the night: unity, hope, resilience, and the future. “How did we convey those themes? We did it with art and culture. That’s our brand. We did it with our talent right here in the city, with talent from across the generations. That’s our strength,” the mayor said.
In a reflection of the close connection between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath called into the ceremony to recognize the unique year she shared with former Mayor Friedman. “As a fellow mayor serving during a time of global health pandemic, we belong to a select group that we did not intend on joining,” Horvath said. “Instead, we were called to serve in a time of challenges, unparalleled in recent memory.”
Though Friedman retains his role of councilmember, he delivered a farewell address, of sorts. With mere minutes left on the clock of his mayoral tenure, Friedman reflected on the tumultuous time in which he served. He highlighted accomplishments, such as the ahead-of-schedule completion of piling work on the Metro D Line (formerly Purple Line), the passage of the Mixed-Use Ordinance and Medical Use Ordinance, and the passage of a record 16 urgency ordinances.
Friedman concluded with a quote from his college mentor, John Wooden. “‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ On the basketball court, it makes perfect sense. Likewise, as a life lesson, it makes sense. We are anxious to move on. But let’s do it in a confident, but safe and prudent manner,” he said.
Then attention returned to Wunderlich, who presented gifts to Friedman across the digital divide with the help of Friedman’s wife, Simone. The tokens included a signed poster of the Emergency Operations Center, the city’s command base for monitoring and responding to everything from protests to COVID-19 (and Friedman’s “second home” over the last year, according to Wunderlich). Friedman’s wife, Simone, passed along letters of congratulations from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressperson Ted Lieu, and State Senator Ben Allen. Finally, Friedman held up a “special gift,” a bobblehead of Friedman with a UCLA cap and a button that, when pressed, played a refrain familiar to all Beverly Hills residents.
City Clerk Human Ahmed read a statement prepared by Councilmember John Mirisch, who could not attend the ceremony due to family commitments.
“Bob, this is your time,” Mirisch’s statement read. “Even though it seems we’re coming out of the pandemic into some sense of normalcy, our city and the state, country and world are faced with enormous challenges our city and all cities in California are coming under serious threats from a state government, which, in an attempt to deflect wrongly and falsely has been scapegoating cities for a host of the state’s problems.”
The Council unanimously nominated Councilmember Bosse for the position of vice mayor, with Bosse’s husband, Jon, sweetly taking a knee before her to administer the oath of office. After Bosse had officially assumed the mantle of vice mayor, she opined that “we still have our work to do to mend division and civility among us.” She invoked the initiative from her own time as mayor, saying, “And now more than ever, all decisions for me will use the lens of our healthy city initiative. Healthy People, healthy economy and a healthy government.”
Finally, Bosse extended gratitude to “our unsung heroes,” the staff of the city. “They truly were the heart and soul that helped us through this past year. From our first responders, every city employee, you are the Beverly Hills family,” the Vice Mayor said.
Bosse then nominated her colleague, Robert Wunderlich, for the position of mayor. After a unanimous vote, Wunderlich’s wife, Andrea Spatz, administered the oath of office. “Twenty-five years ago, we decided to become life partners,” Spatz said. “I knew I was marrying a brilliant, very funny kind of shy scientist, and beyond my wildest imagination, I never thought I’d be married to the mayor of Beverly Hills.”
Following the virtual passing of the gavel, Wunderlich pivoted from reflection to looking ahead. “We made mistakes, of course. We could have done some things better. Hindsight is always great,” he said. Then, he quoted New York Yankees icon Yogi Berra, his pronunciation suddenly betraying the accent of his boyhood in Queens more than at any other point in the night. “It’s hard to predict anything, especially the future,” he said.