Austin Day of Service v (copy)

Eighth District City Councilman Al Austin talks about Martin Luther King Jr. last year at the kickoff for Leadership Long Beach's Day of Service at Scherer Park.

Dozens of women signed onto a letter published over the weekend that argues Long Beach City Councilman Al Austin has shown “profound disrespect for women,” an accusation — less than a month from the March 3 election — the incumbent called a “political attack.”

Austin is running for a third term representing the Eighth District. He faces two challengers, small business owner Juan Ovalle and nonprofit director Tunua Thrash-Ntuk.

The letter listed five actions of Austin’s that, the writers said, proved Austin “does not deserve our trust.” Nearly 50 people signed the letter, including prominent Long Beach residents Christine Petit, Long Beach Forward’s executive director; longtime social justice activist Zoe Nicholson; and outgoing Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, one of Austin’s colleagues.

Austin said in a brief phone interview Monday, Feb. 10, that “the allegations are ridiculous.”

“Anybody that’s looking at this sees it for what it is,” he said. “It’s a malicious political attack with no foundation.”

Austin referred to the letter as “an anonymous blog” and said it was “not fair” before ending the interview. He did not respond to further requests for comment.

The letter was posted to a blog titled “Women of Long Beach” on Saturday, Feb. 8. One of its criticisms was of Austin’s 2017 vote against a proposal requiring hotels to provide workers with panic buttons to safeguard against sexual harassment or assault, among other protections.

“This policy as presented is very complex and there are a lot of pieces here that we can really work on,” Austin said at the time. “I’m not sure it’s something we can do in one fell swoop tonight. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions here.”

The council, including Austin, later voted to add a similar measure to the November 2018 ballot, which voters approved.

“I’ve stood with workers, and I continue to stand with workers every single day,” Austin said after that 2018 vote. “I stand with our hotel workers, and I stand with our women.”

Saturday’s letter also pointed to his decision to hire Julio Perez as an advisor. Perez was fired from the Orange County Labor Federation in 2018 because, the Southern California News Group reported at the time, an independent investigation found there were credible accusations of sexual harassment against him from multiple women.

“Employing such a person demonstrates Austin’s insensitivity (at best) or complicity (at worst) in such unacceptable behavior,” the letter said. “This is not the model of inclusion and respect we need from elected officials.”

Naida Tushnet, a longtime local activist, was among the women who wrote the letter.

Tushnet said Monday that she is not an Eighth District resident, but her knowledge about Austin had “been stewing in my head,” and she felt it was information voters should have.

“The information in the letter is important information for everybody to know,” she said. “They can make their own minds up.”

Tushnet said she would likely support a candidate in the Eighth District race but she had not chosen one yet.

“Obviously, there’s a small ‘p’ political motive — that is that people should know who they’re voting for,” she said, “and that’s why I helped write it.”

She also said she wanted people to know that she was not acting on anyone else’s behalf in helping write the letter.

“I take ownership for what I did. I always have,” she said. “Sometimes it means I have to apologize. It wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to apologize.”

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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