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Council Praises O'Connor for Her Leadership, Regional Impact


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December 14, 2018 -- It was a long, fruitful ride for Councilmember Pam O'Connor, a 24-year ride on trains and buses that took her to farflung places she would influence and back home to Santa Monica on a train she was instrumental in bringing back.

On Tuesday, her colleagues on the Council bid farewell to the Chicago native who has spread her leadership and influence across Southern California and still calls everyone "kiddo."

Pam O'Connor at 2011 Expo GroundbreakingPam O'Connor at 2011 Expo groundbreaking

O'Connor, who served as mayor in three separate decades before falling short in her bid for a record seventh term, was a powerful force in public transit and a champion of "sustainability" before it became a trendy term.

"I think we owe her a debt of gratitude for her service on the Council, but more broadly for her service to the world at large," said Councilmember Gleam Davis shortly before being elected mayor.

Davis praised O'Connor for her advocacy at the local, county, state and national levels, especially in her quest to provide alternatives to the car.

"Every time a new train station opens, a new light rail station opens, bus rapid transit gets carved out in the city, we have Pam to thank for that," Davis said.

O'Connor -- who served a total of five years on the Landmarks and Planning commissions before being elected to the Council in 1994 -- served on boards and organizations at the county, regional and state levels.

For 22 years, she served on the board of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), where as president she led the adoption of first Sustainable Communities Strategy.

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She also served for 13 years on the Board of the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), where she was instrumental in bringing train service to Santa Monica for the first time in more than 60 years ("Former Santa Monica Mayor on Board Train from the Start," May 20, 2016).

O'Connor, said City Manager Rick Cole, is "a singular leader who has cast a huge shadow" across the region.

"We have an Expo line, we have a hundred-mile rail system in Los Angeles County because people have a vision bigger than their own individual community," Cole said.

"Pam will be missed throughout Southern California for the example she set and for the legacy she leaves."

O'Connor also made a lasting impact on Santa Monica, her colleagues said.

"We all need to acknowledge that Pam leaves a large legacy in the realm of sustainability, which is one of the signature issues of the city and she was on that early and often," said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

"We have mobility options in the city now that we would not have without Pam O'Connor."

Davis recalled that O'Connor always spoke to fellow passengers when she took the Big Blue Bus (BBB) with her late mother, Esther Smicklas ("Goodbye, Esther," December 3, 2004).

"She always made it a point to find out what their experience was like and what we could do to make the bus system and other modes of transportation more inviting," Davis said.

Councilmember Terry O'Day praised O'Connor as a "tender and caring leader."

He recalled how she gave him helpful advice at his first Council debate.

"She pointed out that I was shaking my leg," O'Day said. "She said, 'You know, that makes you look nervous.'"

"She has always been a mentor and a caring, thoughtful person in her leadership style," O'Day said. "She still calls many of us 'kiddo.'"

After leaving the Council, O'Connor will continue shaping the way Southern Californians commute across the sprawling region.

In October, she was appointed by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to the 11-member Metrolink Board that runs the commuter trains ("Santa Monica Councilmember Appointed to Metrolink Board," October 24, 2018).

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