Mayor Tom Bradley could not attend the honorary roast in San Pedro. So Christine Ung was out for another night on the town.
The Los Angeles mayor's South Bay aide--her black hair stylishly coiffed, her dangling jeweled earrings accenting a sleek white gown--was on a banquet stop for good politics. She was conferring a city commendation on Jeremiah Bresnahan, a popular toastmaster for harbor-area clubs and business groups.
About 200 San Pedro dignitaries--mostly businessmen and community representatives--were gathered at the Princess Louise Pavilion, an old, pastel-colored ballroom at the water's edge. Lighted cargo vessels moved silently past the big view windows as Ung mixed with the crowd and applauded speaker after speaker from a head table.
Her own talk lasted no more than two minutes. She described emcee Bob McVey, a Marine Corps captain, as "our favorite captain," and told one quick, inside joke about Bresnahan that drew roars from the crowd.
That and a few glowing smiles were enough to underscore the mayor's community presence.
"It may seem kind of superficial," Ung said of such appearances. "But it's really important to a lot of organizations to have a mayor's representative at their events."
Gracious, soft-spoken, seemingly shy of the public spotlight, Ung, who lives in Gardena, is that representative in the South Bay, in a district that includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and the Harbor Gateway strip. Her job involves award dinners one night, community problems the next. Her speech at the banquet followed a press conference on foreign trade and a tour of a proposed Air Force housing development at White Point Park in San Pedro.
"I wear different hats," Ung said, describing herself as one of six geographic-area coordinators who help Bradley run Los Angeles. "We're essentially the mayor's eyes and ears. Whenever there's a problem, we try to take care of it, and we also inform the mayor about the problem."
The role has earned Ung mixed reviews. Business leaders say they are generally pleased with the way she and the mayor's office have worked to revitalize San Pedro's flagging downtown commercial district and to assist the embattled fishing industry. Ung was the mayor's representative on the Fishing Industry Task Force, a group of fishermen and public officials that met over several months this year to develop possible remedies for the industry's many problems.
Criticized in Wilmington
But some neighborhood groups, particularly in Wilmington, criticize the low profile taken by Bradley and Ung. Peter Mendoza, president of the 500-member Wilmington Homeowners Assn., said the two are largely out of touch with residents and are difficult to reach when community problems arise.
"People here in Wilmington have some rightful gripes," Mendoza said. "We've got planning problems. Our neighborhood's being overrun by heavy trucks. All you have to do is run by any street in Wilmington and you see these heavy trucks . . . running down to the harbor.
"(But) the mayor's office . . . is not really tuned in to us," he said. "They are so remote . . . it's like trying to talk to (President) Reagan or something. If you took a grass-roots poll of people like myself and you ask who Chris Ung is, I'd give you a buck for everyone who knows who she is and what she does."
Ung denied that she is difficult to reach or that the mayor has been unresponsive. "I'm available by phone," she said. "Our doors are always open. Actually, a lot of things are being done in Wilmington. We're having a big cleanup program down there to get rid of abandoned cars, to get industry to beautify (the area). We try the best we can."
Works Behind Scenes
But even her supporters describe Ung as a soft-spoken aide who rarely steals the public spotlight. Perhaps more than any of Bradley's other geographic representatives, Ung presents a quiet, dignified public image and does much of her work behind the scenes, according to Bernie Evans, chief deputy for harbor-area City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.
"Chris is understated," Evans said. "But she is very consistent and firm in her views. She doesn't have to jump up and down to make a point."
Evans said Ung often works closely with Flores' office to handle South Bay problems ranging from potholes in the streets to litter at oil-drilling sites. Most of the smaller concerns are handled by the council office, Ung said. Larger issues often involve the two offices acting in concert.
One recent example has been the continuing negotiations over White Point Park, a former Nike missile base between 25th Street and Paseo del Mar, where the U.S. Air Force has developed plans to build extensive military housing.