By Chris Levister
Trying to describe Deborah Robertson without using the phrase “energetic and ambitious” is like trying to describe playing an accordion without using your hands. In fact, the long time Rialto City Councilwoman known for her “leadership skills and “can-do” attitude” wants to add another hat to her collection of many: Mayor of Rialto.
“Great cities need leadership, resources and spirit. Under the leadership of Mayor Grace Vargas, we’ve created a roadmap for a vibrant core. My top priority as mayor will be to further strengthen our economic base. There’s room for the growth of commerce, condos, shopping, arts and entertainment, pubs, restaurants. It satisfies the senses and without question is a fine document -- a dynamic template for a city with great aspirations.”
From the moment she wakes up, it is clear that Robertson loves nothing more than public life. It’s her credo.
“My family says I’m probably the only person they know that wakes up talking.” Armed with 30 years of experience in public administration and urban planning, Robertson touts her ability to conceptualize and champion business strategies while staying focused on operational results.
“I have vision, leadership ability and the core business skills to lead Rialto through these times of urgency.”
Despite her exuberance and her enthusiasm in conversation Robertson takes a Zen-like approach to life and career.
“I tend to be analytical and well-focused and ask a lot of specific questions,” she said. “When I am clear on the position we should take I am assertive about what I think is in the best interests of the city. However, I am not so dogmatic that if new information develops, I won’t change my mind if it is in the city’s best interest to do so.”
In addition to her elected seat on the Council, until her retirement a few weeks ago, Robertson was the Deputy District Director of External Affairs for the California Department of Transportation, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. She worked for the State of California for the last 25 years overseeing a budget of about $4 million, including the responsibility for Public Media and Government Affairs, Public Records, Small Business and Community Outreach and Graphic Service.
As an executive in the male dominated transportation and construction industry, Robertson has broken down barriers and stood on the shoulders of barrier breakers. The mother of one daughter and grandmother of five, has thrived where there is little margin or tolerance for error, where being on point means nothing in the face of challenges that arise with each new hour of the day.
“In retirement I don’t think I’ll slow down. Just wake up talking less,” she said with her trademark rippling laugh.
“She challenges those around her to “dare to compete” and “dare to care”,” said Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter who recently presented Robertson with a state resolution for her many years of public service to the state of California.
“She is known for those qualities that distinguish her, hard work and tenacity,” said Caltrans District 7 Director Michael Miles.
“She has consistent vision and back bone,” said Rialto City Administrator, Mike Story.
“Deborah has a personal touch that inspires loyalty in the high pressure, cutthroat world of transportation and construction,” said Carole Sanders, P.E. Area Manager Caltrop Corporation
“She has challenged every barrier designed to contain her and others like her,” said Deborah Berg, CEO of Berg and Associates Construction Management.
Ms. Robertson is steadfast to the notion that “government can be a benevolent and indispensable source of succor for people from all walks of life,” said Ernest Levister, M.D., Emeritus Past President of the J.W. Vines Medical Society. Born in San Diego Robertson has always been enmeshed in activism. She recalls growing up in an environment of achievement, community service, and family.
“My mother, the family activist, was one of ten children raised by an impoverished family in Louisiana. Her motto was, drive hard and relentlessly. She never shed or shied away from her belief that service to others is at the core of a meaningful life.” “She was pregnant with me when she was picketing a San Diego hospital. Ironically that same day she went into labor and had to deliver me there.”
“My father came from a very large structured family in Texas. He was a get up and work hard man who stressed the importance of family and serving others,” said Robertson.
Looking to the future Robertson plans to join a statewide campaign to educate Californians about the benefits of the national Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2010.
Roughly half of Americans, 53 percent according to a recent survey, say that they are "confused" about the health reform law, explains Robertson.
“California is in a pivotal position to not only take the lead in implementing the Affordable Care Act, but to help educate the public about its immense benefits. There is an urgent need to separate the facts from the misinformation and highly charged rhetoric out there.”
Robertson has served on the Rialto City Council since 2000 and has lived in Rialto for nearly 20 years. She is the founder and host of the annual Rialto ‘State of Women’ event honoring Women’s History Month. She’s active in the East Rialto Kiwanis, the National Council of Negro Women, HIV/AIDS awareness and education program Brothers and Sisters in Action and other local organizations.
“There are so many things I haven’t done that I can’t afford to rest on my laurels. We must think of our dreams as goals and take action to bring them to fruition,” Robertson said.
“People get calluses on their souls,” she says about the hazards of public service. “For me public service never feels like a responsibility or an obligation. Never do I feel better about how I have spent my time than at the end of a day of service.”
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