CATHEDRAL CITY – The emotional jolt of Mayor Gregory S. Pettis’ death nearly paralyzed his colleagues on the City Council, some of whom served with the late mayor for more than a decade.

Newly named Mayor Mark Carnevale, Mayor Pro Tem John Aguilar were there the night City Councilmembers unanimously agreed to summon paramedics to transport Pettis to Eisenhower Health. They were more than colleagues; they were friends.

In a 2018 interview with Uken Report, Pettis said the group was the most collegial body with whom he ever worked. Sure, they disagreed, he said. But after everyone had his say and a decision was made, they moved forward as colleagues with mutual respect for one another.

Together, the five colleagues were transforming the city.

They came from differing political viewpoints, a healthy mix of progressive and conservative viewpoints. But at the end of the day the colleagues were united in one goal: making the city better for its residents.

Aguilar was part of Pettis’ tight-knit inner circle of friends and a trusted confidante. He was the designated chauffeur in October for Pettis’ trip to Riverside for his weight-loss surgery. In the wake of Pettis’ passing, Aguilar was the bridge between the Pettis family and City Hall as plan for a Celebration of Life got underway.

Kaplan was also part of Pettis’ inner circle of friends.

Henry, Pettis said, was the “best mayor” Cathedral City ever had.

Pettis unconditionally endorsed Carnevale in the November election. He valued his presence on the City Council.

This group of colleagues laughed together, debated, argued, compromised, voted, and travelled together.

This is all to say that when they learned of Pettis’ death, it was an emotional shock unlike any other. They needed time to mourn.

Newly elected Councilmembers Raymond Gregory and Ernesto barely had time to serve with Pettis. He was sworn in on Dec. 10 and died on Jan. 15.

At the Beacon of Lights Vigil in Memory of Mayor Pettis, Rabbi Yankel A. Kreiman invoked Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Part of the Bible verse says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …”

As a community of friends, family colleagues, elected officials, religious leaders, and many more prepare to celebrate Mayor Pettis’ life on Friday, Feb. 1, Uken Report reached out to Pettis’ colleagues for their reflections.

The first of Pettis’ colleagues is Aguilar. He had served on the City Council with Pettis since 2014.

Colleagues Reflect on Life, Legacy of Mayor Pettis

Mayor Pro Tem John Aguilar

“Greg Pettis was my friend, who also happened to be mayor,” Aguilar shared with Uken Report.  “Since Greg’s recent passing our community and Greg’s family have received hundreds of messages of condolences and sympathy from individuals and organizations saddened over his loss.  Greg would be humbled by the overwhelming show of caring, love, and respect from those he touched during his life. “So much has been said about his meaningful contributions to the community, the region, the state, and the nation through his work and service as a board member with a myriad of organizations ranging from local government agencies to regional bodies such as the Southern California Association of Governments among others.

“His influence also extended to such organizations as the National League of Cities, Democratic Municipal Officials, Victory Fund, League of California Cities, Equality California, and many, many others. He could easily pick up his phone and call a legislator about an issue and be heard. He was a gentle human being with a unique sense of humor whose impressive accomplishments and years of experience led him to be patient, respectful, and always looking to build a consensus.

“He was an outspoken advocate for civil rights and social justice with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues, immigration, economic sustainability, and economic development. He was a friend to controversy and never stepped away from a fight for issues and causes he felt strongly about.   Much has been written about Greg’s support for the Cathedral City High School Band and Choral groups. He believed very strongly that encouraging our youth to participate in and experience music and the arts would be a strong character-building attribute that would benefit them throughout their lives.  He embraced them, traveled with them, raised money for them and was their “Patron.”

“I often joined Greg and former Councilman and friend Shelley Kaplan in speaking to LGBTQ students about our journey in coming out — listening to their struggles and stories and trying to provide sage advice on how to stand proud in the face of a society which still has not fully embraced those of us who may wear a different label.

“In a particularly moving gesture, he noticed that one of the Choir members’ shoes were badly tattered with cardboard soles, held together with rubber bands.  Without missing a beat, Greg immediately jumped into action and provided new shoes for the student.

This was the essence of who Greg was.  We are collectively saddened yet committed to carrying forth Greg’s legacy, vision, and devotion to his community as we bid him a reluctant farewell.”

Colleagues Reflect on Life, Legacy of Mayor Pettis

Former Mayor Stan Henry

Another of Pettis’ City Council colleagues was former Mayor Henry. He was elected to the City Council in 2012 and later as mayor in 2014.

“Julie and I were on our way to Michigan to visit our son at school when we heard the news of Greg’s passing,” Henry told Uken Report. “We were shocked and devastated! I have known and worked with Greg for over 30 years at Cathedral City and he has always had a love and desire to see Cathedral City be one of the best cities, not only in the Valley, but in the country. Greg had a soft spot for the youth in our city and was always working to better their opportunities for success in them.

“While I was on City Council, we both had a desire to see Cathedral City grow with development in our downtown and throughout the city. Greg had a lot of contacts in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C. He was the go-to man for us to get a meeting if we had an issue there. I remember one time several years ago. The city was having some difficulty getting some answers on some financial issues in Sacramento, so Greg and I went to Sacramento to lobby our position. Greg knew who to have the meeting with, set it up for us, and that night at a reception after our meeting, we were told our issue has been handled and we would be hearing something from Sacramento within the week. Greg would work to find a compromise on an issue if he knew you didn’t agree so that you could be good with the outcome.

“Greg will be missed and his legacy will live on for some time, not only in Cathedral City, but throughout our state,” Henry said.

Colleagues Reflect on Life, Legacy of Mayor Pettis

Former Councilmember Shelley Kaplan

Kaplan was elected to the City Council in 2014 and was also one of Pettis’ closest colleagues.

“I am devastated by Greg Pettis’ loss – I was proud to call him my friend, which is not easy to define in this day and age,” Kaplan told Uken Report.

“We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with him, celebrating his 63rd birthday between the two holidays, going to lunch and dinner several times weekly. He was part of my family.  His loss to me is overwhelming at times. My mentor, my friend, my comrade, my mayor, is lost forever, and the loss to the city is even more significant. The city lost the most dedicated supporter and effective leader since its incorporation in 1981.

He was unique. Greg was always a professional and always a gentleman in all ways.

He was always meeting new people, asking questions and looking for ways to bring people together to make everyone’s life better. He was human and had his faults, but he was laser focused and dedicated to Cathedral City’s improvement for all its residents, businesses and visitors — and he had 40 years of historical perspective (24 on City Council) to know what would work and how to accomplish it.

“I met Greg Pettis for the first time only six years ago when I moved to Cathedral City full-time after retiring from my career in higher education. I wanted to learn about the city and Coachella Valley so I started attending City Council meetings. I wanted to see how I could support this city, the economic growth, the phenomenal diverse community we call home, our beloved Cathedral City Cove, which was also Greg’s chosen neighborhood. We hit it off from the start, a mutual admiration for detail, for thinking outside the box, both progressive Democrats, and both wanted to see the city and the Valley do more to address the needs of the residents.

“We wanted to grow our city, to infuse new life in a city that was just beginning to realize its potential.  Greg had lived through the local economic downturn, which had an especially devastating impact on our working-class town, with staff reductions, elimination of redevelopment and very tight budgets. We got involved in pushing for the passage of Measure B, which raised the sales tax by 1 percent. It was clear to both of us that without its passage more staff cuts and budget reductions would be required and since most of the staff were in public safety it would have had a disastrous impact.

“After being appointed to the Vector Control Board and then the Planning Commission, I decided to run for an open Council seat in August of 2014 when the person I had been supporting decided not to run. I had never run for office before and had no idea what to do. Greg walked me through the process, helped me understand the best approach, put me in touch with people who could help support my campaign, and supported me throughout the process. He was critical to my success.

“That led to four years on Council with Greg and all the great work that we accomplished from various development projects downtown like the new Casino and CV REP; to improved Chamber of Commerce relationships; to moving the city from a general laws city to a charter city to protect the city from state legislative overreach; to improved relations with the Unified School District; to expanded staffing for Police and Fire Departments and Code Compliance; to tremendous economic development as a result of well-crafted ordinances related to cannabis. The accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but Greg was a critical part of them all.

“Greg was a consummate politician. He was always looking for ways to improve the city and the Valley. He knew almost everyone and even if he disagreed with them on their policies or perspective he could still work with them on things that would improve the plight of those affected. His life was all about the City and the Valley. He was the city’s representative on the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and the Sunline Transit Authority. One of his biggest efforts was to get improved passenger train service to the valley connected to LA and while the effort has not been successful yet, it is well along in a difficult process toward success. He worked with CVAG and RCTC and the Federal Government Transportation Department, which resulted in over $100 million in infrastructure improvements approved and funded for the city.

“In addition, he was connected to local, regional, state and national elected individuals and was up to date on all the latest issues and approaches to address them. His inspired and insightful leadership, personal attention to individual problems, and strong convictions of inclusivity, diversity, support for those in need, and those whose voices needed amplification will be sorely missed!”

Colleagues Reflect on Life, Legacy of Mayor Pettis

Mayor Mark Carnevale

Carnevale, appointed to step in as mayor, was also one of Pettis’ colleagues.

“It is so hard to put feelings into words when times like this surround us,” Carnevale told Uken Report. “It is also hard to put into a few words Greg’s years of service that he bestowed unto the Democratic Party, State of California, Riverside County, Coachella Valley, and his hometown of Cathedral City.

“Many years ago, then-Mayor Kathy De Rosa introduced me to local politics. That gave me the chance to meet Greg. After Mayor De Rosa stepped down from office, I found myself reaching out to Greg for political advice that would be beneficial to Cathedral City and the Coachella Valley.

“Greg was always there for not only immediate help but also for the future needs.

“I feel the need to mention that Greg, when asked, would give advice from both sides of the aisle and NEVER would he say what way to lean. He always said, ‘Go with what you believe is best for the City.’

“Greg was a mentor to so many individuals. I am honored that I was one.

“I will miss him, rest in peace my friend.”












Image Sources

  • Who’s Leaving, Who’s Staying In Cathedral City?: City of Cathedral City
  • Mark Carnevale: Mark Carnevale