CATHEDRAL CITY – Steeped in emotion, the City Council Chamber was at times filled with applause and standing ovations. At other times it was silent as one member choked back tears while reading a tribute to the late Mayor Gregory S. Pettis.
There was even a moment of laughter.
It was an evening of remembering the late mayor as about 50 people gathered around the Fountain of Life with glow sticks during a Beacon of Lights Vigil in memory of Mayor Pettis.
Rabbi Yankel A. Kreiman read Psalm 23 both in Hebrew and in English. He said one of the best tributes to the former mayor would be to put a shovel in the ground and help continue to build Cathedral City. The vigil was strategically held beside the Fountain of Life, a source of inspiration and healing.
Earlier in the evening at a City Council Study Session, Councilmembers John Aguilar and Ernesto Gutierrez volunteered to serve on a “Mayor Greg Pettis Lasting Legacy Memorial” subcommittee. They will be joined by two, yet-to-be-named members of the community. City Manager Charlie McClendon said he already getting numerous suggestions for ways to honor the Pettis Legacy.
It was the first time the City Council had met in formal session since Mayor Pettis died on Jan. 15. The one consistent emotion that lingered in the room was a sense of loss.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Carnevale was sworn in as Mayor; Councilmember John Aguilar was sworn in as Mayor Pro Tem. The duo hugged against the backdrop of a standing ovation and applause.
There was a moment of levity as the City Council voted on the new mayor and mayor pro tem. It was an unexpected, but oh, so welcome emotion.
“I feel kind of strange voting for myself,” Carnevale said after casting a vote for himself to become mayor. “I should have voted no.”
The room filled with laughter.
As Councilmembers took turns updating the room on their various activities, each also paid homage to Mayor Pettis.
“I’m shaken,” said Councilmember Raymond Gregory.
Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez expressed condolences to Mayor Pettis’ friends and family and called Mayor Pettis’ passing a “great loss.”
Aguilar, a close friend of Mayor Pettis, said he had to write his notes out, or he might not get through what he wanted to say.
“It’s been just over a week since we lost our dear mayor,” Aguilar said. “Our community, the city family, the Pettis family, and many, many organizations and individuals that Greg interfaced with over his career in government and his life in Cathedral City and the Valley are still very much in a state of deep sadness and shock over his untimely loss.”
Aguilar stopped several times to clear his throat and take a deep breath.
“Public statements expressing condolences from local, state, federal, and even international officials are just a reminder of how widely Greg’s influence and partnership have benefited our city and our Valley. I have had the privilege of being in regular communication with Greg’s family. And, while they are steeped in mourning, the outpouring of expression of loss and admiration and love for Greg has helped to ease their pain.”
Aguilar said he did not have time to run down the list of impacts, achievements, results, opportunities, and funding that Greg Pettis brought to Cathedral City, but said, “It’s doubtful that anyone can match Greg’s records in serving his community.”
Aguilar continued, “I want to acknowledge and thank those of you who turned out for the Beacon of Light Vigil, Rabbi Kreiman, Pastor Jim Barr, the gathering last week at Runway, those who called, visited Greg at the hospital, sent flowers, emails, or commented on social media. Every one of those comments speaks to what a great public servant and friend he was and how much he will be missed.
“While we pause to mourn, Greg would want the city to continue on its path of success to even greater goals that he helped create,” Aguilar said.
Carnevale told Uken Report he felt awkward becoming mayor because Mayor Pettis died — and just two months after Pettis was sworn in as mayor.
“Although I am honored, excited, and ready for this privilege, I am feeling a little bittersweet with emotion due to Greg’s passing,” Carnevale said. “However, sitting on the right side of Greg for the past four years and the same with Mayor (Stan) Henry, and a terrific Council with the support of Cathedral City staff, Cathedral City will continue to be fiscally strong, safe and dedicated to keep our city moving in the right direction.”
The City Council is expected to decide on Feb. 13 whether to hold a special election or appoint someone to fill the post until 2020 when Pettis’ term expires.
Out of respect for Mayor Pettis the City Council wanted to hold off on that decision until the Celebration of Life for Mayor Pettis is held on Feb. 1.