Lining the walls of a meeting room at the Port of Hueneme are old photographs of every Oxnard harbor commissioner since 1937, most of them white men.
The demographics on that wall are in the process of changing. For the first time in 75 years, two women have seats on the commission. Arlene Fraser was elected last month following Mary Anne Rooney, who was elected two years ago.
The Oxnard Harbor Commission, which oversees the Port of Hueneme, has slowly been changing ethnically as well. Commissioners Jess Herrera and Manny Lopez are two of a few Hispanic commissioners who have served on the board in the past 50 years.
Commissioner Jess Ramirez served for the past 20 years but lost his seat to Fraser in the Nov. 6 election. When Ramirez was elected in 1992, he not only added to the ethnic diversity but also introduced a voice from the docks as the first longshoreman on the commission.
"Representation from labor -- that's what we wanted," he said.
Ramirez likes to say he ran for a seat on the commission "to fix potholes," but the story of how he became the first longshoreman on the board may be more complicated. Six months before running, he unsuccessfully tried to get appointed to a vacant seat.
"At that point I could sense that the board was not really interested in having somebody there from the docks, a worker from the docks," Ramirez said.
The board instead appointed Bob Turner, a dentist. Ramirez said he went home and had a family meeting with his wife and four daughters.
"I said: 'To hell with it. If they don't want to give it to me, I'm going to run for it,' " he said. "I appointed my 13-year-old daughter, Sabrina, to be my campaign manager."
A friend urged Ramirez to fix the dock's potholes if he got elected because lift drivers had no springs in their vehicles and were hurting their backs, he said. Thus his campaign motto became "running to fix potholes."
Ramirez won and began serving in 1993.
"I was sort of the renegade of the group in the beginning because they were all conservatives and we didn't see eye to eye on everything," he said. "But I worked with them and respected their perspectives."
Former Commissioner Ray Fosse said it was disconcerting at one point because two more longshoremen -- Bill Hill and Jess Herrera -- were elected and had a majority on the board.
"But it worked out OK. No harm done," Fosse said.
"We always used to laugh when he first got elected," Tony Taormina, former port executive director, said of Ramirez. "His first priority was paving of the potholes on the dock. But that's the kind of guy he was. He was always down at that level."
Fraser, meanwhile, had been trying to get a seat on the board since 2006.
She beat Ramirez by 181 votes last month. The 66-year-old Oxnard resident is an administrative assistant for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, one of the Port of Hueneme's biggest customers.
Fraser has said her goal as a harbor commissioner will be to educate the community.
"There's a lot of people out there who don't know the harbor district exists," she said. "That's a problem we're still having."
Beginning in 2013, the commissioners will be Herrera, Fraser, Rooney, Manny Lopez and Jason Hodge.
Herrera said there are benefits to a more diverse board that includes women.
"People do bring in new perspectives and new ideas," he said. "In that sense, it's good."
But, "Sometimes you don't have that institutional knowledge that helps formulate new policies and things of that nature," he said.
"As it stands now, we have a very balanced commission where everyone has their major priorities and their biggest strengths," said Hodge. "Everyone of us is very different."
Ramirez said the port is in good hands under the new executive director, Kristin Decas.
"That was one of the best things I ever did -- give the responsibilities of our captain to a woman," he said.
Decas said Ramirez had a steadfast commitment and passion to move the Port of Hueneme forward.
"His 20 years of service and vision for the port, the Banana Festival and community engagement will be long lasting," she said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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