Sunday, November 05, 2006

Profile: Mayor Joe Serna

Update> 5-29-08

Sacramento Mayor from 1993 - 1999

Joe Serna, Jr. (1939 - November 7, 1999) was a civil rights activist and mayor of Sacramento, California from 1992 until his death.

Serna was born in Stockton, the son of migrant farm workers. He was raised in labor camps near Lodi and worked with his family in the fields at a young age.

He would grow up to becoming a vigorous supporter of the United Farm Workers and worked with Cesar Chavez. Serna organized clothing and food drives for striking farm workers in the 1960s and was one of the UFW's main Sacramento leaders for close to 30 years.

Serna became the first Latino mayor of Sacramento Before becoming mayor, Serna had served 18 years on the Sacramento City Council. He also served in the Peace Corps and was a professor at California State University Sacramento.

As mayor, Serna helped revitalize Sacramento's downtown area and pushed through initiatives to honor Cesar Chavez when the legendary civil rights leader died in 1993. Serna organized a caravan from Sacramento to march in Chavez's funeral and renamed a park in front of City Hall to Cesar Chavez Plaza. Furthermore, Sacramento became the first city in the United States to honor Chavez with a holiday.

Serna died in office on November 7, 1999 in Sacramento, California; Jimmie R. Yee presided over the remainder of his term. Serna is buried at East Lawn Cemetery, and his funeral was attended by many of his fellow UFW activists.

Serna was honored in 2001 with a brand-new, 25-story, 900,000-square-foot skyscraper named after him. The Joe Serna EPA Building (near City Hall in downtown Sacramento) has been named the most energy-efficient high rise in the United States by Energy Star. Many California universities and organizations have also established scholarships and grants in Joe Serna's name.

Sacramento City Unified School District honored Serna by naming their new headquarters, residing on 47th Avenue, after him.


October 26, 1999 CONTACT: Erin Garvey
(916) 445-8994


Sacramento - Lt. Governor Cruz M. Bustamante has proclaimed Wednesday, October 27th, "Mayor Joe Serna, Jr. Day" in honor of Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna, Jr. and his dedication to public service.

"Mayor Joe Serna has been a true leader throughout his years of service to the people of Sacramento and California. He has led his hometown of Sacramento through continued growth and economic expansion with strong leadership, good humor and a commitment to making it the center of a dynamic, thriving region," said Bustamante, who is issuing the proclamation in his capacity as Acting Governor. "He has been an inspiration to thousands, and he has done it with enthusiasm and integrity."

Under Mayor Serna's leadership, the City of Sacramento has experienced significant growth and expanded opportunity. During his two terms as Sacramento's chief executive, Serna worked hard to stimulate the economic health of the city, appointing Sacramento's first Council of Economic Advisors to help the city frame an economic agenda.

Mayor Serna revitalized Sacramento's downtown core with key initiatives, such as the Sacramento Downtown Partnership Association, an advocacy group for downtown development, and the founding of the weekly "Thursday Night Market" summer fair.

The mayor also has fought tirelessly to keep large employers in Sacramento. He played an instrumental role in getting Packard Bell NEC to move its headquarters to Sacramento, a move that created thousands of new jobs.

Mayor Serna also is being recognized for establishing the Mayor's Commission on Education and the City's Future, which grew out of his strong interest in the education of children and his concern for the city's schools. Mayor Serna also founded the Mayor's Summer Reading Camp, a literacy program for needy students.

An ardent supporter of livable neighborhoods, Mayor Serna also created the City of Sacramento's Neighborhood Services Department, which consolidates city services that support healthy and thriving neighborhoods.

"Joe has been a tireless and dedicated public servant, having been active in Sacramento government and political affairs for more than 29 years," Bustamante said. "In his service as a city councilman and as mayor, Joe has been a role model for elected officials everywhere. He has brought vision, fairness and an overarching commitment to improve the quality of life for Sacramento's citizens and businesses alike."


Monday, November 8, 1999
Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. Dies
First Latino in the job, loyal ally of Cesar Chavez
Chronicle Staff and Wire Reports

Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr., who rose from his roots as a farmworker to become Sacramento's first Latino mayor in modern history, died yesterday of kidney cancer and complications from diabetes.

Serna, 60, had briefly slipped into a diabetic coma Wednesday and asked to return home from the hospital Friday. He died at 3:47 a.m. surrounded by his family, said Chuck Dalldorf, a spokesman for the mayor.

Serna was a city councilman for 18 years and became mayor in 1992. He may best be remembered for helping reinvigorate downtown Sacramento and reforming his city's public schools by campaigning on behalf of new school leadership and a $191 million school bond.

``Joe led a movement to recall a large number of school board members, elect a reform slate, adopt a reform program and upgrade standards,'' said Phil Isenberg, a former Sacramento mayor and state assemblyman.

Serna was a loyal friend of the late Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union since the 1960s, when he organized one of the state's first food caravans to feed striking grape pickers.

``He continued in every way he could to fight for the low-income (people), for the farmworkers, for the people that, for whatever reasons, were not being provided the respect and dignity they deserved,'' said United Farm Workers Union President Arturo S. Rodriguez.

Serna also transcended ethnic politics, according to close friend and political adviser Richie Ross.

``He was never thought of in Sacramento as anything other than Mayor Joe, everybody's mayor,`` said Ross.

Serna was born in Stockton and used to tell how his parents, poor Mexican immigrants who worked the fields, brought him home from the hospital in a cardboard box. He grew up in Lodi, picking grapes and tomatoes as a youngster to help support his family.

He earned his bachelor's degree from Sacramento State University, and attended graduate school at the University of California at Davis. He served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala as a community development volunteer specializing in cooperatives and credit unions.

Serna dubbed himself an ``activist'' who hoped to ``be the best mayor I can be so that the next ethnic person who . . . wants to be mayor can become the mayor, and it won't be a big deal.''

``Joe was a true giant in the Latino community, and a visionary leader for all of Sacramento,'' said Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in a statement. ``He leaves a great legacy of public service, whether he was standing in the fields fighting for farmworker rights or visiting the White House advocating for the city he so dearly loved.''

Serna served on the Sacramento- area support committee for the United Farm Workers, and was a former member of the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

He also served on an array of municipal bodies, including the Sacramento Regional Transit board of directors, the Employment and Training Agency, the Metropolitan Cable Television Commission, and the Air Quality Management Board.

Serna and his wife Isabel have two grown children, Philip and Lisa. The family lived in Sacramento's Curtis Park neighborhood.

The mayor announced to the public in June he would not seek a third term because of his deteriorating health.

Since Serna died with more than a year left in his term -- a year and a day to be exact -- a special election will be held to determine a successor.

Serna's supporters expect a large turnout Wednesday, particularly from among farmworkers, for a funeral march from Cesar Chavez Plaza across from Sacramento City Hall to the Cathedral for the Blessed Sacrament. Serna's family requested that all donations be directed to the UFW union.


Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Mayor Joe Serna, Jr. Scholarship Program

Mayor Joe Serna, Jr. earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Science/Government from Sacramento State or City College in 1966 and attended graduate school at UC, Davis, majoring in Political Science. In 1969 he joined the faculty at CSU, Sacramento, where he became a Professor of Government until his death at age 60.

Here are some of the accomplishments Mayor Joe Serna Jr. acquired. He was awarded the CSUS Distinguished Faculty Award in 1991. In 1975, he took a two-year leave of absence to serve as Education Advisor to then- Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, and was active in Sacramento government and political affairs over 30 years. In June 1998 he was presented an honorary doctorate degree from Golden Gate University.

First elected to the Sacramento City council in 1981, representing District 5, he assumed his duties as Mayor of the city of Sacramento in November 1992 and was re-elected in 1996. Because of his strong interest in the education of children, he established the Mayor’s Commission on Education and the City’s Future and the Mayor’s Commission on Our Children’s Health. He also founded the Mayor’s Summer Reading Camp, which is an annual literacy program for below average scoring second and third grade students.

In one of his last public appearances, Mayor Joe Serna, Jr. took part in a “Keeping the Promise” event at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. It celebrated Sacramento City Unified School District gains in the SAT 9 State student achievement tests. The following are excerpts from his remarks:

“Mayors are not elected to sit in the mayor’s office and take up oxygen. Mayors are elected to lead. The mayor is the leader of the community ... As the leader of the community, the business of the mayor is the city and everything that happens in the city...the role I played as the mayor was to re- engage the community and kids and reinvest in the school district. And it’s paying off - but it’s not over. I am a teacher. Teaching is still my first love. I understand what it is like when a child learns right in front of you - and that’s really great. And when that happens it means something good is happening ... When that occurs, then we build community and rebuild that investment in the city that we love and in the schools that we care about - and most importantly in the children who really need our help and support.”

Mayor Joe Serna Jr., passed away early Sunday Morning, November 7, 1999 of metastatic kidney cancer at home with his family. He was a man, who from humble beginnings built successful thirty year career, as both an educator and public servant. As a Professor of Government, he exuded genuine passion for the political process, and transferred that energy and wonder to his students. He instilled in them their importance within our democratic society, and a belief in their own abilities to make a difference.

Mayor Joe Serna Jr. Serna leaves an exceptional legacy of leadership and accomplishments, including the revitalization of Sacramento’s downtown core, a stronger public school system, more jobs, more community police, and a higher quality of life that will benefit this entire region for decades to come. He built coalitions and ignited community involvement. A man who never compromised his values, Mayor Joe Serna, Jr. was a man who brought honor and dignity to the Sacramento community.

The SHCC has maintained as one of its core values, the need to provide support, mentoring and scholarships for the youth in the Sacramento region. It is estimated that the chamber has given over $400,000 in scholarships over the years. Today, the number and amount of scholarships continues to increase due to the generous contributions from corporations, foundations, business owners and individuals made to the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SHCC).

Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
1491 River Park Dr., Ste 101 | Sacramento, CA 95815
Office 916.486.7700 Fax 916.486.7728

Isabel Hernandez-Serna dies of cancer
Elizabeth Hume (State Hornet)
Issue date: 9/19/00 Section: News
Page 1 of 1

Isabel Hernandez-Serna and husband Joe Serna - File photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee/ Jay Mather

Isabel Hernandez-Serna, the wife of the late Mayor Joe Serna Jr., died of cancer, Monday evening, at the age of 54 – only 10 months after her husband died. Hernandez-Serna had been a professor and administrator at Sacramento State for 30 years.
While much of the city will remember her as the supportive partner of the late mayor, Sac State will also celebrate her dedication to increasing the awareness of issues surrounding diversity, multiculturalism and affirmative action.

"Our late Mayor, Joe Serna, Jr. could not have accomplished all that he did for our city without the support and love of Isabel. Isabel was a gracious woman who, as a professional educator at California State University Sacramento, achieved her own place in the city's history," Sacramento mayor, Jimmie R. Yee said.

Hernandez-Serna became a professor in 1970, where she taught Spanish, Latin American, Chicano and Mexican literature, ethnic studies and bilingual education for teachers.

In the late 1970's, as the chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies, she was instrumental in creating the Educational Opportunity Program for underprivileged and minority students.

When she became an administrator, Hernandez-Serna continued her work in diversity, initiating a program that recruits children of migrant workers to Sac State. In addition, she helped underrepresented students stay in college and continue on to graduate school.

In 1994, Hernandez-Serna was appointed assistant vice-president for academic affairs, educational equity and student retention. In that position, she worked at improving student retention and graduation rates.

"Her loss hits us very hard, not just those of us who worked with her or knew her through the community, but the many students whom she nurtured – and at times pushed – and helped to succeed, " Sac State President Donald R. Gerth said Tuesday.

Born in the southern Spanish province of Almeria, her family moved to Vacaville after World War II. As a member of a family of farm workers, she became dedicated to Latino social and political causes. For several years she and her husband were ver y active in Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers.

In 1968, Hernandez-Serna received her B.A. at Sac State in Spanish. She went on to get a master's degree in Latin American Literature at Sac State, a second master's degree in English as a second language from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in bilingual/bicultural education and sociolinguistics from Stanford in 1980.

In 1981, she married Joe Serna and adopted his children, Lisa Serna-Mayorga, 28, and Phillip Serna, 32 in a ceremony two days before he died.

She is survived by her two children, grandson Andres Miguel Mayorga, son-in-law Edgard Mayorga, daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law Roxanna Recinos-Serna, sister Rose Molina and brothers Roger and Tony Hernandez.

Private services are planned for Thursday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Clarksburg. The family has asked that remembrances be sent to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, 5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 250, Dallas TX 75244.

"Isabel has given much to this University and our community. We have all lost a wonderful and committed individual. At this University we will feel that loss immensely," said Gerth.

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