Patricia A. McGuigan, a self-described homemaker on five Santa Ana City Council election ballots, stepped down Tuesday after nearly 21 years in office.
To many people, she has been much more than her modest ballot description.
She has been an ambassador from City Hall to cut ribbons and attend community events. She has helped build parks and develop the city’s downtown Artists Village.
“We will really miss Pat. She makes a great presence. She serves as a great ambassador,” said Councilman Jose Solorio.
McGuigan was Santa Ana’s first female council member when elected in 1981. She retired once in 1992, was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1993 and only stepped down now only because she is not allowed to serve a third consecutive term. Although she could run again in four years, McGuigan said she is unlikely to seek another term on the council or a higher office.
Other council members will have to work to fill the void she leaves. McGuigan was the only council member who did not have another job. She also was the council’s strongest link to the city’s growing Asian community.
She delivered a farewell speech at a meeting Tuesday when Councilman Mike Garcia was sworn in.
With Garcia’s election, Latinos will constitute a council majority for the first time in Santa Ana, a city with one of the nation’s highest percentages of Spanish speakers.
But elected officials here like to downplay the new Latino majority. Similarly, McGuigan -- who has watched Santa Ana’s demographic transformation from City Hall -- has never understood why ethnicity is a big issue.
“We all want the same things: pride in our neighborhood and education for our children,” said McGuigan, the daughter of Irish immigrants who came to California from Pennsylvania.
Her biggest moment on the council was when Salgado Community Center opened in 1995.
The center, which includes a gym, meeting room and pool, was named after a parks commissioner she had named to the post.
“I had been pushing for the money for years. When it was dedicated, it was a big day for me,” she said.
She also helped develop the Asian-Pacific Advisory Council to help Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees learn how to get help from City Hall and become active in city government.
“She has continuously been of great support to the Asian community,” said Rifka Hirsch, executive director of Cambodian Family. “It’s unusual. She took a lot of time and made a long-term commitment to the Asian community.”
McGuigan also takes pride in her role in converting boarded-up buildings downtown into a thriving commercial district that includes the Artists Village.
No one expects the 68-year-old widow to go home and watch soap operas. A mother of four and grandmother of seven, she will probably keep busy and seek opportunities to promote personal causes.
Unlike in previous Decembers, she’ll be absent from the National League of Cities meeting this year.
Instead, she’ll put up the Nativity scene that never seemed to get out of the box. And maybe she’ll even send Christmas cards.
But come 2003, she expects to be serving the public in some way. “I do not think we have heard the last of Pat McGuigan,” said Asian activist Roy Uno. “She will not rest.”
McGuigan agrees: “I don’t want to waste my experience. I am going to find a way to use it so that it continues to help the community.”