FMC's New Music Man

FMC's New Music Man

Federal Maritime Commissioner Mario Cordero has a solution for the discordant state of Washington politics: music.

“If we gather our political leaders in a room, and let them listen to music for a while, be it classical, jazz or blues, have a cup of coffee, then after an hour, sit down and talk business,” Cordero said, “I think we could have a lot more solutions, and amicable consensus on a lot of issues. Music tends to do that to people.”

Cordero was a member of the Port of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners before being sworn in June 3 as a member of the Federal Maritime Commission. Cordero had 20 years’ experience as an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law. That’s his job. Music is his passion. He was 8 years old when he began 10 years of piano studies. He still plays jazz piano for relaxation. If there were a way to move a piano into his FMC office, he’d probably do it.

When FMC Chairman Richard A. Lidinsky introduced Cordero, he said Cordero would bring a “West Coast perspective” to the commission. The other five members of the commission hale from the East. Having commissioners from different parts of the country adds value to FMC deliberations, Cordero says. More than geography, his hands-on knowledge of environmental issues will greatly benefit the shipping community.

Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill appointed Cordero to the harbor commission in 2003, at a time when the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles were facing growing discontent from citizens and government officials for their unwanted contributions to air pollution and highway congestion.

The average age of a tractor in drayage service at the ports was 17 years. The ports’ solution: reduce pollution by assisting drivers and companies to replace their fleets with modern, clean-burning trucks. Cordero was one of the architects of what became Long Beach’s Green Port Policy, which includes the clean-trucks program.

When the Southern California ports found the harm they were causing to the environment, “We just moved forward,” Cordero said. “There was no reason for us to have that old of a truck on our freeways. Most people thought we were crazy. Did the Port of Long Beach have regulatory authority to change the world like that? Absolutely not. Did we have the wherewithal to immediately implement change? Absolutely not.

“However, did we have the resources and the ability to dialogue as part of a stakeholder in this industry? Absolutely yes,” Cordero said. “What we were able to do makes a good story.”

And size matters: Cordero said the San Pedro Bay ports of Southern California comprise the largest port complex in the nation. When they speak, others listen. “We have now seen that ports around the country have moved forward with some kind of truck-replacement plan. What I predicted back in 2004, it would be a domino effect.”

The idea of an environmentally sustainable port resonated with the public back home. “Many residents of Long Beach didn’t know the importance of the port,” Cordero said. The air pollution issue got their attention, but the crisis also opened the door to greater public awareness.

“One of the aspects was community engagement. It was important for us to educate the citizens of Long Beach about what this port does for them,” Cordero said. “The port authority shouldn’t just be a benefit for the few, but a benefit for the many. There had to be some residual benefit to the average citizens of Long Beach. It could not just be about pollution and trucks and congestion.”

There’s no surprise that the port’s community involvement includes sponsorship for arts and music programs. Ask Long Beach residents today about the port, Cordero said, and there are likely to be more positive responses than there were eight years ago.

Ports are fundamentally competitive businesses, he said. In recent weeks, the West Coast ports have openly expressed their concern to Congress about competition from Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Some members want the FMC to study the market effects of the Canadian port.

The concern is a legitimate one, Cordero said, but it’s important to recognize that in a global economy, competition comes from all quarters. The FMC has its traditional mission of protecting the public from unfair shipping practices, but in the future it should recognize its role in the international intermodal marketplace.

“I believe at the very least the FMC is a stakeholder on these issues. We have the authority to bring people together to have a dialogue,” Cordero said. “Ultimately, Congress will decide what the role of the FMC should be. Whether it’s the environment, or the agreements between port authorities and terminal operators, the FMC very much has a role.

“History has shown that America always rises to the occasion,” Cordero said. “That phrase is subject to close scrutiny in today’s politics, but if we all work together, we will make progress.”

-- Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com.