Mayor Helen Tran poses for a portrait in her office in San Bernardino.
Mayor Helen Tran poses for a portrait in her office in San Bernardino. Credit: Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom / CatchLight Local

An earlier version of this article noted an incorrect date for the public swearing in ceremony of Mayor Helen Tran as January 21, 2023. The article has been updated to reflect the correct date of January 25, 2023, and to include the date of her official swearing in ceremony that occurred December 21, 2022.

Prince James Story & Aryana Noroozi| 

Work, Work, Work!

San Bernardino’s new mayor, Helen Tran, boasts a collaborative, problem-solving mindset. Tran is the third female mayor in San Bernardino’s history and the first Asian American to become mayor of the city. She was officially sworn as mayor on December 21, 2022 and publicly sworn in by  California Attorney Genera Rob Bonta on January 25, 2023.

Tran said she found her path to politics well into her professional career. She started working at City Hall more than 20 years ago and did not have any ambition to run for office at that time. Growing up, Tran always wanted to be a teacher. 

Mayor Helen Tran poses for a portrait in her office in San Bernardino on February 7, 2023. Tran is the first woman of Vietnamese descent to become mayor in the nation, and the first Asian American mayor in San Bernardino’s history. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local).

“I came back home in 2005 – 2006, and I was looking for a job and couldn’t find one,” Tran said.  “So I went to Apple One [a local temp agency], and they assigned me as a temporary secretary to the director for human resources. That job began my career in City Hall.”

Tran hails from a family who has worked within government agencies and as public servants in Vietnam, so her mother was ecstatic about her new position. Eventually, Tran herself fell in love with her work at City Hall because she enjoys working with others and helping people. 

Tran climbed the ranks from secretary to director of Human Resources for the City of San Bernardino in 10 years.

The political table

Tran said having a seat at the table with her new position as Human Resources Director allowed her to witness firsthand the decision-making of city council members and what it takes to serve a community at the government level.

The mayor shared how she was sensitive to the political chaos she observed in the city and the setbacks it created for the community,  “That’s what slowly made me think maybe I can lead. Maybe one day, I could be in that capacity to help the city,” she said.

In 2019, Tran left her position in San Bernardino and took a job in West Covina where she remained for three years. It was there that she launched her campaign for mayor of San Bernardino. 

Mayor Helen Tran poses for a portrait, gazing out the window of her office in San Bernardino on February 7, 2023. Tran has been nicknamed “the million miles-per-hour” mayor by her colleagues at City Hall. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)

Tran advised she left San Bernardino for West Covina in pursuit of opportunities to demonstrate her leadership acumen. 

Now, as the city’s new mayor, she is poised  to create positive change as she leads the city through the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, while also being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. 

Tran also talked about how she is having fun in her new position, and she’s already earned the nickname “​​million miles per hour” mayor at City Hall because she is always on the move. 

It’s a balancing act

As a mother, Tran has learned to balance her children’s and the city’s needs. 

“I almost feel like they want to get a reaction of, ‘Oh, it’s so much, it’s too hard.’ I already knew what I was walking into. I knew I was walking into a mess,” Tran explained. “We have a lot of work that needs to be done, but we have to have the right folks in the right roles.”

Tran said that her experiences from her personal life have allowed her to lead with a mindset of teamwork, sharing the workload, and support displayed in her personal life. That’s how she runs the city, she says. 

Her future plans for the city include addressing the housing crisis, finding a solution for the unhoused population, and adding more sustainable, renewable energy resources for the people of San Bernardino. 

One innovative alternative energy solution that Tran seeks to bring to the city is atmospheric water so San Bernardino can generate its own energy.  “We’ve been approached by some amazing innovative folks who have the capacity to make that happen in our city,” Tran noted. 

To accomplish this vision,  she says it is critical to change the perspective of how people perceive San Bernardino. 

People are watching from the federal to the state level to see how this new administration will do, she noted. 

“My approach is to ensure that we constantly put our city in a positive light. We, as leaders, need to come across in a positive light,” Tran stressed. “We are constantly working hard to bring [people] in and be inviting.” 

Mayor Tran called the cultural diversity of San Bernardino “the strength of the city.” This should be a positive aspect for developers, businesses, and families wanting to move to the city. 

A major part of the mayor’s job, she says, is to be the biggest cheerleader for the City of San Bernardino. 

Report for America Corps member and Black Voice News Climate and Environmental Justice reporter, Prince James Story was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an intersectional journalist with experience covering news and sports across numerous mediums. Story aims to inform the public of social inequities and discriminatory practices while amplifying the voices of those in the communities harmed. Story earned his master’s degree in Sports Journalism from Arizona State University-Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He earned a B.A. in Mass Communication and a B.A. in African American studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact Prince James with tips, comments, or concerns at or via Twitter @PrinceJStory.

Black Voice News photojournalist Aryana Noroozi was born in San Diego, California and graduated with a master’s degree from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her love for visual storytelling led her to document immigrant and deportee communities and those struggling with addiction. She was a 2020 Pulitzer Center Crisis Reporting Fellow and a GroundTruth Project Migration Fellow. She is currently a CatchLight/Report for America corps member employed by Black Voice News. You can learn more about her at You can email her at