The closing remarks in the last debate before next Tuesday’s election, gave insight into what the local city council contest boils down to: two candidates—both guilty of accusing the other of legal and moral wrongs—trying to sell their vision to the diverse communities of CD-14 that runs from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock.
Before a crowd of about 100 people at the Boyle Heights Senior Center on Tuesday night, incumbent Jose Huizar, an experienced councilmember defending his record, tried to gather confidence in his abilities and plans for the future, while challenger, Rudy Martinez, a small business owner and the one-time star of a television show, made his case about his leadership potential and how his fresh perspective as one of 15 council members would benefit the area’s residents and businesses.
“One thing the council district needs is consistency,” Huizar began. “Pacheco served here for four years, and Villaraigosa served here for two years. I’ve been here five years and the way the city council works, you need have to have consistency in order to keep delivering for your district. We have a lot of plans in the pipeline, [but] if we get change right now, a lot of council members will swoop-in and take that money for projects, and the vision will change. We have a great vision here in Boyle Heights. We are improving the public infrastructure in the area, we are improving the parks, we are improving the schools, we are improving crime [rate], and now we need to do what is next, the next phase that makes a great Boyle Heights, and that is bring more retail to the area…”
Martinez said Huizar has not been doing enough for residents or businesses. He began his closing statement by saying he would never let another council member take money away from the district, it’s not in his nature.
“If you are happy with the way your life is and the way your qualify of life is, and the trees that aren’t being trimmed and the streets that aren’t being cleaned and so forth… then you know which way to go,” Martinez said. “But I can tell you one thing, from day one, I will talk to you and I will communicate with you and I will set goals and I will finish any unfinished projects… [But] I won’t be there taking pictures and saying ‘I did this’ and embarrass myself by saying I did it… We can change city hall, we can stop the corruption and can make sure there is more access to my office, you can hold me accountable…”
Martinez noted he is not as “polished” or as “well-versed” as Huizar. He doesn’t want to be, he said, emphasizing his energetic new ideas.
Some residents, however, expressed fear that Martinez could loose valuable time during his learning curve in office, and that his experience as a businessman and real estate “flipper” is out of touch with the needs or concerns of lower-income constituents.
Huizar’s critics say he needs to be more transparent and do more to stimulate the local economy.
Both have been accused at times of being arrogant.
Los Angeles is facing a $300 million budget deficit.
The upcoming term will undoubtedly include cuts to services and programs throughout the city, as well as continued hardship for residents and businesses.
Homeowner and Boyle Heights Neighbors Association member Juaquin Castellaños said the forum presented by the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce was a great debate and both candidates provided good answers.
“Huizar has the experience of having been in office for some time, and he has some record and knows the city,” Castellaños told EGP. “…Huizar mentioned that Boyle Heights has received the most funding for developments, and I agree, but the community has not seen change. Most of the projects he is taking credit for are projects that are funding from bonds or propositions we voters and property owners approved and we will be paying for years.”
Castellaños likes that Martinez has outreached to homeowners whose property values have dropped in recent years at the same time street vendors have proliferated.
“Mr. Martinez for me was on point, create jobs in the community and help local business to develop commercial corridors,” he said, later adding, “I believe if Martinez wins the election, many changes will happen. If Mr. Huizar is re-elected, he must unite all the community and be more open to constituents.”
Castellaños wasn’t the only Martinez supporter in the crowd. Terry Marquez, told EGP, “You’ve been here, you know he [Huizar] is lying.” She said Huizar has promised to do things, but asked what has he done in five year? Issue more liquor licenses, was her answer.
However, others are quick to point out what Huizar has delivered to Boyle Heights: two new schools, the completion of Valley Boulevard Bridge which was in limbo for 30 years, a new police station, renovated library, a top of the line synthetic soccer field to Pecan Park, improvements to Hollenbeck Park and the reinforcement of the historic bridge that runs over the park, and a new skate plaza, said Margarita Amador.
Amador says Martinez lacks experience in the public sector and education. He is not a college graduate while Huizar has three degrees.
“…And his [Martinez’s] integrity is seriously in question, especially in light of the story regarding his possession of a slain officers badge. That to me is a very big deal, not to mention his arrest record,” said Amador. She is a member of the Hollenbeck Community Police Advisory Board.
Leonardo Lopez of the Comité de la Esperanza at Wyvernwood Apartments thought Martinez’s remarks about street vendors was inhumane and feared that if elected he would side with Wyvernwood’s owners’ plans to demolish what he called “our village in the big city” in favor of luxury high-rises.
“The organizations we’re in contact with tell us that he [Martinez] is in favor of the wealthy,” Lopez said.
Both candidates have said they are not against the gentrification that mixed-incomes could bring to the area, but would not like to see current residents priced out of housing.
However, Martinez does not think any more low-income housing should come to Boyle Heights.
Alicia Maldonado, president of the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce, told EGP the forum was the first in many years to be held in the east-area of the district and she was glad to see so many of the most active residents present. The Chamber does not endorse a candidate.
Maldonado says that Boyle Heights residents and merchants have mixed feelings about developments, like corporate chains. On the one hand, the community “deserves good stores,” yet there is concern about how it could affect small businesses.
Questions from the audience included reducing blight and improving quality of life, holding town hall meetings, Assembly President Jose Perez’s proposal to dis-incorporate Vernon; rate increases by the DWP, and redevelopment projects.