Door-to-door campaigning, phone banks and campaign mailers may have ended in the City of Bell Gardens since the election results came in earlier this month, but that doesn’t mean all the candidates are done talking.
Things got rowdy Monday during the first council meeting since the Nov. 5 election and since an alleged threat against council members prompted the last scheduled meeting to be canceled. A former candidate took advantage of the public comment period to hurl accusations of voter intimidation and corruption by the winners in the city council contest. Jazmina Saavedra, who lost the election, and her mother Lissette Saveedra, accused two of the winners of not even living in the city.
Though the county has not yet officially certified the results, Mayor Daniel Crespo and Mayor Pro Tem Priscilla Flores were each reelected to another term. Jose Mendoza, a teacher and former planning commissioner who ran on the Crespo and Flores slate, ousted Councilman Sergio Infanzon.
“What a great fraud, what a dirty campaign,” said Lissette, speaking in Spanish. “You bought the vote-by mail votes with food … you took advantage of the poor people’s hunger,” she said angrily.
Speaking only in Spanish, Jazmina — who placed fifth in the race where the three candidates who earned the most votes were elected — said the entire campaign was filled with controversy, and charged Crespo, Flores and Medina with illegally using the city seal on campaign flyers that were circulated to residents, among other accusations.
“The election was a fraud, I have people that can say they were pressured to vote by you [the council],” she said. “That is illegal.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez, who was not up for reelection, told EGP that she was not aware of any such flyer, adding ironically that she’d been told it was Jazmina’s camp that had improperly used the city seal.
“Is she confusing the flyer with the seal with her own,” she said sarcastically.
EGP has received a copy of the alleged flyer, which looks more like a letter on city letterhead. In addition to the city seal, it also includes the address of Bell Gardens City Hall and the headline: “An important message to our community,” refers to the election, and appears to have been signed by Crespo, Flores and Mendoza.
As of press time, EGP was unable to verify the veracity of the flyer or its source. Nor were we able to confirm that the district attorney is investigating the matter as Jazmina said.
“Its unfortunate that some can’t move on after they had an opportunity to gain support from the constituents,” responded Councilman Pedro Aceituno, who was also accused of being corrupt.
“You didn’t win, well look in the mirror, don’t blame no one but yourself.”
Jazmina said the city needs to pass terms limits. Aceituno countered that the city already has a form of term limits, every four years voters can reelect or remove a councilmember from office. But Jazmina told EGP following the meeting that what she was referring to is the need for a maximum number of terms a person can hold office.
“How is it that our country’s president has a two-term term limit and these people [council] don’t?”
At one point on Monday, the meeting escalated into a shouting match between Rodriguez and Jazmina, who had rattled off a slew of attacks against Mendoza and used a vulgar term when accusing Rodriguez of spreading lies about her.
“You are out of line,” a clearly furious Rodriguez shouted as a police officer attempted to usher Saavedra back to her seat as she tried to talk over the councilmembers.
“This is the kind of person that wanted to represent Bell Gardens,” Rodriguez continued. “It is a blessing that you [Saavedra] are sitting there and not over here.”
The audience, larger than usual, clapped and cheered when they heard something they liked from either side.
Later in the meeting during council orals, Rodriguez apologized for her outburst and said that if true, all of Jazmina’s allegations would be serious, but added they are unfounded.
“She [Jazmina] claims Priscilla [Flores] doesn’t live here, prove it, that we have robbed the city, prove it,” Rodriguez said in Spanish.
On Tuesday, Jazmina told EGP she regrets using a curse word at the meeting, but alleges Rodriguez was the first to use the derogatory term to describe a woman. She has no regrets about her comments, which she claims are “all true.”
“I get too excited” but I just want the residents to be informed, she said.
Jazmina and her mother Lissette were not the only people taking a swing at councilmembers, resident Martha Carrasco asked Infanzon to explain a campaign flyer that she says claims he is the only councilmember who would reduce water rates in the city,
Infanzon, claiming he never sent out such letter, told the woman to show them the mailer allegedly from his campaign.
“You should bring it in or take it to the newspaper so that you can be sure that I wrote it because I never sent out anything promising to reduce water rates,” Infanzon said also speaking in Spanish.
Rodriguez said she was upset that “people like [Jazmina]” can run for the council.
“They make these accusations and misinform the community causing them to distrust the council,” Rodriguez told EGP.
She believes residents see the council’s hard work and the progress in the city, “that is something they can never cover up,” she said.
But for Jazmina, the fight is not yet over, She told EGP she will continue to press the district attorney to look into her allegations, and promised more revelations at the next council meeting.