Vernon Councilwoman Running Quietly Unopposed
Vote by mail election to be held April 8.
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
It was only 18 months ago that Vernon Councilwoman Luz Martinez was elected in an extremely tight race that involved a ballot recount in a city that some critics claim has no true electorate, making it rife for corruption.
This time around, however, the election has drawn little attention or excitement and Martinez is running unopposed. It is the second year in a row that there has been only one candidate on the ballot.
Over 50,000 people work at more than 1,500 Vernon businesses everyday, but there are only about 100 actual residents. There are even fewer registered voters.
“It’s interesting that nobody else ran for office,” said former State Attorney General John Van De Kamp, who also serves as Vernon’s independent reform monitor and oversees the city’s efforts to be more transparent and reform how it operates in the wake of a scandal that almost led to disincorporation.
Martinez too was surprised nobody decided to run against her, but told EGP she takes it as an honor that she is not being challenged.
“If voters felt I didn’t perform well, I’m certain I would not be running unopposed,” she said.
Van De Kamp agrees. He told EGP that even though Martinez rarely speaks at council meetings, “To her credit, they [residents] like her,” he said.
Martinez told EGP she knows she doesn’t talk a lot at council meetings but says her years as secretary to Vernon’s fire chief has led her to believe the city’s current staff is doing a good job.
“I understand the city, how it used to work, so I see how much better it is now,” she said, explaining why she doesn’t feel the need to ask many questions in public.
Van de Kamp did note that the councilwoman is always attentive to the issues before the council. He said like her fellow council members, she is learning to be more outspoken and is interjecting more often. “It’s [also] a problem with a lot of the other council members,” Van De Kamp said.
Martinez took office in October 2012 after a special election in June of that year led to months of uncertainty over the outcome of race. Eventually a judge ruled that seven ballots were cast illegally, giving the election to Martinez. She filled a seat left vacant by the retirement of then mayor Hilario Gonzalez.
Soon after taking office she became the first councilmember to voluntarily follow Van De Kamp’s advise to cut councilmember salaries.
Martinez told EGP she wants to make sure the city continues to make progress on the reforms it has been tackling for years. “It’s an everyday chore,” she said.
It’s not uncommon for politicians running unopposed to be low-key about the election and it appears the every-shy Martinez’s quietness has spilled over into her campaign, or more accurately, lack of one. She said she has reached out to some of the residents she has known for years, but in these days of record spending elections, there are no mass mailers or phone banks happening in Vernon.
That could change in future elections when completion of the Meta Housing project is expected to double the size of the city’s electorate. The project breaks ground later this month, and Martinez said she will focus on engaging new residents, just as she has done with the businesses community.
Van de Kamp also sees the housing project as an opportunity to get residents involved, to attend meetings and create a “presence.”
“It will be interesting to see [the involvement] two years from now when the population has doubled,” he said. “Those people need to be a part of the city.”
Van De Kamp told EGP he has encouraged the city’s administration and council to start thinking about the idea of successors and preparing others to be in a position where they can run for office in the future.
“Put residents on commissions or advising committees,” he suggests. “Those are good places to learn about how the city functions.”
The Vernon election will take place Tuesday, April 8. Voters can turn in their vote by mail ballot in person to City Hall, located at 4305 Santa Fe Ave. City Hall is open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the day of the election.
April 3, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.