Bell Gardens residents will have a special opportunity to meet the newest member of the city council next Monday when Maria Pulido is sworn in during the council’s annual reorganization ceremony when council titles and assignments for the year ahead are made.
Pulido was appointed Nov. 23 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of mayor Daniel Crespo, fatally shot Sept. 30 by his wife during a domestic dispute at their Bell Gardens home.
At just 24 years of age, she is the youngest woman to ever serve on the council. EGP spoke with Pulido this week to get her view on the job ahead.
For some, the death of the popular mayor has left a void on the council, but Pulido told EGP her job isn’t to do everything as Crespo would have, but to find her own voice when dealing with city issues.
“I doubt we have the same mentality and ideologies,” said Pulido about Crespo. “So, [while] there is pressure, I can’t change the way I think just to accommodate those expectations,” she told EGP. “Otherwise, I’m not going to be serving the rest of the residents.”
Pulido has only attended two council meetings so far so it may still be too soon to tell, but the political novice says she doesn’t shy away from controversies and has no qualms about asking questions when something’s not clear.
“I’m comfortable with the idea that there are no dumb questions,” she said. In her view, asking questions publicly keeps residents from thinking the council votes blindly on whatever goes before them.
Being seen as independent is important to Pulido.
She says council decisions affect the city’s 52,000 residents, so she has to speak out if she disagrees with staff or her fellow council members. “I’m not going to vote one way just because I don’t want to disagree with four other people,” she emphasizes.
Pulido says she’s been spending time reviewing past staff reports with City Manager Phil Wagner to help her get up to speed on the city’s finances and her role on the council.
Wagner describes Pulido as “eager to learn ” and having “compassion for the city.”
The longtime city administrator, who over the years has witnessed many of the city’s fiercest political rivalries, told EGP, “It does not seem she has political ties to anyone, which in my opinion is rare.”
Those political rivalries have at times erupted during city council meetings, with residents accusing council members of corruption and heated debates and finger pointing between council members, especially if it’s election season. Those outbreaks are less common these days, but Pulido tells EGP she is prepared to not take the attacks personally if it happens again. She wants to be seen as transparent and reliable and says she will refrain from making promises she can’t keep just to make someone feel good.
In a city where it is not unusual for council decisions to be met with suspicion, Pulido’s appointment has drawn little reaction from the city’s usual vocal galley of critics, especially surprising since Pulido works at the Briarcrest Nursing Center in Bell Gardens, the same facility where Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez is employed.
“I don’t think I was brought in…I worked for that recognition,” says Pulido about her appointment. “I made the extra effort to advocate for myself before the council made their decision.”
Wagner tells EGP those who tend to be vocal may simply have no reason to complain.
“Maybe people are pleased with her appointment, and have no issue,” he said.
Pulido has already met with the Neighborhood Watch, Bell Gardens High School students, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and residents at local events, such as “posadas” and other Christmas programs, and will soon go on a ride-a-long with police to learn more about crime in the city. She says she also hopes to meet with Montebello Unified School District officials, since Bell Gardens youth attend MUSD schools.
At last week’s meeting, the new councilwoman was attentive, taking notes on comments made by staff and concerns raised by residents.
“A lot of people expect me to be nervous,” but the city’s “staff has really made me feel comfortable and prepared,” she points out.
Pulido is working on her Masters Degree in social work at Cal State Long Beach, something she says goes hand in hand with government.
“Social workers and public officials are both agents of resources,” she said. “We both connect and obtain information for residents.”
She says her priorities are public safety and ensuring the city balances its budget, which according to Wagner will mean continuing to address the ongoing fallout from the dissolution of the city’s redevelopment agency, unsustainable water rates and the economy in general.
Pulido says neither her young age nor status as a full time student will prevent her from doing her job on the council, and might actually come in handy.
“Since I am younger, I can bring in that population that identifies with me, that would otherwise not be comfortable speaking up,” Pulido said. “If anything, it’s an asset.”