Election Marks New Era for Commerce

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

The swearing-in of two new council members marked a new era for the City of Commerce, but talk of “change” and “moving forward” was not enough to convince some residents that more harmonious political times are ahead.

Leonard Mendoza, John Soria and incumbent Ivan Altamirano took the oath of office Tuesday during a crowded city council meeting. The three received the top votes in the June 6 election, each securing a four-year term while ousting longtime Councilwomen Lilia R. Leon and Tina Baca Del Rio.

“It’s time for unity, it’s time for change,” said Altamirano upon being sworn-in. “My promise is to really listen.”

For years, the Commerce City Council has been divided with at least one member behind the dais on the outs. Recently, that lone wolf has been Councilmember Hugo Argumedo, who was the target of a failed campaign started by Soria to remove him from office.

On Tuesday, the newly formed council appeared to pledge to make past political infighting a thing of the past now that Commerce residents have voted for change.

Ivan Altamirano, John Soria and Leonard Mendoza take the oath of office during Tuesday’s Commerce council meeting.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Ivan Altamirano, John Soria and Leonard Mendoza take the oath of office during Tuesday’s Commerce council meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“It was important to give residents a choice,” said Mendoza, referring to the 10 candidates on the ballot. “You wanted to give other people a chance,” he told the crowd.

The nomination of Oralia Rebollo as mayor and Altamirano as mayor pro tem, however, left some in the audience feeling the council is likely to remain divided.

Sandra Cornejo, a longtime resident and wife of a former Commerce councilman, told EGP that by ignoring rotating traditions and skipping over Argumedo who was next inline for one of the council’s top two positions, the new council showed they are still divided 4-1.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t give [mayor] to Hugo [Argumedo],” Cornejo said. “That’s not right, it’s going to cause problems.”

Carmen Marquez has lived in the city for decades and says she has “seen it all” over the years, including councils that didn’t always get a long, but now hopes things will be different moving forward.

“I would like to see things stay positive,” she told EGP Tuesday. “Focus on good decision making,” she advised the council.

During the city’s final vote tally last week, longtime resident Javier Hernandez congratulated Soria on his win, then asked him to not “forget to work together” with his new colleagues.

Hernandez, one of a dozen or so residents in attendance, told EGP he was content with the results.

“At least we got two out,” he said, referring to Baca Del Rio and Leon. “They ran the city down the wrong road.”

Altamirano doesn’t buy that characterization and told EGP residents didn’t give the incumbents a fair shake, arguing that many projects now in the works took years to execute.

In the end, residents were “not seeing results and it was too little too late,” Altamirano said.

For years, Baca Del Rio, who was first elected in 2005, was nicknamed “Teflon Tina,” a reputation forged from winning reelection after being recalled and surviving another recall attempt despite controversy over her Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) filings.

Leon was first elected to the council in 1998 but did not seek reelection after her first term. Years later she again ran for office, winning reelected in 2008 and 2013. She too defeated a recall attempt in 2009. She is credited for founding the city’s annual college fair.

Outgoing councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio, pictured third from left, was recognized by the new Commerce city council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Outgoing councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio, pictured third from left, was recognized by the new Commerce city council. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

On Tuesday, both women were recognized for their years of service to the city. Councilmembers and local dignitaries called the two “mentors” and credited them for their successful efforts spurring economic development in the city and for major street improvements.

Leon, 68, said she was going to enjoy retirement but continue to stay involved in the community.

“You need to be involved, not just during election time,” she advised residents.

Argumedo chose to recall a more positive time in his often-bumpy relationship with Baca Del Rio, telling the story of why he first appointed her as one of his commissioners.

“As you can tell we have a long history,” he jokingly said. But “I saw something in you.”

A tearful Baca Del Rio thanked Argumedo for the appointment that catapulted her political career.

“I wouldn’t be here now because I didn’t see that in myself [back then],” she told Argumedo.

Baca Del Rio told EGP she was not surprised by her loss, admitting she hadn’t really campaigned, instead deciding to leave the outcome up to fate. She says she’s ready to dedicate more time to her family.

“You don’t have to like what’s going on here,” she told residents, referring to the election results. “All I can say is give them a chance.”

With over 1,700 ballots submitted, City Clerk Lena Shumway said the election saw a 97 percent increase in participation.

“There were more absentee ballots than votes at the polls,” she added.

The final count was: Mendoza, 522; Soria, 508; Altamirano, 475; Tina Baca Del Rio, 450; Jaime Valencia, 440; Denise Robles, 423; Johncito “John” Peraza, 406; Lilia R. Leon, 390; Sylvia Muñoz, 345; and Charlie Calderon, 208.

The newest council members thanked residents for their support and vowed to keep the city moving forward.

“Come tomorrow my sleeves will be rolled up and ready to work,” Soria said. “I didn’t make campaign promises, only long term promises.”

“I made a lot of commitments, these commitments are going to keep me busy the next four years,” echoed Mendoza.

Altamirano told EGP he was relieved, humbled and grateful for his victory. He received just 25 more votes than the next candidate, Baca del Rio.

“I’m sad to see them go but I’m looking forward to creating new beginnings with a council that is full of vision.”

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June 22, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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