MONTEBELLO — One candidate for City Council was out on the streets every day this fall, but he wasn't looking for votes.
Albert Phillips lived there.
During the campaign, candidate Phillips said he usually slept on flattened cardboard boxes behind the Burger King on Beverly Boulevard. He pushed his few belongings around town in a shopping cart. He drank from discarded soda bottles. And he found his dinners in trash cans, using a coat hanger to pluck out bags of stale rolls and doughnuts, he said.
While other candidates raised as much as $21,600 and spent as much as $15,000 during the campaign, according to incomplete campaign records, Phillips, 73, took in $0 and spent $0. He made no speeches and only one promise: If elected he would help the elderly.
"I was a little disturbed that society would just take a person and throw him to the wolves," he said. "Living on the street is like living in front of a plate-glass window. There's no place to hide."
Phillips finished sixth out of six candidates, but he got a surprising 441 votes in a close race that has been contested by two unsuccessful candidates, who have asked for a recount. The recount was not completed as of Thursday.
While some have complained about Phillips, saying his candidacy diverted votes from more qualified people on the ballot, some city officials have credited Phillips with fostering a new awareness about the plight of the homeless.
"I was unaware that there were people in our community that were of those circumstances," said Councilman William Molinari, who was not up for reelection this fall and paid $120 to put Phillips in a East Los Angeles motel for a week.
For the first time this year, the city and Kiwanis Club sponsored a free Thanksgiving dinner for the poor at the city's Senior Citizens Center. A similar Christmas dinner is planned, said Alex Esquizel, Montebello human services manager, who added that Phillips has heightened sensitivities to the homeless in the community. And Molinari last month asked city officials to review services for people such as Phillips, to see if the services can be improved.
The unsuccessful candidates who paid a total of $420 for a three-day recount were incumbent Phillip Ramos, president of Teledyne AWD in Whittier, who had 2,232 votes and lost by 19, and challenger Kathy Salazar, a registered nurse who had 2,201 votes and lost by 50. The three successful candidates were Arnold M. Glasman, Edward C. Pizzorno and incumbent William Nighswonger.
Dispute Over Residence
In an interview, Salazar claimed Phillips "cheated" voters by using a false address to get on the ballot. "Mr. Phillips may be poor and homeless, but many thousands of people are and they still live within the law," Salazar said.
On city election records, Phillips listed his residence as 1109 W. Beverly, the address of the Golden Manor Retirement Center. Phillips, however, is no longer a resident at the board and care facility, said Executive Director Barry Hoffman.
Phillips denied the perjury charge, saying he listed the address of the Golden Manor's carport where he lived for several months.
"I had a right to run because I'm a resident of Montebello. If I'm out on the street, that's where they put me. I came here in 1976 in I never left. . . . I say pinch me, and if I'm alive, I must be a resident."
City Attorney Henry S. Barbosa sided with Phillips, saying the authors of the Constitution settled the issue 200 years ago, deciding that owning property was not a requirement for voting in national elections.
Forced to Leave Facility
Phillips decided to run for office while spending several months on the streets after he was forced to leave Beverly Towers, a federal housing project for the elderly. Phillips said he had to leave Beverly Towers because his Social Security benefits were cut, and he could no longer afford to stay. But Beverly Towers administrator Robert Metz said Phillips was asked to leave because he "collected stuff out of trash cans and kept it in the room."
Phillips said he was also angered after Montebello police in June towed his gold 1965 Cadillac that he was living out of from the Golden Manor carport. The car was towed after Golden Manor officials complained about trash that Phillips stored in and around the car, which violated health and fire codes, Lt. Andre Ricaud said.
Phillips said that, had he been elected, he wanted to advocate programs to benefit the elderly because "there isn't one place in Montebello where a senior citizen can go." He also complained that he worked for 55 years and paid thousands of dollars into the Social Security system, but that now, when he needs the money, his benefits have been cut from $450 to $150 a month.
Social Security officials could not be reached for comment. Carol Matsui, a spokesman for the county welfare department, declined to discuss Phillips' case, citing state laws on confidentiality.
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