HAWAIIAN GARDENS — When voters here go to the polls April 8, the ballots they cast will do more than determine who will lead their city through the end of the decade.
The contest, pitting a pair of longtime incumbents against their two archrivals, could also be the deciding battle in a bitter political feud that has raged for more than two years.
On one side are veteran Councilmen Jack W. Myers, 53, and Lupe A. Cabrera, 52, two closely aligned politicians who boast that they have spurred quality growth in the mile-square city and that they deserve reelection to fourth terms in office.
Former Councilman Donald E. Schultze, 52, and community activist Kathleen M. Navejas, 31, have teamed up to challenge the incumbents in what both sides say will be a low-cost contest. They charge that Myers and Cabrera have ignored the community's law enforcement needs and barred most residents from the political process that is shaping the city's future.
Fervent War of Words
Underscoring those issues, however, is a rancorous, long-running battle of wits between the incumbents and their challengers. Politics can get personal in any town, but in Hawaiian Gardens the war of words between the two camps has reached a fervent level.
Navejas, Schultze and their political allies repeatedly have sparred with Myers and Cabrera during council meetings in recent years, arguing over a wide array of issues.
Sometimes, however, the arguing has transcended words.
Take, for instance, an incident that occurred in November. Following a council meeting, four of the council's five members--including Myers and Cabrera--had gathered at a local restaurant with family members and several city employees to celebrate Cabrera's birthday.
When Navejas spotted the group, she pulled out a camera and began shooting pictures. Navejas said that she hoped to use the photographs as proof that the council was violating a state law that requires the public be notified whenever a quorum meets to make decisions.
Camera Slapped Away
As Navejas tells it, Ruby Myers, wife of Councilman Myers, got up from her seat and slapped the camera away. Navejas says she was bruised on the cheek by the blow. She filed a criminal complaint accusing Ruby Myers of assault and battery, but the district attorney's office found insufficient evidence and refused to file charges.
That was only the latest scrape in a political feud dating back to at least 1983. It was during that year that Schultze--still a council member at the time--broke with Myers and Cabrera over their support for legalized gambling in the city.
More fuel was added during the 1984 election, when Schultze and Navejas both ran and lost to current council members Rosalie M. Sher and Richard O. Vineyard, candidates supported by Myers and Cabrera.
Since then, Schultze and Navejas have continually blasted the council for its support of Cooper Fellowship, an alcohol rehabilitation center that runs a multimillion-dollar bingo parlor that has been the subject of both a district attorney's investigation and a state attorney general's audit.
Those probes led to the filing of misdemeanor charges in Bellflower Municipal Court against Jack A. Blackburn, executive director of Cooper Fellowship, and two Cooper Fellowship employees. The charges alleged that Blackburn and the two other men illegally profited from the games.
Support Bingo Operation
Myers and Cabrera, meanwhile, say that they support the bingo operation mostly because of the more than $200,000 in revenues it pumps each year into city coffers. In addition, the councilmen maintain that they have no grounds for taking action against Cooper Fellowship unless Blackburn and the others are found guilty. No date has been set for the trial.
The incumbents prefer to avoid talk of bingo and point instead to their efforts to revitalize the city through redevelopment. In recent years, the council has authorized several projects to widen the city's narrow boulevards and improve street lighting. A five-year plan has been drawn up calling for a new library, fire station and community building.
Last Tuesday, the council approved an agreement setting the stage for the city's biggest redevelopment project yet, a 10-acre shopping complex at Carson Street and Norwalk Boulevard that will include an Albertson's supermarket and a dozen or more commercial shops.
"Everyone in the community is so satisfied with what we've been doing. Our problem is going to be getting people to turn out to the polls," Myers said.
Lives Off Investments
Myers, a resident of the area since his family moved from Oklahoma in 1934, is a Navy veteran and former owner of a ceramic mold business. Since selling the company last year, Myers has lived off his investments in property and stocks, which he estimates bring in about $60,000 a year.