COMMERCE — Since three city councilmen were variously swept out of office for illegally owning shares in a card club in 1984, several things around City Hall have undergone drastic change--including the political fortunes of three of their longtime followers.
City Clerk Ruth R. Aldaco, a 24-year employee once allied with disgraced Mayor Robert Eula, decided to resign when the new council majority wanted her transferred to the secretarial staff of the public library.
And, in keeping with a city ordinance, Ruben C. Batres and Mary R. Guerrero were required to step down after several years on the Planning Commission because they had been appointed by the ousted officeholders.
Now, Aldaco, Batres and Guerrero believe their fortunes are about to be reversed. They have become candidates challenging the April 8 reelection of two members of the new five-member City Council--incumbents G. R. Lawrence Maese and James B. Dimas Sr., who is also mayor.
In a series of candidate interviews, the challengers said they want to restore order to a city government that was torn apart by the card club scandal and has been disorganized ever since. They claimed that new jobs and promotions have been doled out to a few city workers on the basis of favoritism, not ability. And they argued that Maese was unfairly appointed to succeed one of the ex-councilmen instead of being required to face voters in a special election.
'The Old Guard'
Dimas countered that the three challengers are merely a vestige of "the old guard" once led by the ousted councilmen.
"If a candidate really wanted to get involved in a campaign because they have new ideas, that would be fine," said Dimas, who was appointed by his council colleagues to a one-year mayoral term last April. "But . . . they haven't really come out and said what they can offer the city." Instead, the mayor charged, "they're trying to find any fault they can find with the present administration."
So, in this tiny industrial city of roughly 3,900 mostly Latino voters, the race for the council posts--each paying $412 a month--has so far focused not on issues of municipal government but on the motives and qualifications of the candidates themselves.
Of Aldaco, Dimas said, "She's just running out of spite" because of the council's move to replace her as city clerk.
While the 57-year-old Aldaco refers to her city departure as a "forced resignation," she said she seeks office only because "I think I can do a damn good job, and I'm qualified." She also noted that no woman has served on the council since the early 1960s. "I think it's about time. . . . "
According to a biographical statement filed with the city, Aldaco has lived in Commerce for 32 years and been active in the Rosewood Park Elementary School PTA, two senior citizen organizations as well as the Women's Club of Commerce. She has received training as a certified municipal clerk, but is now retired.
Aldaco said she is mostly troubled by the way the council, led by Dimas, has "stacked" its membership by appointment. "I'm in favor of getting elections back to the voters," she said.
After former councilmen Eula and Ricardo Vasquez resigned and pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in late 1984, the council appointed Arturo Marquez and Maese to serve the unexpired terms. (Councilman Arthur Loya also pleaded guilty and lost a reelection bid in April, 1984.) At the time they made their appointments, council members defended their action by arguing that a special election would be too costly, especially considering that Maese's term would expire this spring.
"I'm not saying they're not qualified people," added Batres, who has teamed with Aldaco to run as part of the same political slate, although voters can still cast ballots for one but not the other. But Batres said that, while the appointment of Maese may be "understandable," the decision that gave Marquez his nearly three-year term should have been submitted to voters. (Mayor Dimas pointed out that Batres was also a contender for the seat. "If Ruben had been selected, he would have taken the appointment," Dimas speculated.)
At 53, Batres is making his third run for the council, having lost four years ago by a margin of less than 60 votes. He has lived in Commerce nearly 30 years, attended Rio Hondo College and has been active in the Commerce Evening Lions Club and the Bandini Elementary School PTA. He works as a supervisor in a furniture factory.
Would Have Opposed Position
When asked to identify all the recent council decisions to which he has objected, Batres replied: "I don't really follow every issue. I try to attend as many council meetings as I can."
Batres said he would have voted against the council's move to give recently retired Public Works Director Manny Jimenez a special two-year part-time job for which he is paid $35,000 annually. (The council allowed Jimenez to work for the city only 90 days a year so he can still draw his maximum retirement pay.)