The issues may be hazy, but it is clear that voters in Downey's 2nd District will have a choice of two distinct styles in the candidates running in the June 3 election for a seat on the City Council.
Incumbent Robert Davila, 58, portrays himself as a folksy, down-home candidate. He is eager to show off photographs of his family and discuss why he thinks Little League baseball is an important issue in Downey.
"I think the people appreciate that they have someone there who is representing them and not some special-interest group that has no consideration for the individual voters in the district," said Davila, whose district is in the southwest section of the city. "I talk to the people, I go door-to-door through my district. That is what won the election for me last time and that is what will win it for me this time."
Challenger Roy Paul, 36, has the crisp demeanor of an attorney, which he is. He notes that he was a councilman in Bell Gardens for four years and says his legal skills could help a town that has run up thousands of dollars in legal fees because of mistakes in redevelopment.
Davila, a retired juvenile court liaison with the Los Angeles Police Department, points out that he has lived in Downey for 21 years, while Paul has been in the city just two years. "Paul says he is going to bring something new into the community. . . . but I know this community," Davila said.
'Davila . . . Is a Victim'
Paul responds: "When I moved to Downey, I started attending City Council meetings, and it was clearly obvious to me that the district I was living in was not being represented. I felt it was not only my obligation, but absolutely necessary to get involved."
Indeed, Davila's tenure on the City Council has been stormy. Councilwoman Diane P. Boggs, who supports Paul, puts it this way: "Mr. Davila is not a hero, he is a victim. He cows to the dissidents in the city to the point where it has made him ineffective. . . . I just feel he is inept."
Although the council somewhat grudgingly went along with the traditional rotation and named Davila to the mostly ceremonial position of mayor last July, it then tried to oust him two weeks later.
The ouster attempt came when Councilman Randy Barb charged that Davila violated the city Charter by asking a city employee to translate a letter written in Spanish after City Manager Don Davis said the staff would not take the time to translate the letter. Davila allegedly asked the employee later to translate the letter and not tell any other officials about it.
"Oh, yeah, that silly thing," Davila said with a laugh as he recalled the incident. "I don't think I have ever had any of the council's support before, but that doesn't bother me now."
Councilman Robert G. Cormack said he also supports Paul. "Roy Paul is definitely far better equipped, and I think he would work to make a more harmonious council," Cormack said. "But I think Bob Davila is a sincere person who does what he thinks is best for the City of Downey."
Beyond Paul's short residency in the city and Davila's problems with the council, redevelopment might be the single biggest issue in the campaign. Paul is an advocate of redevelopment as a way to energize the city's economy; Davila says he supports redevelopment, but he has opposed use of the city's eminent domain powers to gain property for redevelopment.
"Downey is at the crossroads where it has got to continue to rebuild and revitalize or else the community will deteriorate," Paul said in an interview. "My experience as a lawyer has taught me how to settle and deal with disputes. Growth without grief and with a clear line of communication. That is how you avoid lawsuits."
Paul was referring to the suit brought against the city last year by Downey Citizens Against Redevelopment Excesses, called Downey CARES. The city spent more than $150,000 in the losing court fight and had to back away, at least temporarily, from a 380-acre redevelopment plan. The core of Downey CARES' argument was the city's refusal to promise not to use its powers of eminent domain, which allow a government to acquire property as long as the owner is paid fair market value.
Paul, who specializes in divorce cases, said redevelopment is an economic necessity for Firestone Boulevard, which city officials have described as a blighted commercial strip.
Favors Auto Mall
"City government has got to be responsive to the community and to the businessman's needs," Paul said. "I think I understand the businessman's needs and I think it is important to attract and keep the large sales tax businesses in Downey."
Paul said he would favor an auto dealership mall along Firestone Boulevard, which the city has been trying to develop for more than two years. The mall was proposed as part of the redevelopment project, but many Downey auto dealers have threatened to move to proposed auto malls in South Gate and Norwalk because of the delay.