MONTEREY PARK — The two City Council members who are facing a recall election June 16 have accused their opponents of fueling racial hatred in Monterey Park, but the opponents say the council members have only themselves to blame for racial tension.
Kevin Smith, a recall leader, said council members Barry L. Hatch and Patricia Reichenberger unleashed racial animosity when they voted for a resolution last year that endorsed English as the nation's official language and urged stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
Smith said the resolution "gave a license to people to vent their frustrations and anger toward the ethnic minorities." As a result, he said, "racism is alive and well in Monterey Park, and it's displayed every day."
A pro-recall campaign office on Atlantic Boulevard has received so much hate mail that it has a special bulletin board to display examples. Smith reproduced one of those examples, which contained slurs against Mexicans, Chinese and Japanese, in one of his recall campaign flyers and identified the source as "a strong supporter of Hatch and Reichenberger," although he conceded that he did not know who wrote it.
This action infuriated the council members. Hatch said that reproducing such slurs inflames racial animosity.
"It's very base and out of line," he said.
In addition, Hatch charged, recall workers have gone door-to-door telling Asian and Latino immigrants that the council members want to deport them.
"They're saying I'm going to send (the Chinese) back to Taiwan and Hong Kong," Hatch said. "They're telling the Hispanics that if their skin is brown, they will be either arrested or checked for identification and, if they don't have identifying documents indicating they are legal or Americans, they will be jailed. A number of people were told that if they spoke Spanish they would be arrested."
Hatch said that none of these claims are true and that using such tactics "could very well create wounds where the scars will be felt for many years."
But Smith said recall workers are just telling voters about the racist actions and statements attributed to Hatch and Reichenberger. And that record, drawn from public files and news stories, he said, gives Asians, who make up 40% of the city's 60,500 residents, and Latinos, who represent 37%, plenty of reason to feel threatened.
Smith said: "The racism is there, and we're using that to educate people. Unfortunately it (racism) won't be removed until we take affirmative action and remove the council members."
Although racism has emerged as the major issue in the election, it is not the only one. There is also a controversy over Police Chief Jon Elder, who has been on paid leave since August for stress and just filed a $500,000 claim against the city for remarks made by Hatch. In addition, Hatch and Reichenberger contend that the racism charge is a smoke screen to distract attention from what they say is the real concern of developers supporting the recall: the tighter development standards imposed by the City Council over their objections.
Hatch, a 50-year-old teacher, and Reichenberger, 42, who is on leave from a sales job, were elected in April, 1986, with another political newcomer, Chris Houseman, sweeping out of office three incumbents. All three winners campaigned on the promise of ending ill-planned growth, which they said had produced ugly, crowded condominiums and cluttered mini-malls, choking the city with traffic.
Although growth and development standards were the overriding issues, last year's election, some have said, also carried racial implications, removing the council's only two Latinos and its only Chinese member.
One of the ousted councilmen, David Almada, said after his defeat that the result was influenced by racial concerns. "The attack on ethnic communities, especially the Asian community, was very strong," he said. Asian immigration was linked to overdevelopment, he said, and "resentment of immigration was tied into concern with crowded streets."
The new council took office in April and on June 3 adopted its controversial Resolution No. 9004, which advocated federal action to "remove aliens who are residing in the United States illegally" and supported legislation "to make English the official language of the United States."
Passage of the resolution brought a storm of protests from groups that called it a racist attack against Latinos and Asians who have immigrated to Monterey Park. The Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park (CHAMP) was formed to organize protest demonstrations and circulate petitions for repeal of the resolution.
While CHAMP pursued repeal, some of the group's leaders advocated a more drastic step: recall of council members. Smith said CHAMP did not develop a consensus for recall, so he plunged ahead on his own, forming a new group, the Assn. for Better Cityhood.