MONTEREY PARK — The United Democratic Club opposed the recall of two Monterey Park City Council members last June. Because one of them is a Republican, party officials have blocked renewal of the club's charter.
Party rules flatly prohibit Democratic clubs from endorsing Republicans for any office, including nonpartisan council seats.
But Terry De Wolfe, former president of the United Democratic Club, said the group will ask the executive board of the Democratic County Central Committee at a hearing Tuesday to renew its charter because opposition to a recall should not be equated with support for a Republican officeholder.
"We were not supporting a person," De Wolfe said, "we were supporting a principle."
He said club members opposed the recall of council members Barry L. Hatch, a Republican, and Patricia Reichenberger, a Democrat and member of the club, because they had not committed offenses that merited recall.
(Even Reichenberger was briefly a Republican. She switched parties for three months last year, a time she now calls "a brief period of insanity.")
The United Democratic Club joined with the Monterey Park Republican Club in placing an ad urging a vote against recall and in submitting a joint statement to newspapers shortly before the election.
The statement said that although the recall power "assures the citizenry redress from unscrupulous and malfeasant politicians, it is not a tool to be applied capriciously to depose those guilty only of disagreeing with us. We, therefore, view the use of recall to remove Hatch and Reichenberger from the City Council as inappropriate and improper."
More than 60% of voters rejected the recall attempt, which was based on an accusation that Hatch and Reichenberger were biased against Asian and Latino immigrants.
Terry De Wolfe's wife, Tilda, who headed the Democratic club's committee against the recall, said: "None of us felt we were supporting a Republican. We saw (the election) as developers trying to take over the city."
Both Hatch and Reichenberger said the charge of racism masked an effort by developers to replace council members who had voted to impose tough building requirements.
The Democratic club had internal differences over the recall. John R. Gerlach said he quit as club president in June because the club was wrong to endorse Hatch.
Gerlach said he wrote a proposed resolution for the club that would have opposed the recall without mentioning council members by name. Instead, he said, the club endorsed Hatch by name in its statement, violating party rules.
Evelyn Diederich, who headed the Monterey Park Republican Club's committee on the recall, said the Republican Party has not objected to the club's support of Reichenberger. Jacque Haines, executive director of the Republican County Central Committee, said party rules prohibit club endorsement of Democrats in partisan races but do not mention nonpartisan races.
The United Democratic Club, which has more than 20 members, was chartered in 1986. On June 20, Phyllis Rabins, who became club president when Gerlach quit, was notified by Craig Athon, chairman of the 59th Assembly District Democratic committee, that he would not sign an application for annual renewal of the charter until charges that the club had supported a Republican were resolved.
The 59th Assembly District committee held a hearing on the issue at Monterey Park City Hall in July, but club members refused to argue their case on grounds that the committee, which included Gerlach, could not provide a fair hearing.
The seven-member committee voted unanimously against renewal of the charter, claiming that the club had endorsed a Republican; had placed an ad conveying the impression that it spoke for all Democrats, even though two other Democratic clubs in Monterey Park took no position on the recall, and had allowed Republicans to be club members.
Rabins said the club assumes that those who want to join it are Democrats. She said club members did not know that a man who signed the club's charter application form as a member was a Republican until after the application was submitted to the county committee. The man never paid his dues and is not a member, she said.
Rickie Santell, who will preside over Tuesday's hearing by the county committee executive board, said the key issue is whether the club gave its support publicly to a Republican. She said that the party does not insist that club members like or work for all Democratic candidates, but that it cannot allow the use of the Democratic name to advance the interests of a Republican.
Hatch said that he appreciated the United Democratic Club's opposition to the recall but that its joint ad and statement with the Republican Club had little effect on the election.
"I hate to discredit them, but I don't think it made the difference," he said.