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Santangelo Blames Hit Piece for Downey Loss

June 12, 1988|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — Councilman James S. Santangelo was soundly defeated after his opponent used a last-minute mailer to remind voters that Santangelo faces a misdemeanor trial and that Downey has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees related to the case.

Barbara J. Hayden, a businesswoman, Downey planning commissioner and president of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees, defeated Santangelo last Tuesday for his at-large City Council seat. Santangelo, a real estate agent, was elected to the council in 1984.

In a mailer that began arriving at voters' homes the previous Saturday, Hayden alleged that Santangelo had cost the city more than $500,000 in legal fees related to his vote in 1984 to expand the city's redevelopment district even though he owned property in the expansion area.

Santangelo, 53, was charged with misdemeanor conflict of interest. Last February, a judge declared a mistrial after a Municipal Court jury deadlocked 11 to 1 for conviction. The councilman contends that he innocently followed the advice of former City Atty. Carl Newton, who has denied telling Santangelo that he could vote. A retrial is tentatively scheduled for July 18.

In addition, a judge invalidated the expansion area. The city appealed the decision and lost last December.

The legal fees related to the issue may actually exceed $550,000. Downey spent $158,883 to defend the redevelopment area in court. The city was forced to pay $314,673 in attorneys' fees to the citizens group that challenged the vote. And so far, Downey has been billed more than $80,000 for Santangelo's criminal defense, according to city officials.

"Had he not voted, I don't think there would have been a legal battle," said Hayden, 47. "It's difficult for me to understand how he could not realize that he had a potential conflict of interest."

Santangelo accused Hayden of running a dirty campaign that distorted the facts of his case and his voting record on other issues.

"I had legal advice saying I could vote," Santangelo said. "The (mailer) made me guilty. . . . It made me guilty for all of that problem."

Other Incumbents Win

Hayden received 8,261 votes, or 43.56%, to Santangelo's 5,087 votes, or 26.82%. Three other candidates ran for Santangelo's seat. Douglas Creek received 2,268 votes, or 11.96%; Joel Lubin 2,215, or 11.68%, and Thomas Hartsfield 1,130, or 5.95%.

Incumbents Diane P. Boggs and Robert G. Cormack easily won reelection.

Boggs received 2,338 votes, or 57.97%, to retain her District 1 seat, which covers southeast Downey. Candidate John Drayer received 1,082 votes, or 26.82%, and Gregg Martell 613, or 15.19%.

Cormack received 2,825 votes, or 54.45%, to defeat former Councilman Ken Miller, who got 2,353 , or 45.54%.

Judge Retains Seat

In another area race, Southeast Municipal Court Judge Russell R. Schooling retained his seat against challenger Carlos de la Fuente, a private lawyer. Schooling received 8,342 votes, or 57.81%, while De la Fuente had 6,088, or 42.18%.

Schooling, a judge since 1977, retained his seat despite having received an "unqualified" rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.

The judge also weathered criticism for supporting a 1984 rule requiring court employees to speak only English on the job except when acting as translators. Schooling and two other Municipal Court judges issued the rule after an employee complained that co-workers were saying negative things about her in Spanish.

Last January, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against the rule because it appeared to violate laws banning discrimination based on national origin. The appeals court is considering a motion for a rehearing.

Schooling could not be reached for comment on his victory.

Southeast Municipal Court Judges John R. Hopson, Porter de Dubovay and John Bunnett were unopposed in their reelection bids.

During the Downey City Council campaign, Hayden had largely refrained from criticizing Santangelo for his controversial 1984 vote. When pressed, she said he was guilty of poor judgment rather than criminal intent.

But she did contend that the city was deprived thereafter of full representation on redevelopment issues, since Santangelo abstained from voting on them.

Hayden is expected to vote for aggressive redevelopment, including the use of eminent domain if necessary.

The Downey Redevelopment Agency has condemnation powers in the city's original 125-acre redevelopment district. But the council bowed to strong public opposition and did not give the Redevelopment Agency the power of eminent domain in new redevelopment areas formed last year.

Hayden said she is an advocate of eminent domain "when absolutely necessary." She also said she would support amending the newly formed redevelopment areas to give the Redevelopment Agency condemnation powers.

Hayden, who said she will resign from the Cerritos College board, will be sworn in as councilwoman July 5.

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