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Council's First Latinos Face List of Vows : Politics: Two who made history in Huntington Park are poised to carry out campaign promises. But first there are fences to mend.

April 15, 1990|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON PARK — Raul Perez and Luis Hernandez acknowledge that they have plenty of work ahead of them as the first Latino councilmen in the history of this overwhelmingly Latino city.

"We're going to have to produce," said Perez, a 47-year-old loan officer. "We're going to have to show something for the election."

There are several campaign promises to fulfill:

* Increase civic participation in a city where council meetings are routinely attended by fewer than 10 people.

* Increase citizenship among the city's large immigrant population.

* Increase the number of Latino commissioners and move Latinos into management positions in City Hall.

* Fight crime in a city where gang-related incidents are becoming increasingly common.

* Ensure that the city remedies financial problems that forced 25 layoffs last year.

But those pledges hinge on how well Perez and Hernandez get along with each other and veteran Councilmen William P. Cunningham, Thomas E. Jackson and Jack W. Parks.

Hernandez, a 29-year-old financial analyst, has been at odds with the incumbents for months. He has attacked them at council meetings, blaming them for the city's financial problems and accusing them of being part of a "good ol' boy" network that is out of touch with the majority of Huntington Park's 59,000 residents. More than 90% of those residents are Latinos.

Cunningham and Parks said last week that they are confident they will be able to work with Perez, and that they will try to work with Hernandez.

"I haven't sat with him (Hernandez) on the council yet," Cunningham said. "I'd rather not have him there."

Parks said: "He's just one vote. He may be boisterous but he's not going to control everything. Majority rules."

Jackson, Hernandez's most frequent target, declined to comment. Hernandez called for Jackson's resignation several months ago, saying that the councilman had received discounted trash service for his local business from a garbage company that once operated in the city. Jackson has admitted he received the discount, but said he didn't know he was receiving the price break and put a stop to it once he found out.

Hernandez said he still would like to see Jackson resign, but added that he will try to cooperate with his new colleagues. "I'm going to talk to each and every councilman and try to bury the hatchet so we can move forward," Hernandez said.

Despite their common goals, Hernandez is just about as much at odds with Perez as he is with the incumbents, partly because of their contrasting styles.

Perez sees himself as a team player who has more than paid his dues. He had run for City Council and lost five times before winning a seat in last Tuesday's election. Political representation for Latinos was a cornerstone of his campaign. He said he spent about $8,000 on his campaign.

Hernandez grew up in and around the Huntington Park area, but moved to the East Coast after graduating from USC in 1985. He moved back into the area in mid-1989.

Hernandez said he spent about $30,000 in winning his first campaign for City Council. He has not filed his campaign disclosure statements as required by state law and is subject to a $200 fine. Hernandez said he did not turn in the statements because some of his contributors feared retaliation from the incumbents. He said he would turn in the statements next week.

In contrast to Perez, Hernandez downplayed the issue of Latino political representation, focusing instead on the city's financial problems.

But the differences between the two were aggravated considerably after a pro-business political action committee--the Southern California Caucus--put out a mailer the Saturday before the election.

Among other things, the mailer accused Hernandez of falsely telling voters he was a Vietnam veteran. It urged residents to vote for Perez and the two incumbents.

"I think the Hispanic community feels very betrayed by what Raul had done in his attack on me," said Hernandez, who denied that he ever claimed he was a veteran.

Perez acknowledged that some alarmed voters had called and questioned his role in the mailer. He said he had applied for the support of the PAC months before the election but hadn't heard anything since. He said he did not give permission for his name to be used.

"I never knew this thing was going to come out," Perez said. "Sometime down the road we're going to have to be able to talk. I think we have the same goals in mind."

Tim Carey, the executive director of the Southern California Caucus, could not be reached for comment.

Perez said he has started making arrangements to hold several neighborhood meetings next month to get more local residents involved in city government. He envisions working on a citizenship drive. The 1980 Census indicated that 54% of the city's Latino residents were not citizens. Perez said he also plans to visit local schools.

"It's important now that Hispanics are elected that they show up (in the community)," Perez said. "We need a lot of role models."

Hernandez also talks of organizing a citizenship drive for city residents and entering the schools to deliver a message against gangs and drug abuse. He talks of giving Latinos opportunities to fill more key positions in City Hall.

None of the city's top nine administrators are Latinos, and only two of the city's 18 appointed commissioners are Latinos.

"Things like that have to change," Hernandez said. "This is a new era."

Perez was the top vote-getter with 1,775 votes, followed by Cunningham, who received 1,500 votes. Hernandez finished with 1,366 votes, 27 votes ahead of Councilman Jim Roberts, who lost the seat he had held since 1970.

Thirty-six percent of the city's 7,604 registered voters turned out in last Tuesday's election compared to the 32% who voted in the last council contest in 1988.

The new councilmen are scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday.

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